Bilhah and All The Other Used and Abused

While Israel lived in that land, Reuben went and lay with Bilhah his father’s concubine. And Israel heard of it. Genesis 35:22

Bilhah is a woman without rights. She was Rachel’s maid all the way back to Rachel’s youth. She learned to obey orders very young. She never knew freedom. When Rachel couldn’t conceive, she gave Bilhah to Jacob as a secondary wife. She was used as a surrogate mother to conceive babies. Once they were born, Rachel took them from her and adopted them as her own. Once again, Bilhah had no choice.

Years later, she was victimized again as Jacob’s oldest son, Reuben, took her honor. He snuck in her tent and in the darkness, lay with her. Bilhah could write books on what it means to be victimized.  Did she know God?  I want to believe so. She was immersed in all the teaching, the worship, the building of altars at pinnacle moments of the family’s faith. She saw it all and probably clung to God for the strength to endure hardship.

What can be said for the Bilhahs of this world? Perhaps you are one. Your life seems like a set up as choices were made for you. How do you come to believe in a God that appears to bless some and curse others? Those with heartbreaking stories have posed the question to me on many occasions. Can He be trusted?

God’s feelings toward Bilhah are not revealed, nor are her feelings for God recorded. But lest God become someone over whom I stumble, the whole context of scripture is at my fingertips. A generation earlier, Hagar was in similar circumstances. Used. Spurned. Banished. But in the aftermath of man’s sin and the tragedy that had been thrust upon this young mother, God’s character shone through when He remembered her and met her personally in an unforgiving desert. He revealed Himself as the ‘God who sees her.’ El-Roi

If I measure God’s goodness by my own story, He can look guilty. I must widen my view and live in the scriptures. I must rest in God’s overarching redemptive plan that includes the provision of a Savior who redeems tragic stories. I must look ahead to Paradise where faithfulness will be rewarded and where sin will be judged. There, the first will be last and the last will be first. Hagars and Bilhahs will lead the way in heaven.

The extent to which God allows one to be crushed, alternatively, that person is given an unequaled capacity to know Him intimately. Treasures of the darkness are promised to the one who seeks God by faith when all evidence against him seems ironclad.

For the one who is Bilhah, disclose Yourself to her today as El-Roi. Amen

Too Many Changes At Once

Rachel went into labor, and she had hard labor. And when her labor was at its hardest, the midwife said to her, “Do not fear, for you have another son.” And as her soul was departing (for she was dying), she called his name Ben-oni; but his father called him Benjamin. Genesis 35:16-18

Too many changes all at once puts me in a challenging place emotionally. Everything seems too much to process. If I initiated the changes, it was a bit easier but most change is what happened to me and I had little control over it. Even good changes were challenging enough but bad changes brought the onset of grief.

Jacob’s life, a life much longer than mine, had drastic twists and turns. He left home, by his own doing, and never saw his parents again. His dreams smashed repeatedly when Rachel’s father tricked him into working past a decade. He lost the relationship with his brother. God changed his name to Israel and that identity change was a huge adjustment. His perception of his sons took a downward and tragic turn. Rachel, the love of his life, died during childbirth. This last tragedy happened on the very arrival to Bethel, the place of blessing where they would have settled to live out the remainder of their days.

Now there is a certain kind of personality that thrives on change, but I contend that it’s change they control. No one likes an unexpected knock on the door in the middle of the night. Ron and I experienced that when our son died.

Why is it that difficult times never seem to last just a year? Instead, five years, twelve years, even twenty-two years go by. There are seasons of life where one thing after another overwhelms us and we learn that we must draw close to Jesus and follow His lead to develop spiritual strategies.  What did Jesus do when he felt the pressures of life?  He withdrew to get alone with His Father. He reviewed the scriptures and God’s history. He communed with Him through a prayer life that’s hard to imagine. 

These are the prescriptions for any of us who knows that the only stability available to us is childlike trust and unshakeable faith in in our God.

“It is well for us that, amidst all the variableness of life, there is One whom change cannot affect; One whose heart can never alter, and on whose brow mutability can make no furrows.”  Charles Spurgeon

Get Up Close and You’re Changed!

God has always been an identity changer. One cannot be near someone like God and not come away different. The identity-changing nature of God has never been more evident than when He personally changed the names of people. Jacob, despite all his failures, received a new name.  Israel.  The name Jacob meant ‘supplanter….one who takes something by force through treachery.’ Fitting, since he tricked his brother and stole his blessing. But years later, Jacob wrestled with God to receive God’s blessing. Part of that was a re-naming.  God called him ‘Israel….one who perseveres with God.’

While God may not give new earthly names to every person, identities still change radically once we are adopted into His family. We are no longer aliens, but residents of heaven. God says that we’re no longer enemies, but friends. We are no longer cursed, but blessed, no longer lost, but saved, no longer rejected, but chosen. We are no longer unclean, but righteous.  The list could go on awhile.

Have we really embraced our new identities? It’s hard to digest that we are no longer who we were, especially if people around us treat us as if nothing has changed. Satan is also bent on reinforcing, through hurtful circumstances, that we are the same old sinner.

I can immerse myself in the wonder of a changed identity by spending more time with the Name-Changer.

Let me bask in the spiritual assurances of ownership that come from running home to You. Amen

Angels At The Door

And as they journeyed, a terror from God fell upon the cities that were around them, so that they did not pursue the sons of Jacob. Genesis 35:5

God makes His child many, many promises. As long as my heart is sensitive toward sin and I’m quick to repent after falling on my face, the blessing of God is on my life.   Living without sin is not a prerequisite. Who can do that?  But instead, God asks me to live a cross-centered life characterized by a daily awareness of God’s love, my brokenness, and His daily grace.

After the sons of Jacob went on a rampage and took the lives of many innocent men in Shechem, God appeared, gave new orders, and Jacob quickly made a course correction for his family. The fallout of his family’s murderous rage complicated the picture, however. They had been known as a peace-loving people; a tribe of shepherds. Heathen nations had not been afraid of them but that all changed. They were now considered to be a viable threat.  God kept His promise of protection to the sons of Abraham. He sent a wave of panic to all the inhabitants of foreign cities. The fear was so great that no one entertained the thought of attacking Jacob’s tribe. God stepped up to define the psyche of alien peoples.

Some years ago, I had been invited to come and speak to a group of women at a church in the Midwest.  I was going to drive it and travel by myself.  The women’s ministry leader told me ahead of time that the area was spiritually dark and was known nationwide as the center of strong occultic activity.  A group of intercessors, both there and at home, promised to cover me in prayer. 

The day came.  As I approached the city, I got out my map to find the name and address of the motel the church had provided for my stay.  Arriving, I pulled into an old-fashioned, one-story motel.  Everyone’s room had a window that looked out on the parking lot.  I settled in, got some dinner, and went to bed. Around midnight, I was awakened by a raucous group of men slamming car doors and then banging on my window.  I heard them say, “She’s in here.  Let’s go get her.”   I threw on some clothes and fell to my knees in prayer.  I asked God for help and then waited.  I never heard them in the hall.  I heard nothing.   About five minutes passed.  Then again, I heard men’s voices outside, then the sound of them opening their car doors and pulling away.  Nothing had happened to me.  What had they seen or heard that stopped them?  I picture a host of warring angels standing at the outside entrance, not allowing them access.  Whatever happened, they stood down and were silenced.  

You might be curious to know why I didn’t pick up the phone to call the desk or 911.  Honestly, it never occurred to me, even though I had called for help in similar past situations.  I believe now that I didn’t think of it because God wanted to show me His power and the extent of His protection over my life.

I am certainly not unique to threats of trouble.  Itinerant bible teachers, especially women, have some close calls quite often. There are so many stories that show how creatively God has looked out for His servants.

I have seen you change people’s hearts and their godless plans, a full 180 degrees over matters great and small. How great you are. How small I am. Amen

Can Anything Good Happen Now?

         God said to Jacob, “Arise, go up to Bethel and dwell there. Make an altar there to the God who appeared to you when you fled from your brother Esau.” So Jacob said to his household and to all who were with him, “Put away the foreign gods that are among you and purify yourselves and change your garments. Genesis 35:1-2

A series of bad choices result in a train wreck. With life in shambles, it appears as if it’s too late for a clean start.  Jacob knows how that feels. His family has narrowly escaped assimilation into a pagan society. He knows that if they had intermarried, they would have destroyed the line for the Messiah. How his heart must have ached when he discovered that his sons had tricked the men from Shechem and murdered them in cold blood.  Maybe he wondered if the covenant with God was now null and void. 

But God was gracious yet again.  He appeared to Jacob with instructions for how to pick up and start fresh. He was to gather all the foreign gods within his household, bury them, and tell his family to purify themselves by putting on clean garments.  They were to renew their vows to God in a holy place.

The message for us is this ~ we can’t mess things up so badly that God can’t redeem waste places on the other side of repentance. If beginning again is possible, why aren’t there more of us at the altar bringing the shambles of our lives to Jesus?  Probably because we must own our mistakes, consider why we went astray, and then look at our choices from God’s perspective. It’s hard to own rebellion and not justify our actions. Inflated and fragile egos resist being wrong.  It’s easier to forfeit God’s invitation to start again.

God continued to speak this same message throughout Israel’s history. Joshua will tell God’s chosen people, “Put away the foreign gods that are among you, and incline your heart to the Lord, the God of Israel.” Joshua 24:23  How ironic. The descendants of Jacob will have to hear the exact same message their parents heard, in the very same place, so that they can experience the cleansing that precedes another needed beginning. Is there a limit to the number of times God offers a clean slate?   No. Not then.  Not now.  His mercy knows no boundaries.

I want to make the practice of exposing idolatry and asking for forgiveness so familiar that it’s instinctive. Amen

It Goes Against Everything I Want To Do

And all who went out of the gate of his city listened to Hamor and his son Shechem, and every male was circumcised, all who went out of the gate of his city. On the third day, when they were sore, two of the sons of Jacob, Simeon and Levi, Dinah’s brothers, took their swords and came against the city while it felt secure and killed all the males.   Genesis 34:24-25

Simeon and Levi were the two brothers who were concerned about their sister’s honor.  They sought retribution against the prince of Shechem, the one who assaulted their sister, because he did not admit his sin.  But the brothers acted unjustly and not just against the perpetrator but his people.

They made a covenant with them under false pretenses, requiring circumcision to be a part of the agreement, and then went into the city to kill them in their weakened condition. They broke their covenant vow. To make matters even worse, after the slaughter, the other sons of Jacob joined them in taking the wealth, women, and children for themselves.  God did not order any of this nor did He condone it.

It is human nature to go too far to right a wrong.  Revenge is never rational.  It usually exceeds the original offense. A vengeful heart relishes the scheming and thirsts for a moment to strike and do greater damage than what was done to them.  In retaliation mode, no one thinks clearly.  Rarely is anyone prayerful.  Waiting on God is not a desired option.  The need to see immediate justice blinds wounded souls to wiser options. 

God is clear. Vengeance is mine, He says.  His eyes see what mine can’t. When I leave justice in God’s hands, I relinquish control.  Paul says it this way in The Message.

Don’t hit back; discover beauty in everyone. If you’ve got it in you, get along with everybody. Don’t insist on getting even; that’s not for you to do. “I’ll do the judging,” says God. “I’ll take care of it.” Our Scriptures tell us that if you see your enemy hungry, go buy that person lunch, or if he’s thirsty, get him a drink. Your generosity will surprise him with goodness. Don’t let evil get the best of you; get the best of evil by doing good.  Romans 12:19-21

God loves His children, of which I am one.  He defends me, even if that defense and judgment are deferred according to His wisdom.  While I wait, I can rest in the love, power, and authority of God.  This righteous, ruling God is my Abba Daddy. If I have been wronged, or someone I love has been wronged, prayerfulness to discern the next steps are critical for my blessing and the greater good of my enemies.

I can’t guess what my responses should be.  Please speak, Jesus. Amen