I’ve Been Nominated for the Ideal Inspiration Blogger Award!

Wow! So, this is the first blogging award I have been nominated for! I want to sincerely thank The Devotional Guy for the nomination. He has been blogging faithfully about how to live for Jesus during these hard times of the COVID-19 Pandemic, and I have been heartened by his blog.

The Ideal Inspiration Blogger Award is an unofficial award that bloggers give to other bloggers whose work they find inspiring and encouraging. I am honored to be nominated, and be able to pass the award along to others!

So – let’s get started!

RULES:

  1. Thank the person who nominated you and provide a link back to his/her blog.
  2. Answer their questions.
  3. Nominate up to 10 other bloggers and ask them 5 new questions.
  4. Notify the nominees through their blog by visiting and commenting on their blogs.
  5. List the rules and display the “Ideal Inspiration Blogger Award” logo.

THE QUESTIONS:

When did you launch your current blog?

I launched this blog early in September 2019, and I can’t believe it’s been that long!

What motivated you to start blogging?

I’ve always loved the written word. In fact, I finished my first book, Not by Sight: The Story of Joseph, in the Spring of 2019. My brain, I have come to realize, doesn’t know how to not write. However, I fell into blogging though a backwards sort of route. Traditional publishing is a difficult world to enter these days, and it has become clear that many authors need an online presence before an agent or publisher will consider their book. This used to be mainly true for authors of nonfiction only. However, it is expanding into the realm of fiction writers as well.

So, I started this blog! In it, I discuss Biblical stories of faith, the thought process and story decisions that went into my book, and the Biblical and historical contexts for the story.

And – plans are in motion for the future of the blog as well! Stay tuned. 😉

How often do you publish a new post?

Every Thursday night.

How much time do you spend on average creating a blog post?

That depends – that really depends. If the post is research-heavy, it can take me several hours to ensure I have all my facts correct. If there’s less research, it takes less time.

What is it about blogging that you find rewarding?

I express my thoughts much better through writing. It gives me joy to be able to share my thoughts with people though a medium, not just where I feel I can really express myself, but where anyone in the world can listen, if they are interested. I hope my love for God and His message of Hope though the Gift of His Son is clear in my words. This is the most important belief I hold, and the one I most want to share with the world.

MY NOMINATIONS:

Stephanie Jaye

The Godly Chic Diaries

I hope you will check them out! I believe they truly inspire others though their blogs.

MY QUESTIONS FOR THEM:

  1. What made you decide to create a blog focusing on Christian faith?
  2. What do you enjoy most about blogging?
  3. What is the hardest thing about blogging?
  4. What is your hope for your blog?
  5. What is one fun fact about you that you’d be willing to share?

No Matter What, They Will Do as You Do, Not as You Say (Part 1)

Abraham’s crisis of faith

There’s a saying: “Do as I say, not as I do.”

The problem is, anyone in any position of leadership or mentorship (and this includes parenting), knows that this is patently ridiculous. Firstly, everyone, from child to adult, knows that this is not a fair expectation. Why do you get special permission to do things that I can’t? And secondly, can you really expect anyone to follow this?

The answer is no. What you do will always be followed by those who look up to you. Not what you say. And, if you “say” different things from what you “do” you’ll likely be pegged as a hypocrite to boot.

So, there’s really no surprise when we look at the three major patriarchs in Genesis and see a growing train wreck of behavior from generation to generation. It started with Abraham, and then dominoed from there.

Their specific problem, it seems, is lying.

We start with Abraham, who on two separate occasions, lies about his wife, Sarah, in order to protect … himself.

To start to unravel this, we have to understand that Sarah was exceptionally beautiful, and also that the Middle East at that time was the proverbial Wild West, because Abraham evidently walked around in fear that powerful men (note that Abraham is quite wealthy himself, though he is no king) were going to whack him and take Sarah for themselves.

Now, as background, traditionally Sarah has been portrayed as Abraham’s half-sister (blech, I know, there’s the incest again). But, the evidence to back that up is a little wonky, and I’ll explain why when I detail the situation. However, know that it’s generally accepted that she was related to him in some way, possibly as a half-sister.

At any rate, we see Abraham, on two separate occasions, telling poor Sarah to pretend that she is his sister and nothing more than his sister in the presence of a powerful king. This inevitably leads to Sarah getting carted off to the harem. Then God has to literally step in and sort everything out.

Both times.

All discussion of Abraham’s lack of trust in God aside for a moment (and, honestly, how could he think God didn’t have it covered after the first time He got Abraham out of his self-inflicted mess?), what does he think he is doing? If this is how he handles this sort of situation, how is he handling other parts of his life?

Now, for those of you who were taught she was his half-sister and are jumping up and down on “Well, it’s not so much of a lie!”:

I’m not sure the lie being “smaller” in exchange for her actually being his half-sister makes anything better.

But, let’s talk about that for a minute, because it’s important for what we’ll discuss next week.

The belief that she is his half-sister comes from Abraham himself.

Yes, you read that right. The one who just lied.

Further, the “half-sister” excuse is what he tells the second king after God sets the situation straight. It’s not even recorded that he tells the first king this!

Who’s to say that Abraham isn’t lying again? When Abraham’s family is introduced earlier in Genesis, the account is pretty specific about who is related to whom, and Sarah isn’t mentioned as a daughter of Abraham’s father.

But, it’s also worth mentioning that the word “sister” in Ancient Hebrew could pertain to many female relatives descending from one’s father, such as a niece. (Not that this makes the incest thing any better; there’s no hope there.)

So, to sum it up, we’ve got Abraham lying about his wife and saying she’s his sister (regardless of the nuances of the level of truth there) to save his own skin. Nice.

Now, I guess we’d hope that he would learn something from all of this and change his ways before his son was born, but, um, well –

His son pulled the exact same stunt.

Except it’s kind of (?) worse, because “sister,” in that couple’s case, is even more of a stretch.

This chain reaction of falsehoods, of sons learning that behavior from their fathers (read: children learning it from their parents or mentees learning it from their mentors) is something we’ll be looking at over the next week or two. It’s a behavior that actually leads to a giant wedge being driven into this family as the generations progress.

And, let’s not forget that in all of this, Abraham is a man who has had many, many firsthand interactions, encounters, and promises from God. To quote Jesus in the New Testament:

“Oh ye of little faith.”

This is a man who should have the utmost confidence that God had a far better solution then to flat out lie and then let Sarah be carted away. A man who should have the utmost confidence, after being told by God that he would be the father of nations, that God had everything well in hand.

Good grief, Abraham!

Let’s not make the mistakes of Abraham. We may not have firsthand encounters with God, but we have His promises that if we seek Him, He will guide us and help us. Let us be an example of faith for those who look up to us, especially in times like these.

“Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for He who promised is faithful.” – Hebrews 10:23

God’s Choices, God’s Mercy

Judah, the (surprisingly) honored one

So, after we talked about Joseph last week, we need to connect some dots.

I mentioned a few weeks back that Joseph’s father, Jacob, was called Israel by God. You may have heard of the “Twelve Tribes of Israel” – each tribe descended from one of Jacob’s sons. (I’m simplifying things a bit here; Joseph, as always, ended up getting special treatment from dad.)

Since Joseph was the favored son of Jacob (Israel), and, as I mentioned last week, was the first fully positive role model to be presented in any depth the Bible, we might then assume that if there were any special honor to be doled out, either from the people of Israel or from God, it would go to the family of Joseph.

Nope.

Remember how I mentioned the old Yiddish proverb: “Man plans, God laughs?”

Well, here’s an excellent example.

The tribe of Israel that God specifically chose to be the line of kings was the Tribe of Judah.

Judah.

If you know the stories, you know why this is a bit of a shocker. If not, I’ll give you a rundown.

Firstly, Joseph was sold because of Judah.

Now, it’s not quite what you think. Judah didn’t come up with the plan out of the blue. The other brothers had determined to kill Joseph after they threw him into a dry cistern – except the oldest, who suddenly stepped up in responsibility and decided he wasn’t having any of it. But when the oldest (for whatever reason; we’re not told) had to leave the scene of the impending crime for a while, the brothers got extra rowdy, and that’s when Judah stepped in. He knew they shouldn’t kill their brother, but this was literally the best he could muster:

“Let’s not kill him; he’s no good to us dead. Let’s sell him. At least we’ll get money.”

Yeah.

There’s a stunning lack of bravery here that seems at odds with what we could assume is at least a decent sense of right and wrong. But he’s not willing to take any risks. He’d rather Joseph be sold then stick his neck out. But, you know, “At least he’s not dead.”

Later in the story, while Joseph is away in Egypt, Judah is obviously eaten up by his guilt over this decision. He leaves the whole family, starting a new life elsewhere and getting married.

Things, however, don’t go well, and he’s left with a dead wife, two dead sons, one son still living, and a widowed daughter-in-law.

Now, we’re about to get into some Old Testament legalities here. While they may seem backward and strange to us today, they actually provided a safety net for women in a time when they often were not legally able to provide for themselves.

The widowed daughter-in-law, Tamar, was actually widowed twice over. She had been married to Judah’s oldest son, who died. Then, according to the law, she married his second son, so that she would not be destitute with no one to provide for her. But – he died too.

So, Judah got it into his head that she was bad luck, and sent her back home. He lied, saying she could marry his youngest when he grew up a little more, but he had no intention of following through with that. Again, in a time where there was no guarantee that a woman had anyone to “go back home” to, this was a terrible thing to do. But this is Judah. He’d rather engage in defensive strategizing than do what’s really right.

Tamar took none of this sitting down. I won’t say she went about rectifying the situation the right way, but she made her point. In short, she put on a disguise, pretended to be a prostitute, got Judah to sleep with her, and roped him in to taking her back into the family (where she should be been all along) because she was pregnant.

Judah, who had been up in arms when he found out she was pregnant out of wedlock when she was “engaged” to his son, was pretty shaken when he figured out what she’d done and why – and what he’d done.

Hmm, relations out of wedlock, much, Judah?

Judah says something interesting here, and I like to think this is his turning point: “She has been more righteous than I.”

This is his first-ever admission of guilt in the story – but it’s not his last.

Judah finally gets his act together near the end of the Joseph story. In a stunning display of character turnaround and bravery, Judah begs the unrecognizable Joseph that he be kept imprisoned in Egypt rather than their father’s new favorite, Benjamin, Joseph’s only full brother. You see, Joseph pulled a stunt on purpose to find out if his brothers were still jerks who would get rid of the “half-brother favorite son” in a heartbeat.

Here, Judah gets the longest speech in the entire book of Genesis, where he clearly lays out his past guilt and the reasons why he should be taken instead of Benjamin.

It’s a full character one-eighty.

And God honored that.

He honored that so much that, like I said, the line of kings was of the Tribe of Judah. When Israel split in two countries in later days, one of the countries was called Judah. And guess what?

Jesus Christ was of the line of Judah. Not Joseph, not Benjamin, the only innocents in the whole Joseph story.

Judah.

Jesus is even called “The Lion of Judah.”

Think about that for a minute.

If God is willing to have his own Son be counted in the line of this man, be named using the name of this man, do you think there is anything He is not willing to forgive you for? Do you think there is anything you could have done to make Him turn on you? I promise you, there is nothing.

If there is something you need forgiveness for, reach out to Him. He will help you, and forgive you. He does not hold grudges and He does not make plans and the way we do.

Man plans, God laughs.

Come to Him, and let Him show you His plans.

Why Joseph’s Faith is Unique

Why I wrote my book

This is going to be a kind of an odd post, because I have to tell you why I wrote my book about Joseph’s story, and about why his faith journey is unique, without really telling you my plot or spoiling anything.

Not that tons of people don’t know how his story goes, but my point in writing my book wasn’t really to tell his story straight out. Because, like I said, most people know the main story beats already. My intention was to tell his personal story. As in, my story isn’t just about “What happened to him.” It’s about “Why he was the person he was.”

And, to be honest, I thought about not including him in my faith series because of all of these “spoiler-complications,” but I couldn’t bring myself to do it. Because there’s just too much good stuff here!

So. Now to begin this tightrope-walk of a post!

If you look at where Joseph’s story begins, it’s not a good situation. As I described in a post a few weeks back, his father, Jacob, despite his good points in regard to his faith, was a full-blown jerk of a person in most other respects.

For instance, the whole situation where Joseph’s brothers hated him enough to sell him off as a slave happened because Jacob decided to be a polygamist who blatantly favored the oldest son of his favorite wife (this would be Joseph) over all his other children.

And, if you read the entire story, you can see that there’s a whole lot of other awful stuff happening in the family. For instance, Jacob’s daughter, Dinah, gets raped by the son of a local ruler. Jacob does nothing except entertain the idea of marrying her off to her rapist. Then, two of her brothers go out and murder every man in the town rather than have her marry the prince. After which, Jacob does nothing. Later, Jacob’s oldest son has an affair with one of Jacob’s concubines. Jacob also does nothing.

It’s a mess.

Clearly, we can see from all of this that Jacob is not teaching or leading his family in a way that honors God, despite his own personal faith. And this is the origin of this myriad of family problems.

Now, what’s interesting is the case of Joseph.

If you read the story, you can see that Joseph seems to go though an interesting change, but it’s not a very obvious one. It is this:

We never hear anything about Joseph’s relationship with God until after he is sold as a slave.

And, it kind of makes sense. It’s pretty obvious, as I said, that Jacob wasn’t teaching his family much about his God. And, Joseph wasn’t innocent of contributing to the family insanity. I’ve heard it said that, when he had dreams of greatness and shared them with his brothers (who obviously hated him), that he just wasn’t reading the room correctly.

I’d have to beg to differ. Joseph is shown to be many things, but stupid is not one of them. I’d say “vengeful and fed-up teen” describes him much better, here.

So.

Then we have a very interesting question.

How does someone, raised in such a family, and then put in such a situation as to be sold as a slave by his own brothers, end up with so much faith in God?

I mean, he was dealt a downright heinous hand in life, and seemingly had no real background in faith to draw from.

And when I say so much faith in God, I mean it. If you read the story, by the end, Joseph is a textbook example of how to have faith in God and forgive others. Honestly, I’d even argue that he’s the first fully positive role model whose story is presented in the Bible. And that’s a whole lot of history to pass over before having someone whose story is worth presenting in that way.

This, then, is why I had to write my book! I had to dive in to this story and figure out a plausible and fully realistic explanation for such a unique journey of faith.

I hope to be able to share it with you soon!

She Laughed

Sarah in the Tent

There’s an old Yiddish Proverb that says: “Man plans, God laughs.”

Meaning, of course, that no matter how carefully thought out any of our plans may be, it is only God who sees all ends and only God who knows what the best course of action is for us.

In Genesis, despite this truth, we see somewhat of a reversal of this proverb play out.

Let me set the scene. Last time we talked about Abraham, his wife Sarah, and his concubine, Hagar. Hagar, as we saw, had a child, Ishmael. And in time, Sarah had a “miracle child,” a gift from God despite her previously being barren and presently being past childbearing age.

This child was named Isaac, and before he was born, Abraham and Sarah received a visit from three “men.” I put men in quotation marks because, as it turns out, one “man” is, in fact, God, and the two others are angels. Quite the houseparty.

It’s pretty clear that Abraham knows what’s up from the get-go, and since he runs to tell Sarah, we can assume he lets her in on what he’s figured out.

Once Abraham and the … uh … “men” have sat down to eat, Sarah does what we can assume every woman worth her salt learned to do in that sort of pastoral patriarchal society. She sat down behind a conveniently thin tent wall and listened to their conversation.

The conversation went something like this:

“Men”: So, Abraham, where’s Sarah, your wife?

Abraham: [nodding his head towards the tent] Oh, just inside.

God: Well, I’ll be back in nine months, and she’s going to have a kid.

Sarah: [thinking] Snort! Ha, that’s a good one. Yes, let’s give me a kid now that Abraham and I are slowing down a bit.

God: Why did Sarah just laugh and talk about getting older? Is anything too hard for God? I’ll be back in nine months, and she’s. Going. To. Have. A. Kid.

You can just see Sarah’s head swivel in shock and try to peer though the woven sides of the tent. God’s probably sitting there and staring right back at her. At this point, she’s got nothing left to lose. Not only does the whole group know she was listening to their conversation, but, apparently, God can hear her thoughts snarking at them. She decides there’s one way to possibly save face, at this point. After all, she hadn’t spoken aloud. Can’t you just hear her disembodied voice float through the tent wall:

Sarah: I didn’t laugh.

God: [completely unphased] Yes, you did.

And that was that. Sarah wisely bowed out at this point. How do you keep up a “yeah-huh/not-uh” with God? (Hint: You don’t; He knows you’re fudging.)

But here’s the thing in all this. God planned, and Sarah laughed. BUT, Sarah is not punished. We know for a fact that at least one person in the Bible who did something similar did get a bit of comeuppance. Zechariah, in the New Testament, was struck dumb for a time after questioning God, who had given the exact same revelation to him – he would have son in his old age.

Here’s the difference. Zechariah had precedent. The New Testament takes place thousands of years after this point. Zechariah was a priest who knew, likely by heart, every act of God recorded in what is today the Old Testament. The Old Testament is full of families receiving miracle children. And he had the guts to ask just how exactly God planned on making that happen. He was, in effect, saying that God was lying.

Sarah, on the other hand, though she deeply questioned God here, is not throwing all of God’s prior actions back in His face as though they are worthless. She also, it seems, learns quickly, bowing out of the conversation. And we can see that the lesson stuck. Check out Genesis 21: 6-7, right after Isaac is born:

“And Sarah said, ‘God has made me laugh, and all who hear will laugh with me.’ She also said, “Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? For I have borne him a son in his old age.” (NKJV)

Further, guess what the name Isaac means? Laughter. Guess who told Abraham and Sarah to name him that?

God.

God plans, man laughs.

What is God leading you towards? What plans does He have for you? Has he led you in any ways that seem impossible? Do you feel His nudge towards something that seems untenable? Don’t laugh, and don’t share your plans with Him instead. Go to Him and see where He wants to take your life.

In the end, you may look back and laugh in disbelief about how far He brought you.

He Sees You

Hagar in the Desert

I wanted to spend today on what undoubtedly will be a shorter post, but one I think is important.

I love the stories of women in the Bible because they are given without caveat. As in, they don’t begin with:

“She was a woman, but look at what she did anyway.” (Ugh)

They don’t even begin with:

“Women often did not have as many rights as men back then, but here’s what she did in spite of that.” (Bleh)

You may be wondering why the second one still gets an bleh from me. Let me explain.

For the past, I don’t know, gazillion years, us women have been reminded by some form of narrator or character comment, before or during nearly every story involving a woman, that this person is a woman. Therefore, we should be more (or less) impressed by her forthcoming accomplishments and story. Or something.

I think we are all aware that there are biological differences between women and men and are all aware of the historical and (in some cases) present differences in the treatment of women and men. I, therefore, tend to find it immensely refreshing when a woman is introduced without caveat. As just, well, a person. Since we all know about such things, it isn’t necessary to lay it out for us once again and then tell us how to react to it. We can analyze it for ourselves.

Hence my love for the stories of women in the Bible. They are just introduced. Boom. Here she is. Another just a person in a long list of just people and their relationships with God.

Amidst the stories of the patriarchs in Genesis, a woman named Hagar gets quite a bit of attention. The gist of her story is this: she was a concubine of Abraham, whom we talked about a couple weeks ago (yes, I know, this polygamy thing gets on my nerves too). Sarah, Abraham’s actual wife, wasn’t happy once Hagar became pregnant and Hagar started showing scorn towards the childless Sarah, even though Sarah was considered her superior (there’s a lot more to this story, check out Genesis for the full picture).

Two times over the next several years, Hagar gets driven out of the household by Sarah. The second time, she’s sent away with her son, Ishmael, and it’s permanent.

There’s a lot of factors to consider here. Firstly, Hagar is probably not always the nicest person, being nasty to Sarah (note, Sarah is also not the nicest person, being horrible in return). Secondly, Hagar’s son, Ishmael, is not the nicest person either. He is shown making fun of his toddler half-brother (Isaac, Sarah’s miracle son) at an evert honoring him, when Ishmael is around sixteen years old.

However, each time Hagar is driven out, desperate, into the desolation of the desert, God finds her.

And that’s the thing about God. We have all had times when we are horrible people and when people are horrible to us. Indeed, we all have situations (you know the ones) that predispose us to be nasty to others. Maybe they bring up feelings of stress, or jealousy, or anger. Some are infinitely more severe than even the one described above. Some are intensely unfair. Some are more minor.

But when we have trust in God, He sees us, regardless. He is not going to turn away from us because of these moments or situations or how we act or react.

“Have I also here seen Him who sees me?” Hagar asks herself after her first encounter with God (Genesis 16:13). In this same verse, she gives God the first name for Him recorded in the Bible. El Roi, “the God who sees me”.

And God indeed sees. He understands her situation deeply. He even sees fit to acknowledge to her that her son is, and will grow up to be, a bit of a jerk.

The key is, that neither Hagar nor her son’s behavior is the point. Despite prior poor decisions, Hagar is willing to trust God, and He knows this. This is what matters to God – not that we behave perfectly all the time (though He wants to teach us to be more and more like Him, like His Son), but that we are willing to come to Him and trust in Him.

God is the God who reaches out, despite everything we have done.

He knows you. He sees you.

And He wants you to reach out in return.

Broken People, Unbroken Promises

From Jacob to Israel

Jacob, son of Isaac, son of Abraham, was, a lot of the time, a lame person.

Now, if you need more context as to who this was and why I had that sentence as my intro (obviously meant for some kind of shock value), I’m happy to elaborate.

Jacob was the grandson of Abraham. He had an older twin brother, Esau. Jacob was also renamed Israel by God and had twelve sons. This may have jogged your memory somewhat, as there were twelve tribes in historical Israel.

So, basically, we could consider Jacob, called Israel by God, the forefather of Israel, the people.

And, yes, I am claiming that he was a lame person.

Now, before you click off the page because you fear I’m about to get sacrilegious or something, let me clarify.

Every person on the planet is lame in some capacity. We have all made mistakes. The thing is, that doesn’t matter one iota to God.

And that, my friends, is the very point of this post.

Let’s take a moment to examine Jacob’s life choices.

Firstly, as you may recall, he was a jerk person and managed to trick his father into giving him the firstborn’s blessing, instead of to his older twin.

After that great start to his life, he became a straight-up polygamist. Now, granted, polygamy was common at the time, so, er, I guess you want me to just excuse that one. Also, granted, you may be jumping up and down and saying: “NOW WAIT just a minute! He was tricked into marrying the first one! He didn’t know who she was!”

I’ll just sit here and wait for you to figure out a non-jerk reason as to why he didn’t know who he was marrying until the next morning.

And then I’ll let you ponder the question as to why, after he married a second time and got the wife he wanted, he took two more concubines for good measure.

Uh-huh.

So, following this exemplary display of domesticity, he went on to favor the firstborn son of his second wife above all his other children, to the point where it got so bad that a bunch of them tried to kill the kid. (In case you don’t know, this is my boy Joseph we are discussing here, so if you want to hear this all from his point of view, read my book when it comes out!)

Now, I will allow that none of Jacob’s choices really appear to be vicious. He does not seem to make these choices with the express purpose of harming anyone. But his choices are all patently selfish. They are all about his wants. And, in being selfish, he harms the lives of many.

Despite this, he ends up quite wealthy, with reams of sons and daughters and livestock and servants. Yet, check out this statement of his in his old age:

“Few and evil have been the days of the years of my life …” (Genesis 47:9)

Evil?

Jacob.

Please.

Get a grip.

But here’s the thing.

I’ve spent all this time showing you how lame of a person Jacob could be.

God knew this. It was no surprise to Him.

 Just as He knows everything about us.

God also knew something else about Jacob. Despite all his shortcomings, Jacob had faith in God. He trusted in Him and believed what God told him. When God gave him specific instructions, Jacob followed them.

And that, to God, was the key.

It is the key, even today.

No matter who we are, what struggles we face – our faults, our mistakes, our poor decisions, our habits – if we call out to God, if we put our faith in Him, He hears us. He has a plan for us that He wants to lead us on. He sent His very own Son to die so that every last one of our shortcomings could be fully overlooked.

 That is how much He wants to hear us, if only we call out to Him and accept what His Son has done for us.

(And God, by the way, once we put our faith in Him, has an interesting habit of making us work through our shortcomings.)

This was God’s promise to Jacob, despite all the lame things he had done or God knew he would do:

“I am the Lord God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac;

the land on which you lie I will give to you and your descendants.

Also your descendants shall be as the dust of the earth;

you shall spread abroad to the west and the east,

to the north and the south;

and in you and your seed all the families of the Earth shall be blessed.

Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go,

and will bring you back to this land;

for I will not leave you until I have done what I have spoken to you.”

(Genesis 28:13-15)

People are broken. It’s the way we are.

God knows this – and He is not broken. He is willing to create unbroken promises with us and create something beautiful from our ashes, if only we reach out to Him.

What future is God calling you to step towards? You do not have to be perfect, because God already has that part covered. He turned Jacob into Israel. Who is God calling you to become?

Just follow Him.

Don’t Stand Still

From Abram to Abraham

Honestly, I feel odd writing this. I almost feel like I’m about to preach a sermon, which is not my training nor is it my intent. I wouldn’t set myself up in that way.

All I want to do is share a little, each week, about something I learned from someone of faith in the Bible – someone whose faith shows us how to hope and pray and follow God, even when times are downright awful or following God in the situation makes absolutely no sense. There are also people worth studying who spent a long time ignoring God – but God still followed after them and found them. Because that’s who He is. We can learn from those people, too. Because no matter our story, God is the Seeker of souls and our Help in trouble.

Given that my initial plan before the advent of COVID-19 (colloquially known as coronavirus) here in the US was to do a series on the patriarchs and the beginnings of the Jewish faith, my plan as of now is to still start with the patriarchs. But we’ll go beyond them, because we can. Because people from all parts of the Bible are worth studying, especially in times like these.

So. Let’s take a look at Abraham. Or, as he was known at the beginning of his life, Abram.

Many of you will have heard of the “Abrahamic Religions.” Three major world religions see this man as their founder – Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

However, Abraham – or Abram, rather – was not born Jewish, or Christian, or Muslim. He lived in a place called Ur, in Mesopotamia. At the time the area was influenced by both the Sumerian and Akkadian cultures, who worshipped a pantheon of gods including Ishtar (the only one I’m thinking you may have heard of!). The famous Epic of Gilgamesh also came from these cultures, and the origins of the epic stem from around Abram’s time.

Abram moved with a large portion of his father’s family to Haran, in modern-day Turkey, sometime after his marriage to a woman named Sarai. Why they moved, we don’t know, but since Haran was situated on a trading route, perhaps the family sensed an opportunity.

I’m sure we can all imagine Abram’s surprise when a God he had ostensibly never heard of gave him a nudge. I’m sure we can all imagine how torn he was.

This God was telling him to leave with his wife, and head south to a land called Canaan. He had a great plan for Abram; a great nation would come from him.

And every. Other. Thing. In Abram’s world was screaming at him to not do that.

His family was in Haran – and they’d likely just gambled quite a bit to get there and set up their means of profit. His livelihood was there. His culture was there. His wife, by the way, was barren – no great nation seemed to be on its way.

With no children and no prospects other than that of his family, his life was in Haran.

So why go?

There’s a verse in the Bible that always stuck with me.

“Abram believed the Lord, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” (Genesis 15:6)

Abram believed God. So he went. Why did he believe? We can’t know his exact reasons. But we can see the results.

Remember God’s promise to build a great nation from Abram? He ended up having a son, Isaac, the next patriarch of the Jewish faith. In 2009, over 13 million people in the world identified as Jewish. And we’re still talking about Abram today, five thousand years later. That’s a pretty good run if I do say so.

By the way – remember how Abram’s name changed to Abraham? God changed it. Abram means “high father.” Pretty good, right? But not as good as the name God gave him: “father of a multitude.”

Where does God want you to go today? Where is the place of growth, either spiritual of physical, that He wants to lead you to? We can see His results, time and time again. He does not fail. Trust Him, and see where He takes you.  

Don’t stand still. God has so much more for you than that.

Faith. Unchained.

A series

For this past week, I have been thinking every day – worrying more like – about where I am going to take my blog.

I mean, I had a plan. I think last week a lot of us had a plan, until we didn’t.

Because #coronavirus.

And the last thing I want to do is seem as though I’m not attending to the optics of a situation which is affecting the world over and which has now been labeled by the World Health Organization as a pandemic.

I mean, I can’t just blindly continue discussing Ancient Egypt and not acknowledging what is happening in the world around us. Entire countries are on lockdown. I don’t want to ignore that.

So, I’ve thought and prayed hard for the last week, and what I’ve come to realize is that the plan I had in mind can work – with some adjustments.

My plan had been to discuss the origins of the Jewish faith by exploring the lives of the patriarchs. This would have been a “sequel”, in a way, to my series on Ancient Egyptian religion. I wanted to be sure to have a series on the the history of the Jewish faith as well.

But, starting a series on faith without acknowledging that we are living in a time when faith, all of a sudden, seems alternately like a very important and very challenging concept, felt wrong.

So, I’ve tweaked my plan a little. I’ll start with the patriarchs, while providing historical context, and then move into other Biblical personages of notable faith. But all of it will circle back around to the idea of:

Faith in God in difficult times – when, dare I say it, it doesn’t seem to make sense.

Why does faith matter? Why should we bother? Especially when it seems everything could be in the process of collapsing around us. In exploring the lives of these individuals, I hope to be able to show the Bible’s answers to these questions.

That, I think, is very relevant to what is happening right now.

I hope you’ll join me next week.

With love and prayer,

Elizabeth

The Pharaoh Who Went Rogue

A series on Ancient Egyptian Religion (Part 7)

Image courtesy of Britannica

So. Everyone, meet Akhenaten.

You may remember him mentioned in a previous blog or two. On first glance, you may notice that he looks a little strange.

This is possibly on purpose – or possibly not. We don’t quite know (as is, of course, usual regarding Ancient Egypt).

Here’s the thing. If you haven’t heard of the Pharaoh Akhenaten, I can bet you’ve heard of his wife.

Meet Nefertiti.

I can also most definitely bet you’ve heard of his son.

Meet Tutankhamun. Also known as King Tut.

What may come as a surprise to you is that Tutankhamun was not born Tutankhamun. He was born Tutankhaten.

Akhenaten. Tutankhaten. If you’re seeing a pattern here, you’re on the right track.

What may further interest you to know is that Akhenaten was not born Akhenaten. He was born Amenhotep IV.

So, let’s get this straight. Amenhotep IV changes his name to Akhenaten and has a kid, Tutankhaten. Later in his life (hint: after dad is dead) Tutankhaten kicks that aten to the curb and changes his name to Tutankhamun.

Akhenaten also got the famous Egyptian damnatio memoriae treatment we’ve talked about, after his death. They removed his name from the king lists and his monuments and statues were destroyed.

What is going on here?

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the Amarna Period.


Akhenaten started his reign (as Amenhotep IV) in Thebes, the which was Egyptian capital during the New Kingdom, when Akhenaten was Pharaoh.

He started off, as far as we can tell, as a fairly normal pharaoh. The only blip that warned of what was to come were several building projects dedicated to the sun and the sun god, Ra. Which, on the surface, was nothing unusual to the ancient Egyptians.

Then, by Ancient Egyptian standards, things got weird.

In the fifth year of his reign, Amenhotep IV changed his name to Akhenaten and moved the whole dang Egyptian capital to a blank space of sand 200 miles north, to a place now known as Amarna. And because he was the Pharaoh, everyone followed (likely with one eyebrow raised). And he built a city, fast.

But Akhenaten wasn’t done. Because, at Amarna, he was determined to introduce something to Ancient Egypt that, while not revolutionary, was culturally very foreign.

Monotheism.

Yes, you read that right. Akhenaten spent almost the entirety of his reign making Ancient Egypt worship the Aten, the sun disc.

Why is unknown, but if you want to read my suspicions, head to my post on Dating the Joseph Story historically.

Naturally, this didn’t jive well with the Ancient Egyptians, but the worship of the Aten was officially mandated. Throughout this time, known as the Amarna period, tradition was upended as the Pharaoh was no longer associated with Horus and temple styles were completely reworked to feature large open-air areas that celebrated the sunlight. Even the names of many officials during his reign were changed to reflect no mention of the other Egyptian gods (the names of gods were commonly part of Ancient Egyptian names).

Akhenaten also, most believe, completely changed the art style of the time, for some unknown reason. There’s a thought that the stylistic choices were meant to somehow reflect the nature of the Aten. Compare the death mask of King Tut (made in a non-Aten-worshipping society – we’ll get to that) seen above to the statue of Akhenaten. There’s an obvious stylistic difference in the facial features.

At the same time, because we know so little about Ancient Egypt sometimes, everyone is forced to admit that there’s a chance Akhenaten looked like that, but … I sure don’t buy it! After all, there’s art of others during the time period displaying the same oddly exaggerated features. They can’t have all looked like that.

Right?

There’s also a bit of mystery surrounding the last years of his reign. Akhenaten co-ruled with another pharaoh (a common practice in Ancient Egypt to ensure the chosen line of succession) in the last years of his reign. This pharaoh is alternately called Smenkhkare and Neferneferuaten (yes, there’s that aten again) in historical texts. We don’t have much info on this person, but there’s a theory that Neferneferuaten and Queen Nefertiti are one and the same, and that this is an unusual instance of corulership between a king and queen in the ancient world.

Akhenaten’s mandated religious changes were not popular, as evidenced by the fact that soon after his son Tutankhamun finally became king, Amarna was abandoned as the capital. It was, in fact, dismantled over the ensuing years and used as building material for other projects. In subsequent years, Akhenaten and several successors with direct connections to his reign were erased from the king lists. So much so that historians did not learn of his existence until the 1800s.

So, folks, now you know the story of Akhenaten, the pharaoh who went rogue and left weird blip on the radar of Ancient Egyptian religion.

It also brings to a close (for now) our series on Ancient Egyptian religion. I hope you feel you’ve learned something, and I hope you have enjoyed it!

I will see you next week for the start of a new series – to be revealed!

(Do you have any questions you want me to answer? Topics you want me to cover? Comment below, and don’t forget to follow me on Facebook and Twitter @headdeskliz .)