The Art of Biblical Subtext (or, How Do Other People Pick Up On Things I Can’t Seem To???)

Genesis 22.  God calls on Abraham to sacrifice his only son Isaac to Him on a mountain in Moriah.  Abraham obeys, he doesn’t take Isaac and runs for the hills.  He willingly goes, bringing his as-of-yet clueless son with him.  As they climb the mountain, he says to the servant with them, “Stay here, for we will return.”  But the scriptures don’t explicitly say Abraham had no fear.  Isaac asks him where the animal for the sacrifice is, and he replies simply, “God will provide.”  He doesn’t deviate.  He doesn’t question.  And at the very last possible moment, or “right on time” in God’s Timing (something else that just baffles my mind), God intervenes and provides a ram for the sacrifice.

Now, it seems there are two possible explanations for Abraham’s statement: “Stay here, for we will return.”  The “we” indicates Abraham’s faith that God would let him keep his son.  On the one side, there’s the theory that Abraham knew God would provide an “out” for Isaac to be spared altogether, hence the ram in the thicket at the opportune moment.  “Oh look!  There’s a substitute for you, Isaac my boy!  Let’s get you out of these ropes and binds, shall we?”

But it seems to me that a more reasonable “human” response would be to delay, linger, procrastinate as much as possible to quell the nearness to the actual act of sacrifice, to put off tying Isaac up, or at least make the bonds loose so he could get free.  But no.  Isaac was bound tight as a drum in inescapable bonds and placed on the altar, like a turkey ready to be roasted.  This gives way to the other school of thought: Abraham believed God would resurrect his son and send him back down the mountain with him.

Reasonable, yes.  But how can we possibly read into Abraham’s mind when all we truly have to glean from is a play-by-play of the events as they occurred?  There’s no post-sacrifice wrap-up, no interviews with the individuals involved, no instant replays with close-ups of Abraham’s face looking for a tell of some sort.  Did he look around desperately as he was raising the knife to plunge into his son, praying fervently for a replacement?  Or did he expect to see his son walking down from higher up the mountain after being sacrificed, not a scratch or a burn on him, in a completely new body?

I plan on asking Abraham that someday.

Déjà vu…

As a member of the human race, I can relate to mankind’s habit of returning to sin with regularity.  I’m far from perfect.  I fight daily with struggles that have waged war with my heart’s desire to do what is right for years.  I could be a poster child for Christ’s incredible and undeserved grace.

But I just read Genesis 20, and I have a sneaking suspicion we’ve been here before.

In a previous blog post, I pondered Abraham’s decision to not trust his God and Friend to protect him and Sarai when they moved to Egypt (Genesis 13).  Now, just seven chapters later, Abraham makes the same mistake again, this time to King Abimelech of Gerar (located in what is now south-central Israel).  As if once wasn’t enough!  As a foreigner to the lands surrounding Gerar, Abraham once again tells Sarai (now called Sarah) to tell the people wherever they went that they’re siblings instead of a married couple.  Abimelech sees Sarah’s beauty and sends for her to be brought to him at his palace… I think you can surmise why.  (Sarai must have been one “hottie” of a Hebrew woman, especially at her age.)  God comes to Abimelech in a dream that night and tells him he’s going to die for taking another man’s wife.  Abimelech cries foul and claims his innocence as he was deceived by both Abraham and Sarah, but God still threatens him with death if he does not return Sarah to Abraham.

Abimelech confronts Abraham, and Abraham claims they really are siblings as they have the same father but different mothers.  Was he really telling the truth here, or was he claiming God as his father which, while true, seems to be the route Abe took to weasel his way out of trouble again for a very significant mistake he’d made once before with another king?  Sounds to me like he was passing the buck again.  Abimelech then gives Abraham a slew of gifts!  Servants, cattle, sheep, goats, a thousand pieces of silver, and whatever spot of land in Gerar they choose to live.

??!!?!?!!!?!!!

Do what now?!  Abraham brazenly commits a very specific sin of deception, one he’d already been disciplined for years ago, and he gets rewarded?!  Abraham, being a prophet, then prays to God, and God heals Abimelech and his family of the condition that fell upon them for Abimelech’s sin of taking Abraham’s wife?

There must be some kind of subtext in this passage, because it seems to me the one at fault really was Abraham.  Perhaps the lesson is grace.  Abraham sinned against God by not trusting Him and for deceiving another, so God pardons him.  But it doesn’t seem right.  Heck, even the heading for this passage is “Abraham Deceives Abimelech,” for goodness’ sake!  Abraham intentionally disobeyed God.

But how often do I do the same?  And how often do I pray for God’s mercy instead of His correcting hand?  Quite frequently.  My takeaway from this scripture is this: while God’s forgiveness and grace are always offered through Jesus, I can’t always expect to be spared the consequences for what I do.  Sometimes it’ll happen, sometimes I’ll be spared the hurt, the rebuke, the shame.  But I should always expect the consequences.  And to avoid the consequences, I should stay away from sin.  Simple enough…

Good thing there’s still grace.

Sulfur rain and pillars of salt…

I’ve heard it said the Bible is too goody-goody, too sunshine and rainbows to be real.  Only someone who’s never read it could say that.  Right from the get-go, there’s murder, debauchery, arrogance, selfishness… the list goes on and on.  Billions of people throughout history who thought they’re too good for this world and therefore can do whatever they want.  Not so.

Abraham had a nephew named Lot with whom he was very close.  However, Lot seemed to end up in situations where sin crept in all around him, trying to destroy him.  He lived with his family in the city of Sodom, a city of extreme wickedness and debauchery whose neighbor Gomorrah was more of the same.  Through Abraham’s pleading to the Lord to keep Lot and his family safe, two angels are sent to Lot to get him the heck out of Dodge, as it were, as God was planning to essentially nuke the two cities and wipe them and their sin-crazed inhabitants from the face of the earth.  At the last minute, the angels grab the hands of Lot and his family and virtually have to drag them out of the city to spare their lives.  For whatever reason, Lot’s wife looks back at the city longingly (what was she longing for?) and turns into a pillar of salt.  Personally, I don’t quite know if I believe she turned into a literal pillar of sodium chloride.  I think she was more likely consumed so quickly by the raining flames of fire and burning sulfur that she turned to ash almost instantaneously, hinting at the appearance of being turned into salt.  An entry I found on Wikipedia offers a different explanation, but I think the two could easily intertwine.  (However, explaining it requires knowledge of how high heat would affect a human body, and I’m not Temperance Brennan.)

I’m both fascinated and disheartened by our history.  The years gone by are filled with all kinds of adventure, mystery, heart-stopping drama and divine miracles, the stuff of legend and stories.  But there is often more heartbreak and hurt than good, and pretty much always as the result of someone’s choice.  A single small decision can tremendously change the course of our lives both for good and for worse.  Like a tiny rudder steering a ship, even the most seemingly insignificant choice can set incredible events into motion.

What kind of choices am I making?

Surely He wasn’t wearing a trenchcoat and Groucho Marx glasses…

Genesis 18.  Very interesting.  Starts out with Abraham seeing three men standing nearby.  He immediately runs out to them and greets them.  Something tells me he knew who these men were, even though it doesn’t really specify.  From what I’m reading I’m making the guess that it was the Lord and two of His angels, or perhaps God in the form of three separate individuals.  The scriptures don’t explicitly indicate who they were until verse 13 where it describes how the Lord called Sarah out for laughing to herself in doubt of her ability to have children at nearly ninety years old.

Then there’s the fact that this man who called Sarah out most likely was God.  God decided to come down and hang out with His devoted servant Abraham and pass along His message to him about the first of his many descendants in the flesh.  What form did God take?  Could it have been Jesus, or the Holy Spirit?  And what about Him gave Him away that Abraham immediately recognized Him?  It’s not described.  The only clue is how Abraham immediately stood up from where he was sitting to meet them, no questions, no hesitation.  Something about them was unique, and it was seemingly uniquely God.

I wonder how often God has placed something or someone in my midst that represents Him directly.  How many times have I missed those moments, brushed them off as nothing important?  My wife has had a couple distinct experiences where she believes she was visited by a messenger from God.  Brings me hope that I can experience something like that.  But how brave am I to ask for that kind of experience, to be in the presence of someone that close to the Holiest of holies?

Will I be able to pick God out of the crowd and immediately know that it’s Him come to greet me?

Holy contradictions…

I’ve been writing a song over the course of the past year and a half that reflects on Jesus’s fascinatingly contradictory nature, the way He lived and demonstrated life by doing the exact opposite of society’s norms and expectations.  Touching the untouchable in the leper, loving the adulterous prostitute, breaking bread with crooked tax collectors.  His bold actions went against not only cultural taboos, but against many of the laws of the day.  After He ascended, His disciples, who became the first leaders of the “modern” church, discovered the reasoning behind and hope within why Christ lived like that while here on earth.

I’m reading through James again at the suggestion of a colleague and friend, and I just started writing what came to mind as I read.  Enjoy…

  • When faith is tested, endurance will grow.  When endurance grows, it will make me stronger.  Not on my own, but by His strength.
  • Is my loyalty divided between God and the things in this world?  Am I truly putting my faith in Him alone?  Where am I falling short when it comes to seeking and asking Him for wisdom?  How do I tell the difference between what I’m coming up with on my own and what He is inspiring?
  • The rich should show humility for their blessings, and the poor should boast of how God is honoring them.  They have all they need in Him, as long as they are making Him all they need.
  • God never tempts us, He never puts things in front of us to test our faith in such ways.  But He allows it so we may be blessed by enduring it!
  • In spite of how mankind has continued to abandon Him, His heart still beats for us.
  • There is a distinct difference between my anger and God’s righteous anger.  I need to defer to His anger when I’m angry or frustrated, and I need to be open to letting Him in to dispel it, including when it’s offered by a friend.
  • I need to not just read & listen to the Word, I need to live it.  I need to practice it!  Daily!  I need to have it on my mind so I truly know it.
  • James 2 is hitting home.  I find myself judgmental of people purely by their appearance, and I remember a time when I didn’t.  That’s the world’s influence on me.  I think this is one of the really tough areas for me to grasp.
  • The law that sets me free will also judge me, so I should live according to that law of freedom and enjoy the freedom I have in it!
  • James 3.  As a leader in the church, I will be judged more strictly.  I’ve already felt the sting of poor decisions, and it is the least important reason I need to guard my heart and mind.  The most important is the tremendous freedom in Him, as mentioned before.  Why do I need anything else?
  • Humility humility humility.  Draw close to God, He draws close back.
  • James 5… Prayer is powerful.  Prayer is conversation.  Prayer with others is uplifting and revealing.

In the beginning, there were many questions…

I wonder how Adam & Eve figured out the whole “sexual-relations” thing… was that on their own?

Did God not accept Cain’s gift purely as a lesson?  What did it mean that God didn’t accept his gift?  Did He mean for Cain to go back and try again?  Did Cain neglect to bring the best he had from his crops?  Was he meant to be an example because of his poor response?

What was going through Abel’s mind as Cain attacked him?  Cain seemed to cry like a baby when God banished him, taking zero responsibility for his actions, even going so far as to blame God for his situation.  Even in the beginning, we were trying to cast the blame off ourselves!  First Adam blames Eve, then Eve blames the Serpent, then Cain blames God Himself.  What gall… but then, how often do I do that?…

What was the mark that God put on Cain when he banished him to warn others who might try to kill him?  And where did those others come from?  Where did Cain find his wife?  What’s her story?

It’s incredible how many of Cain’s descendants are responsible for being the very first to do certain things: Jabal, Cain’s great-great-great-great-great-grandson, was the first to raise livestock and live in tents, and his brother Jubal was the first to play the harp and the flute.  Did they just figure it out, or were they taught somehow?  And did God return to Cain’s family even though He initially banished Cain from His presence for his murder of Abel?

Lamech, Jubal & Jabal’s father, was an interesting guy.  Genesis 4:23:

One day Lamech said to his wives,

“Adah and Zillah, hear my voice;
listen to me, you wives of Lamech.
I have killed a man who attacked me,
a young man who wounded me.
24 If someone who kills Cain is punished seven times,
then the one who kills me will be punished seventy-seven times!”

What in the world was he talking about???  Was he simply being boastful or proud?  I wonder if he was the first to get drunk on wine… bizarre.

Okay, people wonder about the beginning of time, how long the earth has been around.  At 130 years of age, Adam had another son named Seth with Eve.  He then lived another 800 years… that’s nearly a full millenia!  Looks like Noah was the 12th generation after Adam… fancy that.  I love how God works.  But I’m curious as to how many years after he did the flood was.  Doesn’t seem like that many… at least not if you view a century as not being that long a time.  But it still pulls into question how many years ago God actually created everything.  I recall finding a graph online that someone created to spell the whole thing out.  I’ll have to try to find that again.

And here’s another question… six days to create the earth, one to rest.  Six days as in twenty-four hours?  Or six days as in six thousand years?  2 Peter 3:8:

… A day is like a thousand years to the Lord, and a thousand years is like a day.

… and Psalm 90:4:

For You, a thousand years are as a passing day,
as brief as a few night hours.

Hmm.  So, is it possible that creation actually took six thousand years, give or take a few centuries?  I recall reading about an experiment the scientists running the Hubble Telescope did a number of years ago.  Essentially they were using Hubble to help determine exactly how old the universe really is.  The results staggered their minds: Hubble’s results showed the universe was formed only about 6,000 years ago.  It seems those results were only briefly published before they were dismissed and/or buried in favor of a “God-less” explanation, currently putting the age of the universe at between 12 and 13 billion years old.  However, something those scientists may not be accounting for is the fact that the speed of light has decreased in its speed quite significantly since the beginning of time.  Today, the current speed of light is ten or twenty thousand miles-per-hour slower than it was only 15-20 years ago.  So, to me it’s quite possible that the results they’re getting now are false positives due to the failure to accurately determine how long it has actually taken the light from distant celestial objects and bodies to reach us from afar.  Of course, there’s also the defense that the speed of light’s decrease in speed proves that the universe was formed through such a great cataclysmic event as the “Big Bang,” because why else would light be slowing down if it didn’t come into formation through the largest explosion in history?  To me, that’s precisely why it still falls under the jurisdiction of the unexplainable except by only one way.  It’s a difficult question, but I know God has it figured out already anyway.  Heck, He made everything.

I think that’s enough questions for now… my brain’s starting to freeze up.