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.

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.

For the Foolish People (like me)

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The more I read the Bible the more I am amazed at God’s goodness to fulfill His plan even in the midst of our foolishness. Sarah schemed to give Abraham an heir to fulfill God’s promise. The mess she made of it all is still felt in the world today. Yet, God didn’t abandon His plan in retaliation. He still allowed the foolish Sarah to bear a son – the child of the promise. When Isaac married and his wife finally conceived, God told Rebekah that her younger son would rule over his older brother, but she still schemed to make sure Jacob – the younger son and her favorite – got his father’s blessing. Then he had to run to his uncle far away to protect himself from his brother’s wrath. While there he married two sisters and started a family with them and their maids (and people say the Bible is boring). Out of all this deception, manipulation, and foolishness, God still gave twelve sons to Jacob – sons who became the twelve tribes of Israel and eventually a nation that could not be counted, just as He promised Abraham.

That gives me hope because I have made some major messes in my life, done some foolish and, yes, sinful things.  I have heard God say, “turn to the right,” and I ran instead to the left because the grass looked greener there. It was just an illusion. I have made choices because I thought I knew better than God what would make me happy and only found sorrow and struggle. I have reaped the whirlwind of my stupidity many times. Yet God has never given up on me. He has never turned His back on me in disgust or frustration. He has never left me to rot in the pit of my choosing.  And He has never failed to turn it all around and still fulfill His good, pleasing, and perfect will. Beloved, I know He will be faithful to do the same for you. He is a good and gracious God – even when we mess it all up.

I Promise

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The Lord is trustworthy in all He promises and faithful in all He does” (Psalm 145:13).

The mothers of the nation of Israel, Sarah and Rebekah, both have stories marked by the power of God. They both saw God move in wonderful and amazing ways, in impossible situations. Wouldn’t you think they, of all people, would trust God completely?

Yet both women’s stories show them taking God’s promises into their own hands. Sarah heard God’s promise to give Abraham a son through whom He would build a great nation. When the promise was delayed Sarah devised a plan for Hagar to serve as a surrogate so that “through her I can build a family” (Genesis 16:2). The world is still suffering the consequences. The Lord told Rebekah that her younger son would rule over his older twin brother, yet when the time came for Isaac to give the blessing, Rebekah schemed to make sure her favorite younger son was in place under his father’s hand. Because of her actions Jacob was forced to flee from the wrath of his brother and she never saw him again.

I understand that tension. God has made promises to me and circumstances made those promises seem impossible. The truth is, I am as guilty as my ancient sisters of trying to manipulate God’s promise into fruition. And just as it did for them, my actions always led to frustration, heartache, and emptiness.  Sarah and Rebekah doubted God would keep His promise. So have I. They determined it was up to them to see God’s plan fulfilled. So have I.  Ultimately God did fulfill His promises to them and to me. He was and is faithful after all.

The Bible assures us that “For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ” (2 Corinthians 1:20). Unlike you and I, God does not make promises He cannot or will not keep.  Charles Spurgeon says, “God keeps His promises before He makes them.”  Think about that.  When God makes a promise, it is as good as done no matter how the situation looks. God can be trusted to fulfill what He has promised.

Now think about what God has promised to you.  Can you see the thing coming into reality right now?  Probably not.  Does that mean that God will fail to keep His promise?  Absolutely not.  It means you need to keep your eyes on Him and not on the circumstances.  It means God is going to do something amazing before your eyes.  In fact, the more impossible the situation looks, the bigger the miracle to bring it to fulfillment.  And you don’t want to miss that do you?

Beloved, you and I do not have to doubt that God will keep His promises.  We also don’t have to scheme and plot and manipulate to bring God’s promises to fruition.  It is completely His job and He doesn’t need any help from us.  Anything you and I may accomplish by our feeble actions will be empty and vain.  Everything God does to accomplish His promises will be extraordinary and beyond our wildest expectation.  I know this from His Word and from my own experience.  When I stand aside in faith and let God be God, He blows my mind!

Our only response to God’s promises should be “May it be to me as you have said” (Luke 1:38) as we wait – not in frustration and doubt – but in eager anticipation.  God is faithful.  He will not fail you.  He always keeps His Word.

Always.

Holy Father, You are the great Promise Maker and the faithful Promise Keeper.  Sometimes You make such amazing promises we wonder if they can really be fulfilled.  Give us faith to watch and wait, knowing that when You do what only You can do, it will be more than worth the wait.  Amen