This summer after a failed attempt to get friends together to study Scripture and world religions, I enrolled to audit a class. I took this class as a Freshman at Houghton almost ten years ago. I forgot much of the material. It is interesting to go back, relearn, but this time, with more time as a Christian and simply more years which has, hopefully, made me more wise. (Although, not exempt from run-on sentences apparently.)
Part of my assignment includes writing a page or more on a passage of Scripture we are told to reflect on. There will be eight total. The first entry is on the Pentateuch.
Every story has a theme. The Bible isn’t any different. It so happens that the theme of the Bible is a person, a most glorious and holy person, God. Starting in Genesis, we witness God creating mankind in his image. “So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them” (Gen. 1:27 NRSV) Since we each bear the image of God, we are to treat each other respectfully. However, you often read about the mistreatment of neighbors.
Hagar and Ishmael were sent out from Abraham’s bet ab. Even though Abraham, as the patriarch, was supposed to care for Hagar and her son, he let Sarah decide Hagar’s fate. Thankfully, God brings Hagar back into the bet ab so she is not forgotten. We are told though that even though Sarah treated Hagar wickedly, Hagar was to return and submit. Submission to a harsh ruler flies in defiance of American conduct codes. It was God who told Hagar to submit. God even told Hagar that her son, Ishmael, will live at odds with all his kin. I, like Jacob, wrestle with this, with God’s commands.
Who are Ishmael’s kin? “His children multiplied and became known under the name of Ishmaelites, or Arabs, the people of the desert” (Isaacs, n/d). Is this why Arabs endure animosity? Why does he live at odds with them? In Hagar’s case, are we allowed to defend ourselves when we are being mistreated as Hagar was? How would a mother feel watching her son be outcast and divided?
Even though Hagar endures these troubles, God’s character must not be forgotten. It is all too easy to see our circumstances or problems and lose sight of God’s glory. Hagar calls God El-roi, the God who sees. God sees our pain and plight. He knows what we endure. He is a God of promises to an enduring people.
God establishes covenants with his people . Abram’s name was changed to Abraham because he would become an ancestor to a multitude of nations. Humans acknowledged this and bound the covenant by agreeing to God’s terms of circumcision. God sets up covenants with his people and we are to obey. There are conduct codes. In the time of Lot, men in Sodom and Gomorrah asked to have sex with the angels visiting. Lot, in adherence to the hospitality code that existed in that day and was of grave importance, could not let harm come to the angels. He offers up his daughters to be raped. When I read this, I am appalled. How could rape be less significant than hospitality? Regardless, we see that God protects and doesn’t allow the rape in this case.
Does God ever leave us? He tells us he doesn’t. Does he still protect even when we are harmed? How do we experience blessing in a storm? We see Esau sell his birthright and subsequently, his blessings. Why can’t the refusal of a blessing be overturned? Is this somehow reflective that God’s promises and blessings are not taken back?
God pursues us, but we must do our part. Esau’s Hittite wives “made life bitter for Isaac and Rebekah” (Gen. 26:35). They worshiped idols and to God-fearing in-laws, this must have broken Isaac and Rebekah’s heart. Esau showed he didn’t care if God pursued him, he wanted idols instead. Does God then leave us to our own devices? What is the tipping point?
Even in our rebellion, he remains God. He is El Elhor Israel, or God, the God of Israel. Just as he promised to multiply Abraham’s line, he would do the same for Isaac, and Jacob (Israel). In fact, God kept his promise so faithfully that the Egyptians became concerned with the amount of Israelites. “He said to his people, ‘Look, the Israelite people are more numerous and powerful than we'” (Ex. 1: 9). There is a decree to have all Hebrew boys under two murdered. God gave compassionate hearts to Shiphrah and Puah, the Midwives, and he protected Moses. In fact, Moses’ mom becomes his “wet nurse”!
Moses flees to Midian when he kills a man, but still God delivers him. The Israelites groaned in slavery and God sends Moses to help free them. Moses does not want to go. God assures Moses though. “He said, ‘I will be with you; and this shall be the sign for you that it is I who sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall worship God on this mountain'” (Ex. 3:12 NRSV). God is a God who walks with us. He cares about what we are going through. It is his very nature. “God said to Moses, “I am who I am.”[a] He said further, “Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘I am has sent me to you’” (Ex. 3:14 NRSV). By stating that his name is I AM, God is telling us that who he is: his authority, compassion, and closeness comprises his name. When we call on his name, we call on his nature.
Our God is a God of relationship. A relationship, if it is to be beneficial, is mutual. As a way of expressing God’s desire for our terms of interaction with him, he sets up offerings we are to surrender to him and prohibitions. If we do not maintain these prohibitions we demonstrate our disregard for a rewarding relationship with him. There are sin offerings and offerings on the Day of Atonement. These offerings show that we are to be reverent of God. “ The Lord said to Moses: ‘Tell your brother Aaron not to come just at any time into the sanctuary inside the curtain before the mercy seat that is upon the ark, or he will die; for I appear in the cloud upon the mercy seat’” (Lev. 16:2 NRSV). God sets up the terms for our worship with him, not the other way around. He is the Creator and we are his creation. We must understand this so we don’t usurp his role in our lives.
By observing the Sabbath and the feasts, we also acknowledge that God is the one who sustains us. We don’t provide for ourselves. In rest, we draw near to God and realize that he provides everything we need to be sustained in this world. It is his nature to care for us.
We must trust God that he will care for us though. In the book of Numbers, we observe Caleb and Joshua as the only spies to report that the land was capable of being conquered. These men trusted that God would help them defeat men that were seemingly more powerful than they. The other spies inflicted fear into the people and as such, receiving God’s blessings was delayed. God was infuriated. He wanted to destroy people again. Moses pleads with him. God in his great compassion is longsuffering. Since Moses intercedes for the people, God restrains from his anger. God loves us and simply yearns for us to love him in return.
“Because the Lord your God is a merciful God, he will neither abandon you nor destroy you; he will not forget the covenant with your ancestors that he swore to them” (Deut. 4:31 NRSV). God himself assures us that he is merciful. He established a covenant with us and he will uphold it. In return, it is our righteousness to obey the covenant. “If we diligently observe this entire commandment before the Lord our God, as he has commanded us, we will be in the right” (Deut. 6:25 NRSV).
“It was because the Lord loved you and kept the oath that he swore to your ancestors, that the Lord has brought you out with a mighty hand, and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt. Know therefore that the Lord your God is God, the faithful God who maintains covenant loyalty with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations…” (Deut. 7:8-9 NRSV) God maintains covenant loyalty because he loves us. Our personal God has chesed love and endures this life with us. He is faithful.