Little Lies

Scripture Focus: Genesis 26:9-10
9 So Abimelek summoned Isaac and said, “She is really your wife! Why did you say, ‘She is my sister’?”

Isaac answered him, “Because I thought I might lose my life on account of her.”

10 Then Abimelek said, “What is this you have done to us? One of the men might well have slept with your wife, and you would have brought guilt upon us.”

Reflection: Little Lies
By Erin Newton

On three separate occasions, one of the patriarchs attempted to pass off his wife as his sister to save himself. Abraham deceived the Egyptian Pharaoh in chapter 12 and King Abimelech in chapter 20. Isaac, just like his father, introduced Rebekah as his sister to King Abimelech.

Within the ancient context, there is some legitimacy to the sister-wife claim. There can be arguments made for their lineage and lack of progeny. In any case, each situation calls into question the patriarch’s faith in the promises of God. It also expresses the reverberating consequences of lack of faith.

God promised to bless Abraham by making him a great nation. For this promise to be fulfilled, Abraham would need land, children, and means. In the sister-wife accounts, each of these areas is in jeopardy. Isaac feared losing his life, which would eliminate the possibility of his heirs developing into a great nation.

In this scheme of self-preservation, he inflicts the negative side of Abraham’s covenant. His lie created the potential of a curse upon his neighbors. His desire for self-preservation, by his own efforts, endangered the people around him. Abimelech had suffered the consequences of Abraham’s lie when his household was stricken with barrenness. Isaac put Abimelech in danger again.

These stories highlight the patriarchs’ weak faith. We can place ourselves in their shoes, reflect on the promises of God, and consider how we fail to trust him. Let us diverge from the immediately obvious lessons. Let us take a moment and step into the shoes of King Abimelech and Rebekah.

Abimelech was innocent in his interactions with Sarah and before Rebekah was taken, the ruse was revealed. No wrong was committed. But Abimelech was keenly aware of the danger Isaac imposed. Rebekah was a pawn in Isaac’s scheme. The voice of women is hidden in most of the Bible, but it is not hard to imagine the pain, fear, and betrayal this situation caused her.

Are we harming our neighbors through our lack of faith? Are we telling half-truths that can lead someone into sin?

The church has been guilty of half-truths in the name of self-preservation. Within abuse cases, it has endangered the vulnerable to protect its reputation. It fails to trust God to hold together his promises. We fear it will all unravel if we don’t create a scheme.

No wonder, like Isaac, our neighbors send us away.

DivineHours Prayer: A Reading
Jesus taught us saying: “Again, you have heard how it was said to our ancestors, ‘You must not break your oath, but must fulfill your oaths to the Lord.’ But I say this to you, do not swear at all…All you need say is, ‘Yes’ if you mean yes, ‘No’ if you mean no; anything more than this comes from the Evil One.” — Matthew 5.33-37

Today’s Readings
Genesis 26 (Listen 4:31
Mark 4 (Listen 5:01)

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The cultural marriage norms followed by the patriarchs and passed down by Moses were condemned by Jesus.

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The Sins of Sodom

Scripture Focus: Genesis 19.27-28
27 Early the next morning Abraham got up and returned to the place where he had stood before the Lord. 28 He looked down toward Sodom and Gomorrah, toward all the land of the plain, and he saw dense smoke rising from the land, like smoke from a furnace.

Reflection: The Sins of Sodom
By Erin Newton

How does God measure corruption? What sin is too far?

As we read through the Old Testament, we encounter stories about God’s wrath upon various expressions of sin. The judgment of Sodom and Gomorrah is an infamous tale. Not all stories end with sulfur raining down from the heavens!

This chapter is difficult to read, more so to understand. There are issues of sexual ethics that occur twice in this text. First are the men of Sodom and their enraged demands. Second, are the schemes by Lot’s daughters.

The burning question most people want answered is, “What sin did they commit that was so heinous?” An accurate picture of Sodom requires a holistic examination.

The townspeople were called “wicked” and “sinning greatly” before Lot decided to settle in the land (Gen 13). In Genesis 19, men from Sodom demand that Lot forgo his duties of hospitality and hand over the angels for the townspeople’s sexual pleasure. The people of Sodom care nothing of these guests, they use their strength and power to force the situation.

Later references to Sodom refer to its sin in other ways. Isaiah 3.9 speaks of Sodom’s sin on parade, a reference to high-handed sins committed without shame. Jeremiah 23.14 compares the prophets of Jerusalem to those of Sodom; they are enablers of evil. Ezekiel 16.49 plainly states, the sin of Sodom was arrogance, indulgence, and lack of care for the poor.

In most cases, Sodom becomes a byword for destruction.

Can we conclude that Sodom was destroyed for just one type of sin? The text prohibits that conclusion. Sodom was a web of evil. Lot was told to leave town and never look back to separate himself from those who demand the free exercise of evil.

Sometimes, these stories become a means of comparing ourselves with others. “At least I’m not like them!” We pervert our righteousness when we create a hierarchy of sin. If we judge some sins as safe and others as damning, we make a mockery of the cross.

“Would you spare Sodom if just ten righteous people are found there?” Abraham had asked. The smoldering ruins were his answer.

Yet, in sharp contrast, Jesus proudly announced that he would leave the ninety-nine for the sake of one lost sheep.

The web of evil in our hearts condemns us, but the cross of Christ bore the judgment. 

Divine Hours Prayer: The Cry of the Church
Lord, have mercy on us. Christ, have mercy on us. Lord, have mercy on us.

Today’s Readings
Genesis 19 (Listen 5:33
John 18 (Listen 5:16)

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God challenged Jeremiah to find even one righteous person…He found only rebellion, greed, and abuse.

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Inner and Outward Circumcision

Scripture Focus: Genesis 17.23-27
23 On that very day Abraham took his son Ishmael and all those born in his household or bought with his money, every male in his household, and circumcised them, as God told him. 24 Abraham was ninety-nine years old when he was circumcised, 25 and his son Ishmael was thirteen; 26 Abraham and his son Ishmael were both circumcised on that very day. 27 And every male in Abraham’s household, including those born in his household or bought from a foreigner, was circumcised with him. 

John 16.1-4
1 “All this I have told you so that you will not fall away. 2 They will put you out of the synagogue; in fact, the time is coming when anyone who kills you will think they are offering a service to God. 3 They will do such things because they have not known the Father or me. 4 I have told you this, so that when their time comes you will remember that I warned you about them.

Acts 7.51
51 “You stiff-necked people! Your hearts and ears are still uncircumcised. You are just like your ancestors: You always resist the Holy Spirit!

From John: Today is Martin Luther King Jr. Day. The purpose of this day is to encourage service to one’s community. Along with that purpose, we also acknowledge that many have wrongly thought that they were doing “a service for God” (John 16.2) when they committed acts of violence. May our service bring about a loving community on Earth that mirrors that above and may we redouble our efforts to counter violence and the normalization of violent language and threats in our world.

Reflection: Inner and Outward Circumcision
By John Tillman

Every male in Abraham’s household was circumcised. Not just his offspring. Not just his blood relatives. Not just those of his race or country. Everyone. Abraham did not yet have the son God promised, but all those with him were marked as children of this promise.

Even though it set Abraham apart from the rest of the world, from the very beginning circumcision made one people from diverse peoples. It was intended as an external physical marker of an internal spiritual reality. 

Eventually, circumcision, and other distinguishing marks of faith, went from being about inclusion to being about exclusion. “Holiness” became just another kind of sinful show.

Jesus warned his disciples of what they would face in the immediate future from the religious elite. Paul and Stephen would soon live out Jesus’ words. (Acts 7.51-60) Stephen called out “uncircumcised” hearts and ears of those deaf and blind to God’s Word and his work. Their inner spirituality did not match their outward ritual purity.

With any religious practice, it is easy for the ritual to become a replacement for the spiritual. Our legalistic holiness can become a sinfully prideful show. If we are not careful, we can lose our love for the Lord, and other humans, amidst our liturgies. 

But without ritual or liturgy or law our “spirituality” is just a mush of feelings—ecstatic highs and depressive lows. Liturgy, law, and the rhythmic rituals of worship are tools to remind us that we are included. They are intended to set us apart from the world and, at the same time, hold out an invitation to the world. We, like the foreigners in Abraham’s household, can be marked as children of the promise alongside Christ, Abraham’s true son.

Faith can start outwardly. Nonbelievers may begin reading the Bible, coming to church, singing worship songs, or changing outward behaviors of their lives. This can be a path to inward faith.

Faith can start inwardly. People may have sudden or life-altering conversions of heart. These may lead to disciplines such as Bible reading, worship, and lifestyle changes.

Wherever faith starts, may every part, inward and outward, be changed. By God’s grace, may our ears, hearts, and every part of our lives bear the mark of a “circumcision” that is more than skin deep. May our inner spirituality and outward reality match.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Greeting
Be exalted, O Lord, in your might; we will sing and praise your power. — Psalm 21.14

Today’s Readings
Genesis 17 (Listen 4:02
John 16 (Listen 4:14)

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Othniel and Stephen are two men touched and led by the Spirit of God to very different outcomes.

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The Landless Wanderer

Scripture Focus: Genesis 12:1
The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.”

Reflection: The Landless Wanderer
By Erin Newton

Nomad. Vagabond. Roamer. We have many words for those who travel, often without a permanent home. Gordon Wenham refers to Abraham as a “landless wanderer” to our human eyes.

The story of Abraham’s call marks a pivotal moment in Genesis. From creation to the Tower of Babel, humanity has encountered a series of judgments: the banishment from the Garden, the curse of Cain, the Flood, and the disruption of easy communication. God now calls out to one person, granting a message of peace and blessing to him.

From the text, we know that Abraham was 75 with a wife, extended family, but no children. He had servants (whether they were slaves or willing employees, it is unclear in this chapter) and many possessions.

In short, he was well established, self-sufficient. He was a man of means that quickly caught the attention of the Egyptian Pharaoh later in the chapter. The stability that Abraham enjoyed was self-made and self-secured.

Suddenly, God calls him to walk an unknown path with an unknown future, leave all he ever knew. Everything hinged upon the promise that God would bless his family and through him, the world. The details were vague, only a promise. By faith, Abraham responded and followed.

It is hard to imagine someone of great means leaving it all. The idea is so mystifying that we are enamored by stories with such plotlines. Royals leaving the monarchy. Billionaires donating their wealth. Pastors leaving their megachurch. The security in each case is established through wealth, power, prestige, or popularity. Give that up? Preposterous!

In these cases, the reason could be righteous or not. In the case of Abraham, it is a righteous response that is expressed in his immediate worship. Abraham would follow, perhaps looking like a fool to his peers.

It is a call we see repeated throughout the Bible. Jesus, a landless wanderer himself with no place to lay his head, leaves the glory of the right hand of God to fulfill his call on Earth. The disciples, busy with their work, are called to leave it all and follow Jesus. We are called to do the same.

Each journey is not without trials and tribulations. Abraham was not exempt. Jesus was not exempt. We will not be exempt. 

What has God called you to do? Where has he called you to go? Where will you be a blessing?

Divine Hours Prayer: A Reading
Jesus taught us, saying: “Do not worry; do not say, ‘What are we to eat? What are we to drink? What are we to wear?’ It is the gentiles who set their hearts on all these things. Your heavenly Father knows you need them all. Set your hearts on his kingdom first, and on God’s saving justice, and all these other things will be given you as well.” — Matthew 6.31-33

Today’s Readings
Genesis 12 (Listen 2:51)
John 11 (Listen 6:37)

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To believe in God as Abraham did is to be right with God because faith honors God. Faith says to God: “I believe what you say.”

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We are Socially Responsible

Scripture Focus: Genesis 4:9
Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?”
“I don’t know,” he replied. “Am I my brother’s keeper?”

Reflection: We are Socially Responsible
By Erin Newton

As swiftly as sin breaks the peace between God and Adam, sin devours the hearts of his children. The story of Cain and Abel is an infamous tale of sibling rivalry, jealousy, and the first recorded murder in the Bible.

The quarrel between Cain and Abel is one-sided. Abel has done nothing wrong. He is a bystander in the story. He is, obviously, the victim.

When God looks favorably upon Abel’s sacrifice and not on Cain’s, anger brews in Cain’s heart. Why? Well, scholars are not entirely sure. It could be that he was prone to anger. It could be jealousy of his brother. It could be from a sense of entitlement and not being recognized for his efforts.

The text is not entirely clear about why God rejected the sacrifice either. All the characters seem to be aware of the religious protocol and Cain must have cut some corners.

Sin grows from anger in his heart to murder by his hands. Sin magnifies where self-control diminishes.

Cain kills his brother and, when confronted, he pulls an Adam-like response: deflecting blame. Cain deflects responsibility. Am I my brother’s keeper?

Cain knew Abel’s location. It was right where he left his body. Cain only cared about Cain.

Our world is built around individualism. Prosperity is only for those who help themselves. No hand-outs.

But what is our social responsibility to one another? Is it merely refraining from physical harm? Would Cain have been ok if he had just let Abel live?

God warned Cain that he needed to act rightly. Sin was prowling, looking for a victim, someone who could take the blame or become an outlet for hate.

The story of Cain is usually read as a warning about murder. The story is reduced to its most obvious features. Don’t murder. Sin is crouching. Cain bad. Abel good.

This simplistic idea misses the social impact of the text. Humanity has been created to be social. That social feature of our being is not for individual happiness or individual success. We are made to help one another, support one another, and truly be our “brother’s keeper.”

Not murdering one another is the lowest possible bar we could set for ourselves. As the Bible continues to unfold, we will see how God intended for us to care for each other in sickness and health, for better or worse, from womb to tomb.

Divine Hours Prayer: A Reading
Jesus taught the people, saying: “I tell you most solemnly, everyone who commits sin is a slave. Now a slave has no permanent standing in the household, but a son belongs to it forever. So if the son sets you free, you will indeed be free. — John 8.34-36

Today’s Readings
Genesis 4 (Listen 3:54
John 4 (Listen 6:37)

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