Yielding One Hundred Fold

by Lois Tverberg

Isaac planted crops in that land and the same year reaped a hundredfold, because the LORD blessed him. The man became rich, and his wealth continued to grow until he became very wealthy. He had so many flocks and herds and servants that the Philistines envied him…Then Abimelech said to Isaac, “Move away from us; you have become too powerful for us. – Genesis 26:12-16

Bountiful CropWe don’t read much about Isaac but that he dwelled in Canaan his entire life and prospered there. He lived in the south, near Beersheba, in the most arid area of the country. Drought was common, and a famine was in progress even when Isaac moved there (Gen. 26:2). Surprisingly, in these adverse conditions, the scriptures say that Isaac “reaped a hundredfold” – that the seed that he planted yielded 100 times the amount that was sown. This was an extraordinary harvest, and would have been even for places with more rain. Jesus probably was alluding to it when he described a seed sown in good soil that yielded a “hundredfold” (Luke 8:8).

Amazingly, in the midst of drought Isaac prospered, to the extent that the king of the region asked him to move away. He had inherited the blessing as his father Abraham, who had also prospered as a nomad in a hostile country that was prone to drought and famine. Looking ahead, we will see the same blessing for Isaac’s descendants whose numbers increased greatly in the land of Egypt. So much so, that they threatened Pharaoh’s leadership until they too were told to move away.

It is interesting that even in drought and hardship, God’s people prosper. This seems to be the an inherent part of the blessing that we have inherited from Abraham’s family. We, too, find that dryness makes us wise, keeps us thinking, and helps us focus on what is essential. Abundance lets us get flabby, wasteful, careless and lazy. Most importantly, when it is dry in our lives, we cling to God and pray frequently to him. It is then that he is most able to prosper us spiritually, to cause the seed that is growing in our hearts to yield 100 times more than what was sown.

Photocred: kaboompics.com

The Mystery of Prayer

by Lois Tverberg & Bruce Okkema

Now return the man’s wife, for he is a prophet, and he will pray for you and you will live. But if you do not return her, you may be sure that you and all yours will die. Genesis 20:7

The story above occurs while Abraham was living in Gerar, the land of King Abimelech. When the king’s eyes fell upon Sarah, he desired her and took her to be one of his wives. But before they had become intimate, God spoke to Abimelech in a dream and said that he was in great danger of Gods’ judgment because he had taken another man’s wife. Abimelech protested, claiming his innocence in that he had not known that she was a married woman. God told him because this was true, he was warning the king so he wouldn’t suffer for his offense.

Praying handsOne fascinating aspect of the story is that God told Abimelech that when Abraham would pray for the king, he would live. The implication is that God would wait to spare Abimelech until after Abraham had interceded. It seems like very odd logic that God himself would not release the king until Abraham prayed! We have a similar story at the end of book of Job. God was angry with Job’s counselors and said to them,

I am angry with you and your two friends, because you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has… My servant Job will pray for you, and I will accept his prayer and not deal with you according to your folly. (Job 42:7-8)

Does it strike you as strange that God would bind himself to waiting on a person’s prayers? He even tells us to pray for someone else so that he can take action. The sins in these situations have been committed against both God and man, yet could it be that God desires forgiveness between his people so much, that he asks for evidence of their forgiveness before he shows his own?

It is a mystery to us that God in some way constrains himself to working in response to prayer. Why the creator would wait for mankind to ask, when he knows the outcome and certainly does not need our advice, is beyond our understanding. Yet, he wants us to pray, and we can conclude that he is waiting for us to pray in order to accomplish his purposes.

Let us continue to pray faithfully, and let us never cease to wonder at his mystery.

Photocred: jill, jellidonut… whatever

Growing Faith

by Lois Tverberg

O Lord GOD, what will You give me, since I am childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?
– Genesis 15:2

AbrahamAbraham is known most for one quality – his faith in God, and his faithfulness to God. But if we look at the words that come out of his mouth through his life, we can see that his faith grows over time, as he sees that God is utterly reliable in keeping his promises.

At the beginning, when God has delayed long on his promise to give him a son, Abram said,

O Lord GOD, what will You give me, since I am childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus? – Gen. 15:2

We can see his doubts after long years of waiting. He also expresses his doubts to God that he will possess the land:

O Lord GOD, how may I know that I will possess it? – Gen. 15:8

But still, he is faithful to God when God his promises seem far off, and finally God rewards him with a son. This greatly increases Abraham’s faith, so that he can say to Isaac on their way to Mt. Moriah,

God will provide for Himself the lamb for the burnt offering, my son. – Gen. 22:8.

Finally, the last words that are recorded from Abraham show that over the years he has become utterly convinced of God’s ability to provide. When a wife needs to be found for Isaac, he said to his servant:

The LORD, the God of heaven, who took me from my father’s house and from the land of my birth, and who spoke to me and who swore to me, saying, `To your descendants I will give this land,’ He will send His angel before you, and you will take a wife for my son from there. Gen. 23:7

Abraham began with a little faith in a God that he barely knew, and over his life, grew in faith as he saw God’s answers to his every need. So too, we will grow in confidence as we see how God’s love unfolds in our lives.

Photo: Web Gallery of Art

How to Choose a Wife

by Lois Tverberg

See, I am standing beside this spring, and the daughters of the townspeople are coming out to draw water. May it be that when I say to a girl, `Please let down your jar that I may have a drink,’ and she says, `Drink, and I’ll water your camels too’ – let her be the one you have chosen for your servant Isaac. By this I will know that you have shown kindness to my master. – Genesis 24:13-14

When Abraham’s servant went to find a wife for Isaac, he knew that God would help his mission be successful. After all, God had said that Isaac would be the father of a great nation, and in order to do that, he would need a wife.

Woman at a wellIt is interesting to see how the servant acts faithfully to find a wife for Isaac, knowing his cultural setting. He started with prayer before he began to look for a wife. But then he used some common sense to go where he would find her. The village well was a center of daily activity, where women came each morning and evening to get water. The servant knew that this was the place to bump into eligible young women, so he sought them out there. This seems to be an effective method in biblical times – Jacob met his wife at a well, as did Moses.

The servant went where the women were, and then decided to look for a person of character that he could recognize by her response to him and his camel’s need for a drink. She would have had to have had a compassionate heart for strangers. In that time, hospitality was highly prized. And, by offering to water his camels, she took on an enormous task to help a stranger. Camels can drink 25 gallons or more after a long journey, about 200 pounds of water each. By bringing water for all ten, it would have taken hours and several dozen trips to transport about a ton of water to them! By the time she was done, it must have been well after dark.

The servant could see from Rebekah’s amazing effort that she was quite a strong, caring, generous young woman. The Lord had rewarded his faith and good sense. And because Rebekah had extended herself to a thirsty stranger, the Lord rewarded her by making her the mother of a great nation.

Photocred: http://worldwaterday.internationalmedicalcorps.org/WaterFacts.html

Offended by God – a Child Abuser?

by Lois Tverberg

Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son, and he took in his hand the fire and the knife. So the two of them walked on together. Isaac spoke to Abraham his father and said, “My father!” And he said, “Here I am, my son.” And he said, “Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” Abraham said, “God will provide for Himself the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” So the two of them walked on together. – Genesis 22:6-8

I heard, once, of a woman who was deeply offended at the story of the near sacrifice of Isaac, and generally horrified by the kind of God that would put a child through such terrible anguish. She said she hated the story because it showed her that God was guilty of child abuse.

Abraham sacrifices IsaacA response to that is to look more carefully at Isaac’s role in the story. Is he a little boy, terrorized by the incident? The answer lies in a seemingly minor detail in the text, which says that Isaac carried the load of wood. God had asked for an olah, a whole burnt offering – and that requires a lot of wood! No toddler could have carried such an enormous burden. The reason he carried it was more likely because he was a strong young man, much more capable than his elderly father (100+ years old!) at hauling a heavy load of wood up a mountain.

If Isaac is a strong young man, his Abraham couldn’t have forced Isaac to do anything against his will. Isaac would have had to have been a willing sacrifice, complying with his fathers wishes, with trust in both his father and God. That means that Isaac was as much a man of heroic faith as his father, if not more.

The woman’s response to this story contains a revulsion at the death of Jesus as well, when another innocent young man was asked to sacrifice Himself. Often people think of His Father as a wrathful, angry God who was cruel in asking for this sacrifice too. What we often fail to realize is that there are not two Gods involved – just one. And, the One who willingly gave Himself as a sacrifice was as much God as His Father.

If this is true, God’s ultimate role in the story is not just to watch from heaven above, but to carry the wood that Isaac had carried, and become the ultimate substitution for Isaac Himself.

Photocred: Web Gallery of Art

Giving and Taking Away

by Lois Tverberg

Now it came about after these things, that God tested Abraham, and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” He said, “Take now your son, your only son, whom you love, Isaac, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I will tell you. – Genesis 22:1-2

Abraham and IsaacIt seems strange that God would ask Abraham to sacrifice his son, the very son that God had promised would be the one who would father a great nation. It’s odd that God would use His answer to prayer as the basis for a test. I think though, that God gave this test because He knows human nature.

When we come to God in prayer with a request, we can be utterly sincere about asking for a good thing that seems to be in accordance with God’s purposes. It may be a better job, having an opportunity in business, finding a spouse, or even that someone would be saved. People may spend years in sincere prayer, as Abraham did, and God is pleased by our persistent faith in His willingness to help us.

Sometimes, however, the request can become all-consuming to our prayers, until it becomes the thing by which God is measured in our eyes. When the goal seems impossible, our belief in God’s goodness may decline, and we may even get angry with Him. No matter how good a request seems to us, when anything becomes so important that God cannot say “no”, it is an idol. It has taken God’s place as ruler of our lives, and prayer is just a means to get God to serve our own ends.

We know we are that point when we use means that God hasn’t approved to reach our prayer goal. It looks like that was where Abraham and Sarah were at when Sarah brought Hagar to Abraham, so that they could “help” God fulfill His promise. God pledged to bless even their actions in weakness, but He didn’t allow their actions to be the fulfillment of His plan.

Even after God had given them Isaac, it was a possibility that their faith in God was really a faith in His ability to give them a family, something enormously important to them. In order to prove that this wasn’t true, God put his finger right on the thing that may have been more important to them than Himself. It was when Abraham finally showed that His faith was unwavering in God, even to the point of taking away the blessing that He had given before, that God was free to pour out all His blessings on them.

The Binding of Isaac

by Lois Tverberg

Now it came about after these things, that God tested Abraham, and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” He said, “Take now your son, your only son, whom you love, Isaac, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I will tell you. – Genesis 22:1-2

The story of the near-sacrifice of Isaac is referred to in Jewish tradition as the “Akedah,” the binding of Isaac. It is one of the most difficult to understand in the scriptures. It is also rich with meaning, and becomes richer when we are aware of the Hebrew phrases behind it.

For instance, when Abraham answered God, “Here I am,” the word, “hineni” meant much more than just an announcement of a person’s location. It was what a child said to a parent or a servant his master, to show attentive submission. It was like saying, “At your service!” Abraham was fully open to God’s requests.

Isaac and AbrahamGod’s response, “Take now your son” also needs the Hebraic nuances to pick up on its mood. The phrase uses “na” after the verb, which is a gentle request, a plea. It is if God gently asked Abraham this enormous request, saying the word “please” along with it. He is asking Abraham if he would, not harshly ordering him to do it.

And, the words in Hebrew for “go to the land” lekh l’cha, are used exactly one other time in the Bible, as God’s very first words to Abram. Then, God had tested Abram by asking him to leave his family, country and his heritage for a land God would show him. Here, God is repeating the test, but instead of asking Abraham to abandon all his past, now He asks him to abandon the future promise that God had in Isaac.

Amazingly, although Abraham showed great daring in bargaining with God to spare the lives of the people of Sodom, now he says nothing. Somehow he knows that God will come through on this test of all tests, even from the beginning.

Photocred: Web Gallery of Art

Laughter of Relief

by Lois Tverberg

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… 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.” – Genesis 21:1-7

Abraham was 75 years old when he abandoned all his security of home and family for God. It took 25 years for God to fulfill His promise to him to give him a son, and God had made many other promises that were still very far off. During that time Abraham and Sarah had wandered many miles and endured much worry and famine and even war.

The time had not been easy for either Sarah or Abraham. Sarah had probably lived a life of feeling worthless, because in her culture she had failed at the one thing that brought a woman stature. Even Abraham must have felt a great hollowness when he looked out on his vast wealth and thought that he might be handing it down to a servant when he died, and his name would die with him. Long ago he had bluntly said to God,

O Sovereign LORD, what can you give me since I remain childless and the one who will inherit my estate is Eliezer of Damascus? You have given me no children; so a servant in my household will be my heir. (Gen. 15:1-2)

Parent holding baby handFinally, God fulfilled His promise to give them a son and they named him “laughter,” Yitzhakh, Isaac. It’s a laughter of relief that is somewhat shocked and incredulous that God could finally do what He said. Their years of longing and waiting, and the miracle of having a child in their extreme old age would remind them for the rest of their lives of God’s rock-solid faithfulness.

Why did God make them wait for so many years? God chose Abraham because He knew he would “direct his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD.” This family was key to God’s promises to everyone on earth, and for those promises to happen, they would need to have great patience and enormous faith for generations to come. This was not because God was slow, but because God’s plan was so huge and far-reaching, it would take ages to come to pass.

The waiting that Abraham and Sarah experienced was only a tiny fraction of the waiting that would be the daily portion of many people after him. Abraham would tell his descendants his story, and they would know that God would be faithful. Through Abraham and Sarah’s long waiting, and God’s hilarious answer, we are reminded that God’s promises may be long in coming, but it is only because they are so much greater than we ever could imagine.

Photocred: fruity monkey

The Logic of Mercy

by Lois Tverberg

Thus it came about, when God destroyed the cities of the valley, that God remembered Abraham, and sent Lot out of the midst of the overthrow, when He overthrew the cities in which Lot lived. – Genesis 19:29

In the book of Genesis, we are introduced to many biblical ideas that have transformed all of humanity. We often don’t think about how radical and surprising they are. One idea that was shocking in its time was that one powerful God created the world, and that this God was moral and demands morality of His people. This was radical and different than the pagan idea that there were many gods, and none of them cared what humans did.

Another surprising idea that comes from the Bible is that mercy is shown to the guilty for the sake of an innocent person. If you think about it, this is quite illogical. We don’t give a gift to one person because we appreciated what someone else had done for us. But yet we have gotten used to the idea that God will pardon many because of the faithfulness of just one or a few.

One example is that when Abraham begged God to spare Sodom, he assumed that God would spare an entire city for the sake of even 10 innocent people in it, and God agreed. He didn’t just ask God to remove the innocent and then punish the rest (which would be logical), he asks God to pardon everyone for the sake of just a few. This really is extravagant mercy, to release everyone for the sake of just a few.

When the angels went to Sodom, they couldn’t find even ten people which would spare the city from its fate. But God did save Lot and his family, although the Bible hints that they weren’t much different than the Sodomites. Lot had become a community leader and his children were intermarrying with the population.

Interestingly, as it says in today’s verse, God didn’t save Lot’s family for their own sake, but for the sake of Abraham, who had been faithful to him. Once again we see this “illogical” logic, that for some strange reason, because of the merit of the a faithful person, sinners are pardoned because of it.

It is as if God gradually preparing his people to understanding his future great act of redemption in Christ, whose righteousness was conferred on us, and we are pardoned for his sake.

Thank goodness for God’s illogical mercy!

Heroic Chutzpah!

Abraham before Sodom

by Lois Tverberg

Abraham came near and said, “Will You indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked? Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city; will You indeed sweep it away and not spare the place for the sake of the fifty righteous who are in it? Far be it from You to do such a thing, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous and the wicked are treated alike. Far be it from You! Shall not the Judge of all the earth deal justly? – Genesis 18: 23- 25

Abraham before SodomWhen we read the story of God and Abraham discussing the fate of Sodom, we are shocked at the fact that Abraham is so brash as to challenge God’s decision. He even dares to suggest that God needs to abide by the rules that he gave to men – that if we are to deal justly, so should he! How can he speak this way to God?

Interestingly, this story has several comments from Jewish understanding that show that they see Abraham’s actions in a very positive light. His boldness with God is a sign of his tremendous trust of God – Abraham is like a little boy who keeps pulling on his father’s coattails. Even though his father seems stern, the little boy knows that his dad is utterly kind and gentle at heart, and he can be a little bold in begging him for a treat.

Also, it is noted that for some mysterious reason, God wants us to plead on behalf of sinful people. He says in Ezekiel, “I searched for a man among them who would build up the wall and stand in the gap before me for the land, so that I would not destroy it; but I found no one.” (Ezek. 22:30) God does not want us to stand by passively and watch judgment come on others. He wants us to intercede, both telling them to repent, but begging God to be merciful.

In fact, the greatest heroes of the Jewish people are Abraham, who pleaded for the people of Sodom, and Moses who pleaded for the Israelites. When they had abandoned God’s covenant and were in danger of being destroyed, they begged God to relent from judgment. Two other figures, Noah and Jonah, heard of God’s judgment and didn’t bother to pray for mercy for others. Noah built his boat and saved his family, and Jonah even got mad when God had mercy! These two figures never were as highly regarded in Jewish thought.

Interestingly, we can see that Jesus fits into the first category of being truly heroic when he pleaded for mercy at his crucifixion, because “they did not know what they were doing.” And finally, by bearing our sins himself, he was the ultimate hero in gaining mercy for sinners.

Photocred: James Tissot