Hebrews: The Faith of a Harlot

I have a list in my Bible taken from the genealogy of Jesus in Matthew’s gospel of the most unlikely people God chose to use in Israel’s history. Abraham was a liar, twice putting his wife’s life in danger to save his own skin. Jacob, Abraham’s grandson followed in his footsteps as a liar, a thief, and a cheater. Judah cheated his daughter-in-law Tamar out of her rightful place in the family. Tamar tricked Judah into sleeping with her (which he willingly went along with) and impregnating her with twin sons, one of whom, Perez, is in the lineage of Jesus. There is Ruth, a despised Moabitess (a people of mixed heritage), David, an adulterer and murderer, and Solomon, the product of David’s affair, who was a womanizer and idolator.

And let’s not forget Rahab, whom the author of Hebrews identifies as “the prostitute [who] welcomed the spies” (Heb 11:31). Some have tried to clean up her reputation and claim she was “an innkeeper,” and she may have been, but it was a side gig to her regular job as a prostitute. Why, if we’re talking about the Son of God, would the Bible include such unsavory characters? Because liars and adulterers and thieves, and cheaters, and murderers, and womanizers, and idolators, and – yes, prostitutes need Jesus. Just as drug addicts, alcoholics, homosexuals, abortionists, abusers, war-mongers, and rapists do. So do housewives, company presidents, preachers, police officers, school principals, grandparents, farmers – well I think you get the picture. There’s not a soul alive that doesn’t need Him. And the beauty of it is he will never refuse anyone.  He said, Whoever comes to me I will never drive away” (John 6:37). That’s good news for those of us with a “colorful” past – or present.

I think there is another reason for including these people. It’s in the introduction the writer used for every person in this chapter. “By faith  . . .” Rahab was everything God’s Law stood against, but Rahab had faith in God. And faith changes everything. Rahab the prostitute (and Gentile) became the heroine of the Jewish nation and the great-great-grandmother of King David. Faith turns the unlikeliest sinners into saints – even better – into the image-bearers of Christ (Rom 8:29). Rahab assures us that no one is too far gone for God. Not your spouse, neighbor, or hard-headed kid. Not even you, Beloved.  All it takes is faith.

How Can I Know . . .

When God called Abram He promised him descendants and land. “I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you” (Gen 12:2). When Abram settled in the land of Canaan the Lord said “Lift up your eyes from where you are and look north and south, east and west. All the land you see I will give to you and your offspring forever. Go walk through the length and breadth of the land, for I am giving it to you” (Gen 13:14-17). Later the Lord spoke to him in a vision and reassured him of the promise. He told him that his offspring would be impossible to count – like the stars in the sky. And “Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness” (Gen 15:6).

Then God told him “I am the Lord, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to take possession of it” (Gen 15: 5, 7). And what was Abram’s response?  “Oh Sovereign Lord, how can I know . . . ?” (Gen 15:8). From faith to doubt. Sound familiar? It does for me. I will believe God in the morning and be anxious by the afternoon. I can watch God work wonders on my behalf and wonder if He will come through for me in the next crisis. I have read His promises, even written them down, and forgotten them in the firey moment.

But let’s answer Abram’s question, “How can I know . . . ?” First, he was standing on the very land God had promised to give him – “this land” (v. 7). It was the same promise he had made at the beginning of Abram’s journey, “To your offspring I will give this land” (Gen 12:7-italics added). The land on which your sandals are resting, Abram. The land I had you walk through, Abram.

Secondly, because of who made the promise. The Lord, God Most High. The Creator of heaven and earth (Gen 14:22). The Sovereign Lord (Gen 15:2, 8). The One who had called him. The one he had followed all over Arabia. The same God that you can trust to keep His promises to you too. But you have one advantage that Abram didn’t. You have the cross of Jesus Christ. Because God’s ultimate promise of salvation was fulfilled there. God keeps His promises, Beloved. Every. Single. One.

God is With You

The Lord God told Abram (Abraham) “I will bless you . . .” (Gen 12:2) and at first glance, we see that God made Abram a wealthy man with “livestock, silver, and gold” (13:2).  So much so that he and his nephew, Lot, had to part ways because the land could not support them both (v. 6). That’s a lot of blessing! But the real blessing of God is found a couple of pages over. “The word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision: ‘Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward” (Gen. 15:1). The greatest blessing God gave Abram was Himself.  The more I read the Bible the more I’ve discovered that the blessing God desires most to give us is the same.

To Moses, who questioned his ability to lead the Israelites out of Egypt, God said “I will be with you” (Ex 3:12). To Joshua, as he prepared to lead them into the Promised Land, “Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God goes with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9). To Gideon, “The Lord is with you mighty warrior” (Judges 6:12). To the disciples Jesus said, “Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matt 28:20). And when Paul was in prison, the Lord Jesus Himself “stood near” him and gave him strength (Acts 23:11). And Jesus promised that He was returning to heaven to “prepare a place for you . . . that you may always be where I am” (John 14:2-3). Forever.

But God’s presence is not just relegated to the past. Jesus promised His own Spirit would dwell in His followers so that His presence would never leave them (John 14:16-17).  That means when you accept Christ, you are given His Spirit at that very moment. The same God that was with Abraham, Moses, Joshua, Gideon, the disciples, and Paul is with you. In you. What you and I need now is an awareness of His presence. That’s my prayer for us both today, that we would be acutely sensitive to the Spirit, keenly attuned to His voice and His leading. The most comforting words in Scripture are not, “it’s all gonna be okay,” but “I am with you.”

Stuff I’ve Learned in My Life

I’ll admit, I’m not the sharpest tool in the shed. The running joke in my family was, “Dorcas is so dumb that . . .” and then add a punchline. I believed it for a long time. I’m sixty+ now, and I’ve learned a thing or two along the way. Like, don’t try to sneak off at midnight on a bike with a leaky tire. Don’t get so caught up in an audiobook that you run a red light and T-bone another car. Don’t abuse credit cards. Don’t let your mom brush your hair when’s she mad. Don’t eat junk for forty years and think it won’t come back to haunt you. I’ve learned that true friends are the second rarest gems on earth. Grandchildren are the first. I’ve learned that wisdom usually comes with scars and kindness can change almost every situation. I’ve learned that being fulfilled is more valuable than a fat paycheck. Those are lessons I learned just living my life.

But the Bible has been my greatest teacher. Through Abraham, I learned to trust God even when His promises look impossible (Gen 15). I learned from Joshua’s story that God will never leave me nor forsake me (Josh 1:5) From Gideon – God sees me as the person He created me to be, not the loser I think I am (Jud 6). I found my calling in Ezra: to study the Word, obey the Word, and teach the Word (Ezra 7:10). I’ve learned to not judge others from Job, to confess my sins from David, and Daniel taught me to stand firm in my faith despite the whims of the world. Jonah taught me that I can’t run from God, and Zechariah told me where to look for the return of Christ (Zech 14:4).

Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John told me about my greatest love, Jesus, who died to save me. Acts taught me the power of the Holy Spirit and Dorcas taught me the power of helping others (Acts 9). Peter taught me about forgiveness, Paul taught me about righteousness, and Mary taught me about humility. Revelation taught me that God wins.

Of all the things I’ve learned the one I most want to leave you with is this: God loves you. Yes, you. He loves you with an everlasting, never-failing, unshakable,  eternal, perfect, holy love. That, Beloved, is the most important thing you need to know.

Just Wait

What’s the hardest part of the Christian life? Dealing with the culture that has rejected God? Dealing with loved ones that have rejected God? Surrendering long-held sinful desires? Establishing holy habits of Bible study and prayer? Telling others about Jesus? Obedience? Yes to all of the above. But the one that is most challenging for me is waiting. You’ve experienced it too. We’re in good company. From Noah waiting in the Ark to Jospeh waiting in prison to Abraham waiting for the promised child, to David waiting to take his God-given throne, to Daniel in the lion’s den, waiting is a common struggle. It’s one of the biggest tests of our faith.

I have a friend who is dealing with a situation in her marriage, one she and I are praying over fiercely. God has told her to wait on Him to act. She’s trying. But she gets anxious and takes it on herself to try to turn him around. We recently talked about her latest attempt to force the change she so wants to see, and as expected, it only frustrated her husband and left her discouraged. “What was the last thing God said to you about it?” I asked. “Wait,” she said. “Did “Did He tell you He needed your help?” “No.” “Then wait. Just wait.”

David wrote a Psalm that is filled with good counsel as we wait. He said, “Do not fret,” “Trust in the Lord,” “do good,” Delight yourself in the Lord,” “Commit your way to Him,” “Be still,” “be patient,” “hope in the Lord,” “keep His way” (Psalm 37). Never once does he say, “worry about it,” “argue over it,” “take matters into your own hands,” “make it happen.”  

Here’s what I know from years of Bible study and especially from my own life. God never tells His child to wait for no reason. Waiting always means there’s something on the other end worth waiting for. That’s why we can have hope and trust in the waiting. Because we know that He is faithful. That’s how we can wait patiently.

I don’t know what you’re waiting for. But I know that God has never failed. Not in thousands of years of human history. Not in 61 years of my life. It may not happen as fast as you want, but if God tells you to hang on, Beloved, it will happen. Just “wait a little longer” (Rev 6:11).

Hebrews: Telling Our Faith Stories

I love being a Bible student and teacher and writer. But one of my most important roles is being Joy’s Nana and teaching her stuff. We’ve spent many Saturday mornings learning how to make pankins (pancakes). Last night she learned how to spin her pink bracelet on her finger by watching me do it.  But above all, I want to teach her my story with God – and how she is part of it. I didn’t grow up around my grandmothers, so I don’t know their faith stories. But I will make sure that Joy knows mine.

Sharing faith stories was how the Hebrew people taught their children and grandchildren about God. Joseph is a good example.  The writer of Hebrews said, “By faith, Joseph, when his end was near, spoke about the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt and gave instructions about his bones” (11:22). There’s a lot packed into that verse. Joseph was Abraham’s great-grandson. Abraham was already deceased when Joseph was born, but he knew his great-grandpa’s faith story and he made it part of his own.

God promised Abraham, while he was childless and a nomad, that he would have countless offspring and that they would have possession of the very land on which he stood (Genesis 15). But He also told Abraham that his descendants would be enslaved for four hundred years in a foreign land. Then He said, He would rescue them and “In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here” (Gen 15: 13-16). Abraham told Isaac who told Jacob who told Joseph. On his deathbed, Joseph told his brothers, “God will surely come to your aid and take you up out of this land to the land he promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob . . . and you must carry my bones up from this place” (Gen 50:24-25). Joseph believed in the promise that had been passed down to each generation. More to the point, Joseph believed the Promise-Maker. Four hundred and thirty years later, “Moses took the bones of Joseph with him . . .” as he exited Egypt (Exodus 13:19). Promise made. Promise believed. Promise kept.

I don’t know the God-history of my ancestors, I don’t even know much about the faith stories of my parents. But Joy will know mine. She will know that God has been faithful, good, gracious, generous, and mighty in my life. Beloved, who needs to know yours?

Hebrews: Passing on the Blessing

A father’s role is different with every culture and every era. Dads today are more involved with the care and nurturing of their children than they were even in my generation. My Dad was the provider first and he taught my brother about working on vehicles. But the emotional care of my brothers and me was largely left to my Mom. He wasn’t really a disciplinarian either. He usually forgot that he had grounded me after a couple of days. But if Mom grounded me for a week it stuck to the minute. 

Still, some things haven’t changed. Fathers in the days of the patriarchs were also providers, then teachers especially of religion and the family trade. First-century fathers had one other very important role in their family – passing on the blessing. In Hebrews 11:20-21 we see Isaac and Jacob doing just that. “By faith, Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau in regard to their future. By faith Jacob, when he was dying, blessed each of Joseph’s sons, and worshiped as he leaned on the top of his staff.” That’s pretty cut-and-dried without any of the drama that surrounded them.

Isaac and Jacob were passing on the promise of God that had been first given to Abraham for a land of their own – Canaan. The author of Hebrews said those blessings were given “by faith” because the land that had been promised was not yet in their possession. Abraham believed God would be faithful to the promise and he passed that confidence and faith to his son and grandson. But it would be many more generations before they would take possession of the Promised Land.

But the promise and the blessing were about more than the land. The “everlasting covenant” the Lord made with Abraham was “to be your God and the God of your descendants after you” (Gen 17:7). For a season the Jewish people lost possession of the land. From the fall of Babylon in 586 bc until May 14, 1948, Israel was under foreign rule. But she was never without God. Nor are you. In their seasons of disobedience and rebellion, God disciplined them, but He also kept a loving eye on them and brought them back to the land – and to Himself. I find a lot of hope in that. You can too. Jesus said, “Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matt 28:20). He meant it Beloved. Every word.

Hebrews: By faith Abraham . . .

“Abraham! Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love . . . and sacrifice him as a burnt offering . . . (Genesis 22:1-2).

As I meditate on Hebrews 11:17-19 (grab your Bible and read it) two questions come to mind: Why would God make such a horrific demand of Abraham and why would Abraham obey it? As I pondered those questions, two points emerge about Abraham and Isaac’s story.

To the first question, the author says that “God tested [Abraham],” (v. 17) and, as He often does, the Spirit whispered in my heart: “what does that mean?” The word “tested” actually has two meanings: to temp or to examine. How can you know which is happening? The difference is in the tester’s purpose: the devil tempts that the believer might fail God’s standards of faith and sin; God tests that He might determine and sharpen true character, with no desire of making the believer fail. God was examining Abraham’s willingness to obey Him, even in the most difficult requests.  Sometimes it’s difficult to understand who’s behind the test, but the way through is always the same. Keep your eyes on Jesus and your heart firmly planted in the Word. In either case, you will emerge with deeper roots of faith and a testimony of God’s power and goodness.

As to Abraham’s part, I never understood how he could willingly sacrifice his son until I studied his story alongside this Hebrews passage and Romans 4:18 – 20: “Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed . . . he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God.”  Did you catch it? Abraham believed the promise because of Who made it. He fully expected that God would still build a nation through Isaac and that meant Isaac would have to live. In his reasoning, he expected God to raise Isaac from the dead after the deed was done. But God stayed his hand at the last moment and provided a replacement sacrifice instead. The point is that Abraham’s faith was not in the promise – it was in the Promise-maker. And so must ours be.

Those are two solid truths you can build your life upon. God will never test you to make you fail and He will never make a promise He doesn’t intend to keep. Abraham is known for his great faith. Beloved, are you? Am I?

Hebrews: Don’t Turn Back

“I wanna go home!” Joy wailed in my arms.  It was the last day of VBS and everyone was in the “big church” for the grand finale. She wanted no part of it.  I coaxed her into sitting on my lap, but it didn’t last long.  She was trembling when her mommy took her out after just a couple of minutes. It’s not unusual when facing challenges to want to run back to what we know is safe. Even if safe is not God’s will for us.

Hebrews says the heroes of the Bible considered themselves “aliens and strangers” not just in the new lands they settled, but “on earth” because they were “looking for a country of their own” (Heb 11:13b-14). The place of promise. Abraham was given that very promise and he did settle in the land of Canaan, though it was not his possession. The writer added, “If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return” (v. 15). They could have gone back home at any time. Case in point:

Abraham realized that he needed a wife for his son, Isaac, but not from the local, pagan women.  He tasked his servant with going back to his hometown to bring back a woman from his own people for his son. The servant asked, “What if the woman is unwilling to come back . . . shall I take your son back to the country you came from? (Gen 24:5). Abraham answered an emphatic “No.” “Make sure that you do not take my son back there,” (v. 6). Why? Because the promise of God was tied to the land of Canaan. If he went back the promise would be lost. Abraham was protecting the promise by his obedience (Gen 24: 6-8).

The writer of Hebrews was addressing Jewish believers whose conversion had caused heartache and struggle. Many abandoned their faith in Christ and returned to the laws and life of Judaism. They returned to a dead end. This world is the domain of the evil one; it will never be home for those who love and follow Christ. But our promised land is coming (more on that later). It’s tempting to take the easy way and return to the world. But the easy way is not the eternal way. “A ship is safe in harbour, but that’s not what ships are for.”1. Beloved, you were made for eternity.

  1. John A. Shedd, 1928

Hebrews: Broken Promises?

I’ve wrestled with a lot of Scripture in my lifetime. Some have been difficult to understand. Some have been hard to submit to. Some say things that just grate on my nerves. But the passage we’re looking at today has been one of the most challenging. The writer of Hebrews said, “All these people were still living by faith when they died.  They did not receive the things promised, they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance” (Heb 11:13). “But,” you wonder, “I thought you said that the foundation of faith is the faithfulness of God.” I did, I still do, and I always will.

So what are we supposed to do with this seeming contradiction? God is faithful, but these people didn’t receive what they were promised. There are things that I am convinced God has promised to me. Salvation for a lost loved one. A future as a real writer. From my current vantage point, neither seems likely, much less possible. What do I do? I wait. And I hope. How do I keep my hopes up in the waiting? By looking beyond what I can see and looking ahead to what I cannot see.

Abraham was promised a nation of descendants that outnumbered the stars in the sky and the grains of sand on the beach. He died with eight sons (Ishmael, Isaac, and the sons Keturah bore to him – see Genesis 25:1-4) – and only one of those was the “promised son.” Not exactly a nation. He was promised land on which his family could settle. Abraham died in a tent owning nothing more than the plot where his wife was buried. Doesn’t sound like God kept His promises, does it?

One reason I struggle with this is because of the western perspective of individuality. In Abraham’s world, the deceased lived on in his descendants. Promises made were not limited to fulfillment in the individual’s life. It would be the sons of the sons of the son of the son of Abraham who would become a nation. It would be many more generations after that before they would take possession of the Promised Land. Abraham didn’t see it happen, but he believed with all of his heart that it would. That’s the kind of faith God can build on. Beloved, is that the kind of faith you have?