Sleight of Hand

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Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 89:1-18; 147:1-11, Genesis 27:1-29, Romans 12:1-8, John 8:12-20


Sometimes the Bible reads like a soap opera. In Genesis 27, Rebekah convinces her son Jacob to wear goat skin on his neck and hands to fool his blind father into thinking he is his older, hairier twin brother Esau. He does this to secure his father Isaac’s blessing, which will mean he inherits leadership of his clan. Isaac does indeed (and improbably) grant his blessing to the “wrong” son, in an apparently irrevocable act. When the real Esau demands things be made right, all Isaac has left to offer is a meager consolation prize of a blessing that basically promises Esau the things Jacob didn’t already get.

To our modern sensibilities, developed in a culture of upward mobility, it seems unfair that deception is rewarded thusly. In Jacob’s time, though, people couldn’t earn authority based on merit; authority was inherited or taken by force. If Jacob (or his mother on his behalf) wanted equal opportunity without resorting to outright violence, he had no other choices but to scheme his way to it.

Many cultures have a “trickster” figure: Loki in Norse mythology; Raven in Native American lore; Anansi in West African folk tales. Jacob is a similar figure who outwits his brother multiple times, and even outwrestles an angel physically and mentally. Trickster figures, despite having questionable ethics, often bring benefits to mankind despite the will of the gods. This is where Jacob differs: God had already chosen him to continue Isaac’s lineage, and the tricks seem to support that.

For the most part we want and expect people to play by the rules. Deception rubs us the wrong way and leads to chaos. But what if the rules are not the same for everyone (as they almost never are, especially the unspoken ones)? The Bible has many stories of oppressed people who use the methods available to them to overcome. Deception is not a virtuous act, but sometimes it takes a trickster to turn oppression around. Someone who, say, subverts Roman and Jewish expectations and leads us to eternal life by sacrificing his own. The difference between a hero and a villain often depends on who writes the history book.

Comfort: God’s will eventually plays out.

Challenge: It may not play out in ways we like.

Prayer: Protect me, O God, for in you I take refuge. Amen. (Psalm 16:1)

Discussion: “The ends justifies the means” is a sentiment which can cut both ways. Do you think questionable means are ever justified?

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God Will Provide the Lamb

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Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 96; 147:1-11, Genesis 22:1-18, Hebrews 11:23-31, John 6:52-59


Abraham was one hundred and Sarah was ninety when Isaac, the son God promised them, was born. How must Abraham have felt when God asked him to offer his son as a sacrifice? Abraham neither objected to this request nor delayed in responding; he set out with Isaac the next morning for Moriah. This is the Abraham who laughed when God told him Sarah would conceive a child. The Abraham who took down kings to free his people. The Abraham who challenged God not once, not twice , but six times to spare the citizens of Sodom. Yet when asked to make a burnt offering of his son, he complied without argument. Why?

On the way, Isaac asked his father where the sacrificial lamb was. Abraham replied: “God himself will provide the lamb.” We might read this as an attempt to deceive Isaac, but we must remember this is the Abraham who spent many years arguing with God about what was possible, only to be proven wrong time after time. Obedient as he had become, could this Abraham have believed for a moment God would renege on the promise Isaac represented? Tradition tells us Abraham passed God’s test because he was willing to kill his son. Is it possible he passed the test because he trusted his God not to take his child? That he finally trusted God enough not to argue, but to risk being wrong? If so, “God himself will provide the lamb” sounds less like a comforting lie and more like a prayer of self-reassurance. In the end, God spared Isaac and did indeed provide a ram. Abraham’s descendants formed a great nation.

How often have we hesitated to commit ourselves totally to God because we fear what we may be asked to sacrifice? God is not a despot demanding sacrifices out of cruelty or insecurity, but until we trust him enough to risk the annihilation of submission we keep part of ourselves from him. Whatever our faith strips away from us needs to go. Whatever our faith has in store for us is greater than we can imagine.

Comfort: God is faithful, always.

Challenge: Read through today’s passage from Genesis a couple times. The first time imagine yourself in Abraham’s place. The second time, imagine you are Isaac hearing the story for the first time.

Prayer: Pray the Prayer of Dedication below, thinking about what it might cost you.

Lord Jesus, I give you my hands to do your work. I give you my feet to go your way. I give you my tongue to speak your words. I give you my mind that you may think in me. I give you my spirit that you may pray in me. Above all, I give you my heart that you may love in me your Father and all mankind. I give you my whole self that you may grow in me, so that it is you, Lord Jesus, who live and work and pray in me.

Discussion: What have you given up – voluntarily or involuntarily – only to discover something better was waiting?

Join the discussion! If you enjoyed this post, feel free to join an extended discussion as part of the C+C Facebook group. You’ll be notified of new posts through FB, and have the opportunity to share your thoughts with some lovely people. Or feel free to comment here on WordPress, or even re-blog – the more the merrier!