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Mothers of the Bible — Sarai/Sarah

“Where is your wife Sarah?” they asked him. “There, in the tent, ” he said. Then one of them said, “I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife will have a son.” Now Sarah was listening at the entrance to the tent, which was behind him. Abraham and Sarah were already very old, and Sarah was past the age of childbearing. So Sarah laughed to herself as she thought, “After I am worn out and my lord is old, will I now have this pleasure?” Then the Lord said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh and say, ‘Will I really have a child, now that I am old?’ Is anything too hard for the Lord? I will return to you at the appointed time next year, and Sarah will have a son.” Sarah was afraid, so she lied and said, “I did not laugh.” But he said, “Yes, you did laugh.”…Now the Lord was gracious to Sarah as he had said, and the Lord did for Sarah what he had promised. Sarah became pregnant and bore a son to Abraham in his old age, at the very time God had promised him. Abraham gave the name Isaac to the son Sarah bore him. When his son Isaac was eight days old, Abraham circumcised him, as God commanded him. Abraham was a hundred years old when his son Isaac was born to him. Sarah said, “God has brought me laughter, and everyone who hears about this will laugh with me.” And she added, “Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? Yet I have borne him a son in his old age.” The child grew and was weaned, and on the day Isaac was weaned Abraham held a great feast. But Sarah saw that the son whom Hagar the Egyptian had borne to Abraham was mocking, and she said to Abraham, “Get rid of that slave woman and her son, for that woman’s son will never share in the inheritance with my son Isaac.”…Sarah lived to be a hundred and twenty-seven years old. She died at Kiriath Arba (that is, Hebron) in the land of Canaan, and Abraham went to mourn for Sarah and to weep over her. Then Abraham rose from beside his dead wife and spoke to the Hittites. He said, “I am a foreigner and stranger among you. Sell me some property for a burial site here so I can bury my dead. ” The Hittites replied to Abraham, “Sir, listen to us. You are a mighty prince among us. Bury your dead in the choicest of our tombs. None of us will refuse you his tomb for burying your dead.”
Genesis 18:9-15, 21:1-10, 23:1-6

Dear God, I’m obviously skipping two major aspects of Sarah’s story this morning, and it’s mainly because I’ve already discussed them when talking about Abraham and Hagar. The first is her suggestion to Abraham that he have a child with Hagar. The other is the fact that Abraham sold her out at least twice (to Pharaoh and Abimelech). Both were terrible decisions on everyone’s part. The really odd part about Abimelech is that it happened when she was older and past childbearing years. She must have been very beautiful.

No, today, I want to focus on her and Isaac. She became pregnant in an improbable way. I’m sure she felt like you would never fulfill your promise to Abraham through her (see Hagar). Like she wasn’t part of the equation and was useless. Then when she hears the prophecy she laughs. Of course she laughs again after Isaac is born. Isaac’s life and just his being brought laughter to her. It’s a reminder to me that there are some things that money cannot buy, but this story is also a reminder to me to not try to be in such control of things. I don’t know what the relationship between Ishmael and Isaac was like, but it seems that the older Ishmael taunting Isaac at the celebration for his weaning was too much for her to bear. Any mother of two children will tell you that the older will tease the younger often. For Abraham, this was just his older son teasing his younger son. But for Sarah, it was totally different. It was the child of that woman teasing her precious child. This was her chance to get rid of both of them, and Sarah took it. I wonder how this served Isaac. How would he have been different if Ishmael had been around while he grew up? We saw that they joined together to bury their father later, so they certainly at least knew of each other. It’s a hard story.

Finally, we get Sarah’s death and burial. I am sure her life did not go as planned. On the one hand, she was rich. She was given to not only Abraham in marriage, but she was beautiful enough to be given in marriage to Pharaoh and Abimelech too. I’m sure that, to a large extent, she felt used–like Abraham’s property. Just one more possession to serve him. We aren’t told about her relationship with you. Did she worship you alongside Abraham? Did you find her special as well? She obviously hoped to be a mother, but gave up on that dream. And then you brought her laughter. I suppose that means she hadn’t had much laughter before that.

Father, I’m not sure what there is to learn from Sarah when it comes to motherhood, but this little focus on her has been a good opportunity to think more about who she was and what we know about what she did and what was done to her. For me, just help me to let go of my expectations and my attempts to plan things. You have been particularly good to me lately and blessed the fruits of my labor. Help me to continue to simply labor as unto you. Help me to serve you through my marriage, my parenting, and my work. Help me to bring a piece of you into the world.

In Jesus’s name I pray,

Amen

 
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Posted by on January 3, 2020 in Genesis, Mothers of the Bible

 

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Fathers of the Bible — Abraham and Isaac (Part 1)

The Lord kept his word and did for Sarah exactly what he had promised. She became pregnant, and she gave birth to a son for Abraham in his old age. This happened at just the time God had said it would. And Abraham named their son Isaac. Eight days after Isaac was born, Abraham circumcised him as God had commanded. Abraham was 100 years old when Isaac was born…When Isaac grew up and was about to be weaned, Abraham prepared a huge feast to celebrate the occasion. But Sarah saw Ishmael—the son of Abraham and her Egyptian servant Hagar—making fun of her son, Isaac. So she turned to Abraham and demanded, “Get rid of that slave woman and her son. He is not going to share the inheritance with my son, Isaac. I won’t have it!” This upset Abraham very much because Ishmael was his son. But God told Abraham, “Do not be upset over the boy and your servant. Do whatever Sarah tells you, for Isaac is the son through whom your descendants will be counted. But I will also make a nation of the descendants of Hagar’s son because he is your son, too.” So Abraham got up early the next morning, prepared food and a container of water, and strapped them on Hagar’s shoulders. Then he sent her away with their son, and she wandered aimlessly in the wilderness of Beersheba…Some time later, God tested Abraham’s faith. “Abraham!” God called. “Yes,” he replied. “Here I am.” “Take your son, your only son—yes, Isaac, whom you love so much—and go to the land of Moriah. Go and sacrifice him as a burnt offering on one of the mountains, which I will show you.” The next morning Abraham got up early. He saddled his donkey and took two of his servants with him, along with his son, Isaac. Then he chopped wood for a fire for a burnt offering and set out for the place God had told him about. On the third day of their journey, Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance. “Stay here with the donkey,” Abraham told the servants. “The boy and I will travel a little farther. We will worship there, and then we will come right back.” So Abraham placed the wood for the burnt offering on Isaac’s shoulders, while he himself carried the fire and the knife. As the two of them walked on together, Isaac turned to Abraham and said, “Father?” “Yes, my son?” Abraham replied. “We have the fire and the wood,” the boy said, “but where is the sheep for the burnt offering?” “God will provide a sheep for the burnt offering, my son,” Abraham answered. And they both walked on together. When they arrived at the place where God had told him to go, Abraham built an altar and arranged the wood on it. Then he tied his son, Isaac, and laid him on the altar on top of the wood. And Abraham picked up the knife to kill his son as a sacrifice. At that moment the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!” “Yes,” Abraham replied. “Here I am!” “Don’t lay a hand on the boy!” the angel said. “Do not hurt him in any way, for now I know that you truly fear God. You have not withheld from me even your son, your only son.” Then Abraham looked up and saw a ram caught by its horns in a thicket. So he took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering in place of his son. Abraham named the place Yahweh-Yireh (which means “the Lord will provide”). To this day, people still use that name as a proverb: “On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided.” Then the angel of the Lord called again to Abraham from heaven. “This is what the Lord says: Because you have obeyed me and have not withheld even your son, your only son, I swear by my own name that I will certainly bless you. I will multiply your descendants beyond number, like the stars in the sky and the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will conquer the cities of their enemies. And through your descendants all the nations of the earth will be blessed—all because you have obeyed me.” Then they returned to the servants and traveled back to Beersheba, where Abraham continued to live.
Genesis 21:1-5,8-14,22:1-19

Dear God, when I was picking an image for this story I found it hard to pick from the ones that showed Isaac bound on the altar. I cannot imagine what kind of trauma and confusion that must have caused him. From his perspective, his father lied to everyone and had gone crazy. He was old. Was he senile? How was Isaac to know? I am hopeful that you let him in on your conversation with Abraham when you told him to not hurt him and that this was only a test. For Isaac’s sake, I hope you let him hear that. I wonder if Isaac ever told Sarah about it.

I also read somewhere once that Muslims have this same story in their history, but it is Ishmael who is be sacrificed. Of course, I’ll stick with the Isaac version, but, either way, I think the lesson is the same. What kinds of expectations do we, as fathers, put on our children? Do we expect them to carry on our name, accomplish what we never did, etc.? Do we find our fulfillment in them? Do we allow them and their potential to replace you? Is that what Abraham had done?

One thing that is clear through these stories of Abraham is that, while he loved you and worshipped you, he certainly loved himself and his own self-preservation more than being noble. He lied to Pharaoh and Abimelech about Sarah not being his wife so that they wouldn’t hurt him–giving her over to them to be their wife. He listened to Sarah’s suggestion to have a child with Hagar because they were not willing to wait and see how your plan unfolded. He excommunicated Hagar and Ishmael because…well, you apparently told him to do it, but it still seems like he sent them out to die instead of giving them some servants and supplies to ensure their survival. And then you felt the need to test him and break him through this story of having to sacrifice Isaac and the promise he so badly wanted you to keep, that you would make his descendants a great nation.

Father, I don’t know what you are calling me to do, but I pray that everything I do will be without regard to my own benefit. I suppose I need to be even more generous with my time and money because I have found myself being kind of selfish lately. I’ve been leaning towards being materialistic and covetous. I’ve been indifferent to the hardships of others. It’s terrible, I know. I am sorry. Please forgive me.

In Jesus’s name I pray,

Amen

 
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Posted by on January 1, 2020 in Fathers of the Bible, Genesis

 

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Fathers of the Bible — Abraham (Ishmael)

Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had not been able to bear children for him. But she had an Egyptian servant named Hagar. So Sarai said to Abram, “The Lord has prevented me from having children. Go and sleep with my servant. Perhaps I can have children through her.” And Abram agreed with Sarai’s proposal. So Sarai, Abram’s wife, took Hagar the Egyptian servant and gave her to Abram as a wife. (This happened ten years after Abram had settled in the land of Canaan.) So Abram had sexual relations with Hagar, and she became pregnant. But when Hagar knew she was pregnant, she began to treat her mistress, Sarai, with contempt. Then Sarai said to Abram, “This is all your fault! I put my servant into your arms, but now that she’s pregnant she treats me with contempt. The Lord will show who’s wrong—you or me!” Abram replied, “Look, she is your servant, so deal with her as you see fit.” Then Sarai treated Hagar so harshly that she finally ran away. The angel of the Lord found Hagar beside a spring of water in the wilderness, along the road to Shur. The angel said to her, “Hagar, Sarai’s servant, where have you come from, and where are you going?” “I’m running away from my mistress, Sarai,” she replied. The angel of the Lord said to her, “Return to your mistress, and submit to her authority.” Then he added, “I will give you more descendants than you can count.” And the angel also said, “You are now pregnant and will give birth to a son. You are to name him Ishmael (which means ‘God hears’), for the Lord has heard your cry of distress. This son of yours will be a wild man, as untamed as a wild donkey! He will raise his fist against everyone, and everyone will be against him. Yes, he will live in open hostility against all his relatives.” Thereafter, Hagar used another name to refer to the Lord, who had spoken to her. She said, “You are the God who sees me.” She also said, “Have I truly seen the One who sees me?” So that well was named Beer-lahai-roi (which means “well of the Living One who sees me”). It can still be found between Kadesh and Bered. So Hagar gave Abram a son, and Abram named him Ishmael. Abram was eighty-six years old when Ishmael was born…When Isaac grew up and was about to be weaned, Abraham prepared a huge feast to celebrate the occasion. But Sarah saw Ishmael—the son of Abraham and her Egyptian servant Hagar—making fun of her son, Isaac. So she turned to Abraham and demanded, “Get rid of that slave woman and her son. He is not going to share the inheritance with my son, Isaac. I won’t have it!” This upset Abraham very much because Ishmael was his son. But God told Abraham, “Do not be upset over the boy and your servant. Do whatever Sarah tells you, for Isaac is the son through whom your descendants will be counted. But I will also make a nation of the descendants of Hagar’s son because he is your son, too.” So Abraham got up early the next morning, prepared food and a container of water, and strapped them on Hagar’s shoulders. Then he sent her away with their son, and she wandered aimlessly in the wilderness of Beersheba.
Genesis 16:1-16,21:8-14

Dear God, there is so much to discuss with Abraham as a father that I thought I would split it into two parts. I’ll look at Ishmael first, and then Isaac.

What a tragedy that this even took place. I have to say that Abraham really didn’t seem to have much regard for women. He gave Sarai/Sarah away to other men twice out of fear for his life (Pharaoh and Abimelech). He took the slave girl as his wife and conscripted her into being the fulfillment of your promise to him. And now he gives into Sarah’s command to send Hagar and Ishmael off into the wilderness with just some water and food. No servants to go help her get established. No camels or livestock. Not real settlement for his wife except marching orders.

So how did all of this make Ishmael feel as a son? Here are some questions:

  • What did it teach him about how he should treat women? I suppose he saw his mother’s love for him. He had to have appreciated who she was. In fact, I would imagine that it was men and Abraham that he had trouble trusting. But much like I think Solomon learned a lack of respect for women from his father, I suspect that what Abraham modeled here wasn’t very helpful to the women who would encounter Ishmael.
  • How did Ishmael respond to his dad? I think it is important to note that Islam tells all of this a little differently. For example, they apparently tell the story of Abraham being tested and willing to sacrifice Isaac with Ishmael in the Isaac role. I don’t know where the truth in that story is, but either way, all of this would have to leave a child with trust issues.
  • Did Ishmael ever get any fatherly love/nurturing from Abraham? None is really recorded. The prophecy over Ishmael is that he will have conflict with others all of his life, but that’s pretty much how he was raised. His mother and Sarah were in conflict. Abraham seemed unable to control the enmity between them. He was probably treated differently by others. When he and him mom were sent away and he almost died, I’m sure it made him bitter. And then the years of struggling in the wilderness while Isaac grew up in what at the time would have been considered luxury. Yeah, I can see where this would have left him bitter and very tough.

I think the big take aways from this thread of Abraham’s story are that we should wait on your timing, and, if we get out ahead of you and make a mistake, we should humbly do our best to pay the price and natural consequences of our actions and not try to mitigate their impact on our personal lives by making them someone else’s problem. Ishmael and Hagar got caught in a pretty bad web. I am sorry for them. I’m also sorry for any times when I’ve given my own children any reason to not trust me. I’m sorry for anything I might have done that shifted the burden of my mistakes/sin from me to anyone else, including them. Please help me to always wait on your timing and to take responsibility for the sins I commit.

In Jesus’s name I pray,

Amen

 
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Posted by on December 31, 2019 in Fathers of the Bible, Genesis

 

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