An Unlikely Salvation.

18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19 And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. 20 But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:

23 “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
    and they shall call his name Immanuel”

(which means, God with us). 24 When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, 25 but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus. Matthew 1:18-25 ESV

One of the unique attributes of the genealogical record provided by Matthew is the inclusion of the names of several significant women. Included are Tamar, Rahab, Ruth and Bathsheba.

Judah was the father of Perez and Zerah (whose mother was Tamar).

5 Salmon was the father of Boaz (whose mother was Rahab).
Boaz was the father of Obed (whose mother was Ruth).
Obed was the father of Jesse.
Jesse was the father of King David.
David was the father of Solomon (whose mother was Bathsheba, the widow of Uriah). – Matthew 1:3, 5-6 NET

Each of these women play an important role in the history of the nation of Israel. And because Matthew began his list with the name of Abraham instead of Adam, as Luke did, it is clear that Abraham was only interested in establishing the Jewish heritage of Jesus. It is quite significant that these four women are included because the Jewish people usually traced their lineage through their male ancestors. And yet, the Holy Spirit inspired Matthew to include these four particular women for their role in the birth of the Messiah. The first mentioned is Tamar, who had been married to Perez. This woman adds an interesting story line to the lineage of Jesus. According to the book of Genesis, Tamar had been by Judah to one of his sons as a wife.

And Judah took a wife for Er his firstborn, and her name was Tamar. But Er, Judah’s firstborn, was wicked in the sight of the Lord, and the Lord put him to death. Then Judah said to Onan, “Go in to your brother’s wife and perform the duty of a brother-in-law to her, and raise up offspring for your brother.” But Onan knew that the offspring would not be his. So whenever he went in to his brother’s wife he would waste the semen on the ground, so as not to give offspring to his brother. 10 And what he did was wicked in the sight of the Lord, and he put him to death also. – Genesis 38:6-10 ESV

At this point, Judah promised to make Tamar the wife of his next son, Shelah, but he was too young. So, he asked Tamar to remain in his house as a widow until his son was of age. But he had no intention of making her his wife because he feared he might lose a third son. So, he left her as a widow in his home. Tamar, frustrated by her status as damaged goods, twice a widow and therefore an unattractive prospect for marriage, was desperate. She had no husband, and no recourse for pleading her case. In that culture, as a woman, she was little more than property. But God had plans for her. Judah, after having mourned the death of his wife, had sexual relations with Tamar, mistaking her for a temple prostitute. She became pregnant as a result. And when her pregnancy became known and she was accused of immorality and condemned to die, she revealed that the father was none other than her own father-in-law, Judah. Sensing his own sin in the affair, Judah responded:

“She is more righteous than I, since I did not give her to my son Shelah.” – Genesis 38:26 ESV

This twice-widowed and all-but-forgotten woman would become the mother of Perez, whose name would show up in the lineage of the Messiah. And her name is included again in another Old Testament book that bears the name of the second woman in our list.

11 Then the elders and all the people standing in the gate replied, “We are witnesses! May the Lord make this woman who is coming into your home like Rachel and Leah, from whom all the nation of Israel descended! May you prosper in Ephrathah and be famous in Bethlehem. 12 And may the Lord give you descendants by this young woman who will be like those of our ancestor Perez, the son of Tamar and Judah.” – Ruth 4:11-12 NLT

Boaz was taking a young Moabite woman to be his wife. She too, was a widow and was living in the land of Israel with her mother-in-law, Naomi. Boaz, acting in the role of the kinsman-redeemer, was rescuing this young woman from a life of destitution and degradation. She, like Tamar, was a helpless widow who had no one to stand up for her and no hope for the future. She was childless and an unattractive prospect as a wife. But Boaz redeemed her, married her and she bore to him a son named Obed. And Boaz himself had been born to a woman named Rahab. She is the same woman listed in the book of Joshua and described as a prostitute. She was a pagan, a non-Jew who hid the two men whom Joshua had sent to spy out the city of Jericho. Because of her willingness to risk her own life by protecting the two spies, Rahab and her family were spared when the city of Jericho was destroyed. And she, a pagan and a prostitute, became the mother of Boaz.

The final woman mentioned in the list is Bathsheba, the widow of Uriah. Her story is a particularly sordid one, involving the great king, David, who had an affair with her. She was a married woman and, when she became pregnant, David had her husband murdered, in an attempt to cover his sin and legally take her as his wife. But their sin resulted in the death of their infant son. But God would replace the son He had taken with another son, Solomon, who would go on to become David’s heir to the throne of Israel.

Of these four women, two were Canaanites, one was a Moabite, and Bathsheba was likely a Hittite. So, they were all non-Jews. And three of the four were marred by sin. And yet, God chose to include these women, not only in the list, but in the actual lineage of the Messiah. The line of Jesus the Messiah is not filled with perfect people who lived sinless lives, but with men and women who were flawed by sin and in desperate need of a Savior. Out of the mar and mess of their lives, God brought a sinless Savior who would redeem them, not because they deserved it, but because God, in His grace, had decreed it.

And it’s interesting to note that even Mary, the mother of Jesus, was accused of immorality because she became pregnant while still betrothed to Joseph.

18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19 And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. – Matthew 1:18-19 ESV

This young, unknown Jewish girl, had her life rocked. She was chosen by God to bear the Son of God. And her unexpected and unwanted pregnancy made her a target for abuse and the cause of Joseph’s plan to call off the marriage. She would have become a social outcast and undesirable as a wife. And yet, God was at work in her life, calling her to be the one woman who would bear His Son and make possible the salvation of the world.

God intervened, assuring Joseph of Mary’s innocence and the divine nature of His plan.

“She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” – Matthew 1:21 ESV

God’s plan was far bigger than anything Joseph had ever imagined. Mary’s pregnancy was far from a mistake or the result of sin. It was the work of God Almighty. And the Son she was to bear was to be the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. He would be Immanuel, which means “God with us.” God was going to take on human flesh and live among men. Through the lives of sinful women like Rahab and Bathsheba, God would bring a Savior who would take away the sins of the world. Through the lives of hopeless, helpless women like Ruth and Tamar, God would bring the hope of the world. And they would call Him Jesus, which means “Yahweh saves.” Through the most unlikely of people and the most unbelievable circumstances – a virgin birth – the Savior of the world came to dwell among men and women. God came to earth and salvation came to mankind.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

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Good Looks and Bad Motives.

Now in all Israel there was no one so much to be praised for his handsome appearance as Absalom. From the sole of his foot to the crown of his head there was no blemish in him. And when he cut the hair of his head (for at the end of every year he used to cut it; when it was heavy on him, he cut it), he weighed the hair of his head, two hundred shekels by the king’s weight. There were born to Absalom three sons, and one daughter whose name was Tamar. She was a beautiful woman.

So Absalom lived two full years in Jerusalem, without coming into the king’s presence. Then Absalom sent for Joab, to send him to the king, but Joab would not come to him. And he sent a second time, but Joab would not come. Then he said to his servants, “See, Joab’s field is next to mine, and he has barley there; go and set it on fire.” So Absalom’s servants set the field on fire. Then Joab arose and went to Absalom at his house and said to him, “Why have your servants set my field on fire?” Absalom answered Joab, “Behold, I sent word to you, ‘Come here, that I may send you to the king, to ask, “Why have I come from Geshur? It would be better for me to be there still.” Now therefore let me go into the presence of the king, and if there is guilt in me, let him put me to death.’” Then Joab went to the king and told him, and he summoned Absalom. So he came to the king and bowed himself on his face to the ground before the king, and the king kissed Absalom. 2 Samuel 14:25-33 ESV

David had agreed to Absalom’s return to Jerusalem, but had essentially placed him under house arrest and refusing to see him. After a three-year absence from the kingdom, Absalom found himself persona non grata, ignored by his own father and left to wonder why he had agreed to come home at all. And he would wait two full years, because David continued to rely upon his parenting style of inaction. There would be no punishment or pardon for the wrong committed. And all this time gave Absalom time to grow in his resentment for his father. He most likely recalled David’s unwillingness to take action against Amnon for raping his sister. David had done nothing. And, two years later, Absalom would get frustrated by David’s lack of decisive action, take matters into his own hands and have his brother, Amnon, murdered. This had led to his three-year exile. Now, he was home, but another two years had passed and he saw his father’s incapacity to deal with the issue at hand. Whatever respect he had once held for his father was gone. He viewed David as a man of weakness, plagued by indecisiveness.

It would be centuries later that the apostle Paul wrote the words:

Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger by the way you treat them. Rather, bring them up with the discipline and instruction that comes from the Lord. – Ephesians 6:4 NLT

David could have used this simple, yet profound advice. The Greek word Paul used is parorgizō and it is translated “provoke to anger”. But it can also mean “to exasperate”. To provoke someone to anger sounds like it refers to a deliberate attempt to purposefully annoy or deliberately try to rouse anger in another individual. And that most certainly can be true in many cases. But we can create anger in another human being by doing nothing. We can frustrate them by our lack of initiative or general apathy. David was provoking in Absalom an anger and resentment that was fed by his father’s lack of leadership. He was slowly beginning to view David as weak and incapable of leading decisively. And because Absalom viewed his father as being incompetent to lead his own family, he would soon reach the conclusion that he was unqualified to lead the nation of Israel.

We can see Absalom’s growing anger and frustration in how he handled Joab’s refusal to answer his requests for an audience with the king. Like his boss, Joab did nothing. And finally, Absalom snapped, taking matters into his own hands and commanding his servants to set fire to Joab’s barley crops. That got his attention. You can see Absalom’s growing exasperation with the whole situation. He had waited two years and simply wanted something to be done. He even told Joab, “I wanted you to ask the king why he brought me back from Geshur if he didn’t intend to see me. I might as well have stayed there. Let me see the king; if he finds me guilty of anything, then let him kill me” (2 Samuel 14:32 NLT). Absalom would rather face death than having to live in limbo, confined to his home. But there is almost an underlying sense that Absalom knew David would do nothing. He seems to know that his father would never sentence him to death for his murder of Amnon. So he was willing to force David’s hand, confident that his father would act true to form and do nothing. Which is exactly what happened. Joab went to David and convinced him to see Absalom, which David did. And from all appearances, it seems that David pardoned Absalom, kissing his son and restoring him to his former state. Absalom got what he wanted, but he would not be satisfied. He had had plenty of time to consider his future and plan his next moves. This would prove to be just the first step in his plan to take advantage of what he perceived as his father’s leadership flaws.

The text gives us an interesting, and somewhat out-of-context, description of Absalom’s appearance. It describes his good looks and goes into great detail about the thickness of his hair. All of this talk about Absalom’s appearance seems out of place and a bit odd. But it is designed to set up what is coming next. Absalom is handsome in appearance. In fact, “He was flawless from head to foot” (2 Samuel 14:25 NLT). And we are going to find out that he was also clever. He was a natural-born leader, who had good looks, charisma, charm and and powers of persuasion that would make any politician envious. Now that he was out from under any threat of punishment for his murder of Amnon, Absalom was going to use his good looks and natural leadership skills to plan his future, which would include his father’s downfall.

It is interesting to note that Paul gives another warning to fathers in his letter to the Colossians. He writes, “Fathers, do not exasperate your children, so that they will not lose heart” (Colossians 3:21 NASB). David had frustrated his son. He had done nothing to bring justice to the cause of Tamar. He had left his own daughter in a state of mourning, having had her virginity taken from her by force. The law clearly stated what David should have done.

If a man meets a virgin who is not betrothed, and seizes her and lies with her, and they are found, then the man who lay with her shall give to the father of the young woman fifty shekels of silver, and she shall be his wife, because he has violated her. He may not divorce her all his days. – Deuteronomy 22:28-29 ESV

According to the law, David should have forced Amnon to marry Tamar, and forbidden him from ever divorcing her. No longer a virgin, Tamar was left in a state where she would have been considered “damaged goods” by the men in her community. Her value as a potential wife had been irreparably damaged. All along the way, because of his indecisiveness, David had left a wake of disaster and damaged lives. His inaction had left Amnon unpunished and Tamar a humiliated and unwanted woman. His unwillingness to do the right thing had only resulted in a host of wrong outcomes. Absalom had killed Amnon and then spent three years in exile. Even when he was allowed to return home, Absalom found himself in a frustrating limbo, trapped by his father’s unwillingness to do his job as a father and his duties as a king. And all of this was going to lead to further resentment on Absalom’s part that would ultimately surface as rebellion.

 

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

When Our Sins Come Home.

Now Absalom, David’s son, had a beautiful sister, whose name was Tamar. And after a time Amnon, David’s son, loved her. And Amnon was so tormented that he made himself ill because of his sister Tamar, for she was a virgin, and it seemed impossible to Amnon to do anything to her. But Amnon had a friend, whose name was Jonadab, the son of Shimeah, David’s brother. And Jonadab was a very crafty man. And he said to him, “O son of the king, why are you so haggard morning after morning? Will you not tell me?” Amnon said to him, “I love Tamar, my brother Absalom’s sister.” Jonadab said to him, “Lie down on your bed and pretend to be ill. And when your father comes to see you, say to him, ‘Let my sister Tamar come and give me bread to eat, and prepare the food in my sight, that I may see it and eat it from her hand.’” So Amnon lay down and pretended to be ill. And when the king came to see him, Amnon said to the king, “Please let my sister Tamar come and make a couple of cakes in my sight, that I may eat from her hand.”

Then David sent home to Tamar, saying, “Go to your brother Amnon’s house and prepare food for him.” So Tamar went to her brother Amnon’s house, where he was lying down. And she took dough and kneaded it and made cakes in his sight and baked the cakes. And she took the pan and emptied it out before him, but he refused to eat. And Amnon said, “Send out everyone from me.” So everyone went out from him. Then Amnon said to Tamar, “Bring the food into the chamber, that I may eat from your hand.” And Tamar took the cakes she had made and brought them into the chamber to Amnon her brother. But when she brought them near him to eat, he took hold of her and said to her, “Come, lie with me, my sister.” She answered him, “No, my brother, do not violate me, for such a thing is not done in Israel; do not do this outrageous thing. As for me, where could I carry my shame? And as for you, you would be as one of the outrageous fools in Israel. Now therefore, please speak to the king, for he will not withhold me from you.” But he would not listen to her, and being stronger than she, he violated her and lay with her.

Then Amnon hated her with very great hatred, so that the hatred with which he hated her was greater than the love with which he had loved her. And Amnon said to her, “Get up! Go!” But she said to him, “No, my brother, for this wrong in sending me away is greater than the other that you did to me.” But he would not listen to her. He called the young man who served him and said, “Put this woman out of my presence and bolt the door after her.” Now she was wearing a long robe with sleeves, for thus were the virgin daughters of the king dressed. So his servant put her out and bolted the door after her. And Tamar put ashes on her head and tore the long robe that she wore. And she laid her hand on her head and went away, crying aloud as she went.– 2 Samuel 13:1-19 ESV

In this chapter, we will see yet another ugly consequence of David’s disobedience to the commands of God. He had been forgiven by God for his sins, but that did not mean there would be no consequences. In this case, we begin to see one of the unexpected consequences of David’s violation of God’s command for the king not to marry multiple wives. Three of David’s children are involved in this story. Two of them, Absalom and Tamar, were born to David by his wife, Maacah. Absalom was born while David reigned in Hebron. Tamar was most likely born after David had moved his capital to Jerusalem. Amnon was born in Hebron as well, but to a different mother, Ahinoam. David had many wives and even more children. Like any family, there would be sibling rivalry and conflicts between children. But his hyper-blended family was going to prove to be a breeding ground for trouble. And one of the things that will stand out as this story unfolds is David’s less-than-stellar parenting skills. He may have been a mighty warrior and military leader, but he appears to lack what it takes to lead his large collection of children. And this disconnection from his children will only grow worse and more deadly as the sordid details of the events become known to him.

We’re told that Amnon “loved” his half-sister, Tamar. She was young, beautiful and a virgin. And while the text claims that love was involved, it is interesting to note that the Hebrew word used to describe Amnon’s affection for Tamar can actually refer to sexual love. And as the story will so graphically demonstrate, Amnon’s attraction to his half-sister was purely physical. He lusted after her. So much so, that he made himself sick thinking about it. In his mind, Tamar was off-limits and he racked his brain constantly trying to figure out how he might have her, even as he was having immoral and inappropriate thoughts about her. With the advice of a close friend, Amnon devised a plot to carry out his lust-driven desire to have Tamar. And his father, David, unknowingly went along with it. He was oblivious to what was going on. So, he sent Tamar to take food to her “sick” brother, not knowing what Amnon had planned for her. And Amnon ended up raping his sister, against her will and despite her impassioned pleas to stop.

Tamar begged Amnon to consider what he was doing. She pleaded, “Don’t be foolish! Don’t do this to me! Such wicked things aren’t done in Israel. Where could I go in my shame? And you would be called one of the greatest fools in Israel. Please, just speak to the king about it, and he will let you marry me” (2 Samuel 13:12-13 NLT). It would not have been unprecedented for David to have agreed to a marriage between the two of them. It was a common practice in those days. Abraham had married his half-sister, Sarah (Genesis 20:12). But Amnon was not interested in marriage. He was not persuaded by Tamar’s warnings about the damage this act would do to his reputation. He could care less. He was driven by lust. And we know the deadly outcome of a life motivated by lust.

…each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death. – James 1:14-15 ESV

As we see, once Amnon got what he wanted, his “love” for Tamar would turn to hatred. Having satisfied his sexual desire, he saw no more need for her. He threw her out like a used, unneeded object. He took her virginity by force and left her to deal with the shame, dishonor and humiliation all alone. She was thrown out by force. She was discarded like trash, used up and no longer of any value to Amnon. And she tore her robe and covered her head in ashes, a sign of mourning over her lost virginity. In that culture, Tamar would now be considered damaged goods. It did not matter that she was the daughter of the king. She was no longer a virgin. She would be treated with disdain and viewed with disrespect, regardless of the circumstances. No man would want her. He young life had been ruined, all because Amnon could not or would not contain his lust. He was a man driven by sexual desire. Any love he had for Tamar had been overshadowed by his lust. He had long ago stopped seeing her as his sister or even as a woman. She was an object, a trophy to be won and a forbidden desire to be satisfied – at any cost.

But this will not be the end of this story. It will get worse. As James so pointedly puts it: “and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.” The most telling part of the story will be the role David plays. What will he do when he finds out what happens? How will he handle this devastating event that took place in his own home between two of his own children? David was the king, but he was also a father and a husband. How would he lead? He knew how to fight the enemies of Israel and win, but did he know how to do battle with the enemy within the walls of his own home? David was going to learn that inaction and avoidance would be inadequate reactions to what had happened. To do nothing, while the easier path to take, was going to prove disastrous and deadly.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Restorer of Life.

So Boaz took Ruth, and she became his wife. And he went in to her, and the Lord gave her conception, and she bore a son. Then the women said to Naomi, “Blessed be the Lord, who has not left you this day without a redeemer, and may his name be renowned in Israel! He shall be to you a restorer of life and a nourisher of your old age, for your daughter-in-law who loves you, who is more to you than seven sons, has given birth to him.” Then Naomi took the child and laid him on her lap and became his nurse. And the women of the neighborhood gave him a name, saying, “A son has been born to Naomi.” They named him Obed. He was the father of Jesse, the father of David.

Now these are the generations of Perez: Perez fathered Hezron, Hezron fathered Ram, Ram fathered Amminadab, Amminadab fathered Nahshon, Nahshon fathered Salmon, Salmon fathered Boaz, Boaz fathered Obed, Obed fathered Jesse, and Jesse fathered David. – Ruth 4:13-22 ESV

The book of Ruth ends on an extremely happy note. Chapter one opened up with three funerals, but chapter four closes with a wedding and the birth of a son. And it is interesting to note that Naomi adopted the son as her own, which stands in stark contrast to her comment to daughter-in-laws back in chapter one: “Go back home, my daughters! There is no reason for you to return to Judah with me! I am no longer capable of giving birth to sons who might become your husbands!” (Ruth 1:11 NLT). Naomi’s misery had been turned into joy. Her pessimism about the future had been transformed into a renewed hope made possible by the birth of a grandson. But this would not be just any grandson. His name was Obed and he would be the progenitor of David, the greatest king Israel would ever have. And as the genealogical record in Matthew 1 discloses, David would be the father of Solomon and from his line would come the Messiah, Jesus Christ. The genealogy of Jesus ends with these words:

…and Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called Christ. – Matthew 1:16 ESV

From the unlikely union of Boaz, a Jew, and Ruth, a Moabite, God would bring into the world the ultimate redeemer, the restorer of life. The birth of Obed brought life and joy to Naomi in her old age. He helped alleviate her despair and restored her confidence in God.

But the marriage of Boaz and Ruth is not the only unlikely union that made possible the coming of the Messiah. In the short genealogy that closes the book of Ruth, there are several names mentioned that would have been highly familiar to the original Jewish audience. The first is Perez. He was the illegitimate son born to Judah and his daughter-in-law, Tamar. The story is a sad and somewhat sordid one. Judah had three sons, Er, Onan and Shelah, all born to him by a Canaanite woman. Er, the firstborn, married a woman named Tamar. But Er was wicked and God put him to death, so Judah commanded Onan, the second-born to take Tamar as his wife in order to preserve the name of Er. Onan, in disobedience, would repeatedly refuse to inseminate Tamar, leaving her without a child, so God took his life as well. The third son, Shelah, was too young to marry, so Judah insisted that Tamar remain a widow until Shelah came of age. But in time, Tamar became impatient and, disguising herself as a prostitute, enticed Judah to have sex with her. The result of this illicit union was Perez.

Another key union was that of the parents of Boaz himself. The genealogical record found in Matthew 1 reads: “Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab” (Matthew 1:5 ESV). Rahab was the prostitute who harbored the two spies who had been sent by Joshua to scope out the city of Jericho before the Israelites attempted to take it. She was a God-follower and hid the spies, helping them to escape in exchange for her life and those of her family members when the Israelites attacked the city. Eventually, Rahab married Salmon, one of the two spies, and she gave birth to Boaz, the husband of Ruth. Ruth was a Moabite. Rahab was a Canaanite. Tamar deceived and seduced her father-in-law to have sex with her. The family tree of Jesus was far from perfect. It contained more than a few bad apples. And yet, God, in His providence, was able to produce from this less-than-ideal lineage a Savior, the restorer of life. Even David was the youngest son of Jesse and the least likely to receive the blessing and anointing of Samuel, the prophet, as the future king of Israel. And yet, God chose David over all the others. God chose to work through Tamar, even in spite of her immorality. He chose to use Rahab, regardless of her profession. He chose to utilize Ruth, even though she was from Moab. God’s ways are not our ways.  His methods may appear maddening to us, but He always knows what He is doing.

The story of Ruth is the story of God as He operates within the everyday lives of normal, yet flawed men and women like you and me. Ruth, while presented as a loving, compassionate and selfless individual, was far from perfect. She was a foreigner, a Moabite and an enemy of Israel. But God still used her. Boaz, while a good and godly man, would marry a Moabite, breaking the Mosaic law to do so, but was used by God to bring about the eventual kinsman-redeemer of all mankind. Naomi, the finger-pointing, blame-casting main character of the opening chapter would eventually become the primary caregiver for her own grandson, graciously given to her by God. What is fascinating when considering God’s plan of redemption for sinful mankind is that He could have simply sent Jesus to earth in the form of a man, and not required Him to be born into a flawed human lineage. But there was a method to God’s seeming madness.

Therefore, it was necessary for him to be made in every respect like us, his brothers and sisters, so that he could be our merciful and faithful High Priest before God. Then he could offer a sacrifice that would take away the sins of the people. – Hebrews 2:17 NLT

This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin. – Hebrews 4:15 NLT

For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ. – 2 Corinthians 5:21 NLT

And he is able to deal gently with ignorant and wayward people because he himself is subject to the same weaknesses. – Hebrews 5:2 NLT

Jesus was born as a man. He took on human flesh and lived among sinful men and women, yet never sinned Himself. He did what no other human being had ever been able to do: live sinslessly and righteously, in complete obedience to His Father, which made Him the perfect, spotless sacrifice for the sins of mankind. He became the restorer of life, the redeemer of the lost, the sinless Savior of the world.

2 Samuel 13-14, 1 Corinthians 9

Rights Run Amuck.

2 Samuel 13-14, 1 Corinthians 9

Nevertheless, we have not made use of this right, but we endure anything rather than put an obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ. – 1 Corinthians 9:12 ESV

We put a high priority on our rights. But the problem with rights is that they can become expectations, and those expectations, when unmet, can lead to disappointment which can culminate in sin. So much of what we label as rights have more to do with what John refers to as “the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life” (1 John 2:16 ESV). There are things in this world that we believe are “rightfully” ours to have. It could be a new car, a bigger house, nicer clothes, a better paying job, respect, popularity, good health, or more money. And while God has not necessarily promised us these things, if we convince ourselves that we somehow deserve them, we will not be content until we have them. We will see it as our right, and anyone who stands in our way of fulfilling that right will be seen as our enemy. Many of the things we want or believe we deserve are perfectly fine to have, but the issue is less about rights than it is about lust. And when our perceived rights become an obsession for us, the result is an incapacity to love those around us. Our love of our rights takes precedence over our God-given responsibility to love others.

What does this passage reveal about God?

When asked what the two greatest commandments were, Jesus was quite specific. He said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:37-39 ESV). So according to Jesus, we are to love God and love others. Everything else found in the law of Moses and in the writing of the prophets could be summed up in these two commands. But our rights have a way of hindering our ability to faithfully fulfill either command. If I don’t get what I think I deserve or what I believe is rightfully mine to have, I will become frustrated with God. I might even find myself falling out of love with God, because I am disappointed in His failure to give me what I want. But my obligation to love God should take precedence over any obsession I may have regarding “the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life.” I must be willing to die to my rights for the sake of loving God and loving others. Paul knew this well and lived it out in his everyday life.

What does this passage reveal about man?

What an amazing contrast there is between the life of Paul and the life of Amnon. At first glance, you might think there is little to compare between these two men, but at the heart of both passages is the subject of rights. Amnon believed he had a right to satisfy his lust for his half-sister, Tamar. The author makes it quite clear that Amnon desperately wanted Tamar, and while it says that he loved her, his real attraction seems to have been sexual in nature. He was so obsessed with her that he literally made himself sick. “Amnon was so tormented that he made himself ill because of his sister Tamar” (2 Samuel 13:2 ESV). And with encouragement from “crafty” friend, Amnon eventually demanded his rights, forcefully raping Tamar against her will. He believed he had a right to what he wanted, and he did whatever he had to do to get it. Interestingly, the passage says that “Amnon hated her with very great hatred, so that the hatred with which he hated her was greater than the love with which he had loved her” (2 Samuel 13:15 ESV). Not only had Amnon failed to love God by violating His commands, he had allowed his rights to get in the way of his love for Tamar. Lust superceded love. Perceived rights got in the way of doing what was right in God’s eyes.

But Paul gives us a model of what it means to hold on to our rights loosely. The entire ninth chapter of 1 Corinthians has to do with the issue of rights. Chapter eight dealt with a problem in the Corinthian church regarding meat offered to idols. There were more mature believers who were demanding their right to eat this meat because they knew that there were no such thing as other gods. They were spiritually mature enough to know that the meat was perfectly fine to eat. But Paul was telling them to give up their rights out of love for their weaker brothers. If someone else, who had just come out of a pagan religion where those false gods were very real, still believed that eating meat sacrificed to those gods was wrong, the last thing you would want to do is to flaunt your rights and cause them to violate their own conscience. Paul refused to make a big deal out of his rights. “Nevertheless, we have not made use of this right, but we endure anything rather than put an obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ” (1 Corinthians 9:12 ESV). Rather than demand his rights, Paul died to them. He didn’t want anything to stand in the way of the gospel, including his rights.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

It is so easy to let our rights get in the way of our primary objective as followers of Christ. We are to love God and love others. Our focus is to be outward, not inward. But as soon as I start making a big deal out of my rights, I lose focus. It becomes all about me. But Paul would remind us, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Philippians 2:3-4 ESV). Put others first. Don’t make it all about you. Be willing to die to your rights. And Paul provides Jesus as a perfect example of this very attitude. In fact, Paul tells us to have the same attitude that Christ had: “though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:6-8 ESV). Jesus gave up His rights as the Son of God and came to earth. He gave up His divine privileges and position of power and honor next to the Father. He set aside His rights in order to love mankind. Rather than look out for His own personal interests and demand His rights, He placed our well-being ahead of His own. When we allow our rights to rule us, we will end up loving ourselves more than we love God or others. Amnon is a perfect example of this truth. But Paul provides us with a viable alternative. He gave up his rights, so that he might keep his eye on the prize: the faithful presentation of the gospel and the unselfish expression of God’s love for others through his own life and ministry.

Father, forgive me for making far too much out of my rights. Don’t let me be like Amnon, who was driven by his own desires and convinced himself that his rights were worth doing anything for. I want to be like Paul, willingly giving up my rights for the sake of the gospel and out of love for others. May I increasingly have the same attitude that Christ had. Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org

Genesis 37-38, Matthew 19

The Providence of God.

Genesis 37-38, Matthew 19

 Meanwhile the Midianites had sold him in Egypt to Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh, the captain of the guard.  – Genesis 37:36 ESV

We don’t always get what God is doing in and around us. Sometimes it even appears as if He is nowhere to be found. Yet the Bible is filled with timely reminders of God’s sovereignty over mankind. We read account after account of His providential role in the lives of men, working behind the scenes, orchestrating events and individuals in order to accomplish His divine will. And the story of Joseph is one of the premier illustrations of God’s providential participation in the affairs of men. To those who find themselves cast members of God’s story, His involvement is not always apparent. Could we have talked to Joseph as he sat in the pit or while he was on his way to Egypt in chains, he probably would have told us that God had turned His back on him. But the story of Joseph’s life is provided to remind us of God’s unwavering, unstoppable control over the affairs of men. When it comes to His divine will and sovereign plan, there is nothing and no one who can stand in His way or prevent what He has predetermined. And while we may not understand what God is doing, we must rest in the fact that He most certainly KNOWS what He is doing at all time. God reminds us, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9 ESV).

What does this passage reveal about God?

Joseph’s dreams were clearly from God. They were a glimpse into the future, providing Joseph and his family with a somewhat fuzzy view of things to come. God was providing a partial look into what was going to happen in the years to come. But we see God’s plan mixed in with man’s sin-prone response. Joseph’s brothers can’t stand him and his dreams only add fuel to the fire of their hatred and jealousy. So they concoct a plan to murder him, but calmer heads prevail, and so instead, they decide to sell him as a slave to some Midianite traders. Their goal was to get this dreamer out of their lives forever. But God had other plans. Sometimes it is hard for us to see God at work in these stories. We have to look closely at the words that are used by the author in describing the events. After covering their sin by convincing their father that Joseph had been mauled and killed by a wild animal, it would appear that the story of Joseph is over. But Moses writes, “Meanwhile the Midianites had sold him in Egypt to Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh, the captain of the guard” (Genesis 37:36 ESV). God was not done and Joseph’s story was far from over. He was sold as a slave, but not to just any owner. No, he was sold to an officer of Pharaoh. Joseph could have been sold to anyone, but God had something else in mind. In His providence, Joseph’s destiny was irrevocably tied to that of Pharaoh.

Even in the story of Judah, recorded in chapter 38, we see the hand of God. It is hidden from plain sight, but it’s there. Once again, we get a view of the sinfulness of man. Judah, the brother who came up with the idea to sell Joseph as a slave, gets special emphasis from Moses in chapter 38. The story of Joseph is interrupted by the somewhat sad and depressing account of Judah and Tamar, his daughter-in-law. It is a story filled with sin and shame, immorality and human depravity. God is hardly even mentioned, except in two cases where He put to death two of the sons of Judah because of their extreme wickedness. The entire story revolves around Judah’s unfair treatment of his daughter-in-law and culminates is her deceptive plan to force Judah to give her what she wants. It all ends up in the two of them having sexual relations together and the births of two sons.

And yet, God was there. In spite of the immorality and depravity, God was going to use their sinful, selfish acts to accomplish His will for mankind. And we see it in the birth of the two sons, Zerah and Perez. You have to go all the way to the gospel of Matthew to find out how God was at work in this story. There you will find the name of Perez listed in the lineage of Jesus. “Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, and Judah the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar, and Perez the father of Hezron…” (Matthew 1:2-3 ESV). Just a few verses later we read, “…and Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called Christ” (Matthew 1:16 ESV). God would use one of the sons born from this illicit, immoral relationship to bring about the birth of Mary, the mother of Jesus. God was in control all the time – in the life of Joseph and in the life of Judah. Even the sins of man cannot stop the sovereign will of God.

What does this passage reveal about man?

Apart from God, we are sin-prone and destined to destroy what God has given us. Given enough time, man has a unique knack for destroying not only creation, but virtually every relationship in his life. Left to his own devices, man would make a mess out of just about everything. But thankfully, God is still in control. He has given us a degree of autonomy and freedom, but never completely takes His hands off the wheel. He allows us to believe we are in control, running the affairs of our own lives and determining our own destinies. But God is in full control. Joseph’s brothers fully thought they were taking matters into their own hands. Judah was under the false impression that he was large and in charge of the affairs of his life. You can see these men acting as if God does not exist, and in some cases, acting as if they are God themselves. They attempt to determine the fate of others, making decisions that are not theirs to make. They don’t consult God. They don’t even act as if He exists, showing no remorse or regret for their actions.

Only in the life of Joseph do we see someone who seems to have a right relationship with God. He appears to walk with God and clearly has the blessing of God on his life. Everywhere he goes, regardless of the circumstance, God’s hand is on him. God prospers him. Joseph does his part, working hard and remaining faithful to God, regardless of what kinds of circumstances happen to him. Joseph stands out as an anomaly. He is not the norm. He breaks the pattern of sin and selfishness that has been set by his peers. And God has great plans for him. God can and does use the Judahs and the Josephs of the world. He is not limited by man’s faithfulness or faithlessness.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

Through Perez would come the Messiah, Jesus Christ. God would ultimately redeem the sinful affairs of men to accomplish His righteous will for mankind. When I read the stories of Jacob, Joseph, and Judah, it can be so easy to lose heart, thinking that mankind is beyond saving. We are too far gone. I find myself asking the same question the disciples did of Jesus, “Who then can be saved?” (Matthew 19:24 ESV). And Jesus lovingly reminds me as He did them, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26 ESV). God is the God of the impossible. He provided a way for sinful man to made right with Him. He did for us what we could not do for ourselves. He miraculously sent His Son, born into a family line marred by sin, but born without sin. God made the impossible possible. He redeems and restores. He uses our worst to accomplish His best for us. He used the hatred of the Jews and their ultimate murder of His Son to accomplish His will regarding the salvation of mankind. And ultimately, all the stories recorded in Scripture are about that one divine act: the salvation and redemption of man. The story of Joseph is a small chapter in the bigger story of Jesus and His coming to earth as the Savior of the world. I have to constantly remind myself that my story and the events of my life are only significant in that they are part of a much greater, more important story of God’s ultimate restoration of all things. Nothing is impossible for Him.

Father, thank You for being the God of the impossible. You did for me what I could never have done for myself. Your plan is perfect and You are working it to perfection. Help me rest in that reality each and every day of my life. Amen.

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org