The courageous judge Deborah, who bravely took God’s army into battle, led the troops home with a song of praise to the Lord when God provided the victory (and He saw fit to include Jael as well). Although Barak was slow to accept the plan, I like it that he joined in with the victory praise to God. Then sang Deborah and Barak the son of Abinoam on that day: “That the leaders took the lead in Israel, that the people offered themselves willingly, bless the LORD!” The song continues to tell of the Lord’s praise-worthiness: “My heart goes out to the commanders of Israel who offered themselves willingly among the people. Bless the LORD.” At times we may need to lead out courageously in order to take action and when God blesses us with the victory, let us not forget to offer praise right back to Him.
Summers in Michigan are best when they are spent by a lake and when I was growing up my family did a lot of lakeside camping. Meals around a campfire, waterskiing, and catching fireflies are all wonderful childhood memories. The experience of living from time-to-time in a tent blessed me to better connect with a tent-dwelling woman of the Old Testament.
After Joshua died, having served the Lord faithfully, there was still more of the Promised Land to conquer. Unfortunately, this conquest did not go well. By embracing pagan influences the Israelites allow themselves to be led astray and immediately the people of God found themselves far from Him. Time after time though, as they repented, God continued to provide for them. God told Deborah (the nation’s judge at that time) that He would bring about the victory they needed. However, when Israel’s commander Barak, heard the battle plan he balked. God was not thwarted and used a woman to achieve the goal in an intriguing manner.
Jael was very brave, strong and yet gentle. When Sisera the fleeing enemy commander approached her tent for a respite, Jael tended his needs by offering milk to drink and a blanket to make him feel cozy. When he fell asleep exhausted from battle, she softly entered the tent and drove a tent peg through his temple with a hammer. Jael accomplished what a mighty military army failed to do and Sisera lay dead at her feet. Deborah wrote a song praising Jael and giving the glory to God for the victory.
I re-pictured Jael’s story while pitching a tent for a camping weekend with my sisters and their families in the summer of 2012. My reflection on this interesting part of God’s Story, is to use the tools God provides us so we can faithfully serve Him. I hope my tools will not be hammers and tent pegs, but that is what they were for Jael and she was blessed for using them. “Jael is most blessed of women, the wife of Heber the Kenite; she is most blessed among tent-dwelling women.”
A lot of good true stories are repeated. Ancient stories along with stories we hear today can be passed down to the next generation for teaching points, encouragement, and to be a reminder of the Lord’s faithfulness. This is exactly what took place just before Joshua made a covenant with the Israelites and sent them away, each to his own piece of Promised Land.
Joshua retold God’s Story starting with Abraham’s father. He highlighted key elements of their unique history and reemphasized God’s faithfulness, power and compassion. Joshua mentioned Balaam who had been sent to curse the Israelites. Quoting God, Joshua says, “…but I would not listen to him. Instead, I made Balaam bless you, and so I rescued you from Balak.” God reminded the Israelites, through Joshua, that it was He who had provided victory after victory and in gratitude, the people responded saying they would serve and obey the Lord. Later the prophet Micah also encouraged the people of his lifetime by retelling the account of the Lord’s blessings through Balaam and Balak.
One reason why I am writing this book is to remember God’s blessings. By working through God’s Story of blessings and retelling stories of how He blessed our family time after time, I am blessed all over again.
On our first Easter among an unreached people of China, the town’s eight foreigners rode through the quiet pre-dawn with the desire to pray and worship the Redeemer on a mountaintop as the sun rose. Isaiah, five years old, excitedly raced past Sophie and slipping on a stone bridge, he gashed his head open when he fell backwards. Russ applied pressure to Isaiah’s wound and used my jacket to absorb the bleeding, and we went on with worshipping our Lord. In time, and with the help of our neighbor, a nurse, Isaiah’s head grew back together. He did not suffer any ongoing damage; his scar became a physical reminder to me of God’s goodness. How good it is for us to reflect on God’s faithful blessings and refresh our vow to honor Him.
After initial conquests had been made, Joshua commended those who had chosen to settle on the east side of the Jordan for their faithful service and told them they could return to their homes. Before they journeyed on, he urged them to continue to love the Lord, walk in His ways, obey His commands, hold fast to Him and to serve Him completely. So Joshua blessed them and sent them away, and they went to their tents.
Later a bit of a misunderstanding took place among the clans and when reconciliation was reached the tribes of Israel experience the joy of peace-filled unity. And the people of Israel blessed God and spoke no more of making war against them to destroy the land where the people of Reuben and the people of Gad were settled.
What a blessing it is for families to live at peace with each other! Even though it often takes work to understand and to be understood, it is so worth it to live in a restored relationship. Jesus expounds on this peace-making theme in His public teaching that took place on a mountain, saying that those who work for peace will be blessed. Years later a 13th-century Catholic saint named Francis begins his well-known prayer with: “Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace.” Our greatest need is peace with God and perhaps the greatest gift we can give is peace in our relationships.
Joshua’s main role at this point in history was to divide territories for all the tribes and clans of Israel. This division was accomplished by casting lots and recognizing which tribes were big enough to completely take over the new land. Dividing up the Promised Land was not always a clear-cut easy job for God’s leader and, at times, Joshua’s decisions were questioned.
The descendants of Joseph came to Joshua and asked, “Why have you given us only one portion of land as our homeland when the Lord has blessed us with so many people?” Joshua reassessed, gave more territory to Joseph’s tribe and encouraged them that even though the Canaanites were strong and had chariots of iron, Joseph’s descendants could drive them out.
Good, godly leadership is not easy to come by. God told Joshua often to be brave and I believe that this encouraged him. We can then see in the life of Joshua how he encouraged others to be brave too. God, we pray for our leaders today. May those that are in authority take the time to seek You for wisdom and to lead with integrity. I pray that when it is our time to lead (in big and little ways) we would do the same. Thank You God for being our good Leader. Amen.
Caleb was one mighty octogenarian. He received his portion of land and began to drive out the inhabitants who did not honor God. This took strength, bravery, wisdom and trust that God was on his side. Caleb offered his daughter in marriage to the man who was able to capture a certain city within his new domain. When she arrived to set up her new home her dad Caleb asked her what it was she wanted.
I wonder if Achsah thought about asking for fine china as a wedding gift, but then decided it would be even better to have water. “Give me a blessing. Since you have given me land in the Negev, give me the springs of water also.” So he gave her the upper and lower springs. This pioneer woman was then able to water her gardens, her herds, do laundry and have fresh water for cooking and for making lemonade. What a good blessing to ask for and to receive. Her husband and household would indeed be blessed!
Can you imagine how challenging simple day-to-day living would be without access to water? At times when we lived in various places there would be days without the convenience of electricity. Even in countries which are considered to be developed, when a major storm hits, power outages can be experienced and often the extended community steps in to offer help. But when there is not access to water, life takes on a whole new level of challenge. Caleb’s daughter, Achsah, got the special favor she asked for: water.
Sometimes we go without because we do not ask. Other times we are like Caleb, the ones who are in the position to extend the blessing. Around the world today people still have the need to receive clean water. The good news is there are many opportunities to be involved with well drilling projects. Let’s be part of the solution!
P.S. It makes me so happy that a portion of the proceeds from The Blessing Book (the Devotional as well as the Study Guide) are given to Living Water International, a Christian well-drilling ministry that provides water for life in Jesus’ name. Thank you for blessing others around the world with the gift of water and the opportunity to demonstrate the love of God.
A whole lot of land had been conquered by Joshua and the Israelites as God fought battle after battle for them. At this point in the Story, Caleb, a brave, honest man, was eighty-five years old and just as strong as ever. Back in the day, when Moses sent him and Joshua to Canaan as part of a twelve-man scouting party, Moses recognized Caleb’s integrity and promised a specific portion of the Promised Land to him. Caleb was to receive this inheritance because he followed the Lord wholeheartedly. Now the time was right for Caleb to remind Joshua of the promise that Moses had made over four decades earlier.
Both Joshua and Caleb must have felt the building excitement as this particular promise was about to be reality. They had waited an additional forty-five years since they first spied out the good, plentiful land that flowed with milk and honey. I can picture Joshua hugging his loyal friend, memories flooding through their minds of grape clusters so big it took two men to carry, of large fortified cities and of enemies big and strong. A younger Joshua and Caleb sought to rally the people when they returned from their forty-day exploration. “We can do this! God has promised the land to us! Don’t be afraid, for God is with us and we will swallow those people up!” But sadly, the Israelites gave into fear and listened to the whiney report from the other ten leaders instead. It took forty years for all of the non-trusting people to die as they wandered in the desert. Now Joshua, following God, was leading successful military campaigns with Caleb at his side and a new generation was experiencing the promises of God fulfilled. Then Joshua blessed Caleb son of Jephunneh and gave him Hebron as his inheritance.
It was time for the baton to be passed. Excitement builds when this is done during a middle school track meet or at the Olympic level for we know that the outcome of a good hard run race often comes down to a flawless passing of the baton. Our family had pioneered the mission work with an unreached tribe in China near the border of Burma. For many years prayer, language study, meeting people, sharing truth and a whole lot of life was lived as this group went from no known believers to young churches starting up to worship God in their own language. God’s Kingdom expanded. We sensed we completed our contribution and those we trained were ready to grip the baton and run their leg of this great race.
Before he died, Moses passed on his ministry baton. Joshua was God’s newly assigned leader for His people and several times God told Joshua to be strong and courageous. The first eight chapters of the book named after him, are packed with action. With the Promised Land before him, Joshua sent in two spies who were helped by Rahab. Then with the ark of the covenant leading the way, the Israelites crossed the dry Jordan River. The Israelites set up stones as a memorial, all the men were circumcised, and the Passover was celebrated. Finally, the fortified city of Jericho was captured with a march and a shout. Joshua erected an altar for offerings to the Lord and the entire nation of Israel gathered expectantly on both sides of the ark of the Lord’s covenant. They faced the Levitical priests who carried it and waited for the priests to bless the people of Israel. Afterward, Joshua read aloud all the words of the law—the blessings as well as the curses—according to all that is written in the book of the law.
That is a lot of information to take in, and just imagine if we were there living it all out; our journals would be filled with one amazing act of God after the next! Yet in our own lives God intervenes, blesses, guides, provides and so much more, for us, His children. God, saying, “thanks” does not feel like enough for all that You do for us. The very air that we breathe is a gift, a blessing from You. Your nearness comforts, Your strength gives us strength, Your Presence guides us. Please accept our sacrifice of thanksgiving. With deep gratitude may we run strong and pass the baton of faith to those who will run after us. Amen.
P.S. Great joy is mine to pass on this update from one who has gripped the baton and is running strong. “As of October 2015, we have completed 50% of the New Testament and have published the following Scripture portions: Luke (2011), Acts (2013), and a booklet including 1-2 Thessalonians, 1-2 Timothy, Titus, and James (2015). We have early drafts of most of the rest of the New Testament. The SD church is using the published portions for teaching and study at church gatherings and for personal Bible reading. We often hear reports that the SD believers are eager to receive more of the Scriptures. Keep praying for us toward that end—that we would speedily complete the New Testament for the glory of Christ!”
Mountaintop views are stunning! While Russell was at meetings for Asia Harvest, the board members’ wives hiked each afternoon around the New Zealand countryside. Our time in this part of God’s creation was rejuvenating. Beauty as far as the eye could see. One day we climbed the highest local hill, and I thought about Moses. Mountain climbing is not for the faint of heart, yet the view from the top is spectacular and oh so worth each step.
After blessing each tribe individually, God’s righteous servant Moses shared one more verse of written words before he climbed alone up the mountain God told him to climb. He marveled at the vast land before him that the Lord promised His people, then he died after living 120 years. Final words are often words remembered and Moses did not want Israel to forget that they are a blessed people.
“How blessed you are, O Israel! Who else is like you, a people saved by the Lord? He is your protecting shield and your triumphant sword! Your enemies will cringe before you, and you will stomp on their backs!” Pretty strong and zesty final words from one of the greatest leaders the world has ever known. Moses led an incredibly diverse and exciting life. He may have begun the rescue mission with a speech impediment but Moses ended his life speaking strongly for the Lord he loved. He was a blessed man.
In a book filled with blessings, it is appropriate that the end of Deuteronomy would have another concentration of blessings. This is the blessing that Moses, the man of God, gave the Israelites before his death. Years before, these names were simply the names of Jacob’s sons. Now we read that these same names have expanded into the tribes of Israel. We see how God’s promises come true as each “son” is now a tribe and each tribe grows like stars in the sky.
About the tribe of Levi Moses said, “LORD, bless his possessions, and accept the work of his hands.” Joseph’s clan’s blessings: “May his land be blessed by the LORD…” He said this about Gad’s people: “The one who enlarges Gad’s territory will be blessed.” Picture Moses looking right into the eyes of those in Naphtali’s tribe when he spoke the next blessing. “Naphtali, enjoying approval, full of the LORD’s blessing, take possession to the west and the south.” Do you remember how happy Leah was when her maid gave birth to Jacob’s eighth son? The final blessing was for this eighth son, for Asher’s descendants. The Hebrew meaning of his name is “happy, blessed, fortunate”: “May Asher be the most blessed of the sons…”
Moses blessed each tribe and each blessing was a little different because each of God’s people is a little different, yet God loves us all. The abounding blessing of redemption through His Son Jesus is now offered to every one of us. How will we respond to the blessings we are given?
God has blessed us to live abundantly and yet He still leaves it up to us to make the choice. Moses, as God’s spokesman, pleaded to the Israelites that they would choose life. Today, the opportunity to live the abundant life is offered to us through Jesus Christ. Oh, that we would choose life!
“For I command you this day to love the Lord your God and to keep his commands, decrees, and regulations by walking in his ways. If you do this, you will live and multiply, and the Lord your God will bless you and the land you are about to enter and occupy.” After describing what would happen if disobedience was chosen, which doesn’t sound good at all, we read: “Today I have given you the choice between life and death, between blessings and curses. Now I call on heaven and earth to witness the choice you make. Oh, that you would choose life, so that you and your descendants might live!”
Even before we go our own way, God is fully aware of our propensity to stray. “When all these things happen to you—the blessings and curses I have set before you—and you come to your senses while you are in all the nations where the Lord your God has driven you, and you and your children return to the Lord your God and obey Him with all your heart and all your soul by doing everything I am giving you today, then He will restore your fortunes, have compassion on you, and gather you again from all the peoples where the Lord your God has scattered you.”
Our God is famous for His mercy and compassion and He knows we are bound to wander. He lets us know just how great our restoration will be when true repentance takes place. Locations and time periods may vary, however, His Storyline loops back around to a recurring theme: there is goodness and blessing in God. Humanity fails, redemption takes place for the repentant, restoration comes from a compassionate God whose desire is to bless, and when all is said and done, there will be more blessings than we could ever imagine! We are blessed to go forth and love those who live in a world that is still upside-down. We can do this best when we reflect on how Jesus loved and look forward with joy in the hope that is yet before us.
Russell’s explanation of a biblical worldview through CrownHeartWorld, coupled with his insights from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, has been an ongoing life transformation for me. God, as we grow in Christ-likeness, may we turn to You quickly when we do fail. Thank You for gathering us into Your family, Your Story. Help us to come to our senses and live like life matters. Loving You with all we have should lead to loving people too. Fill us with compassion enough to care, then wisdom enough to act. Amen.
I think I learn best with positive reinforcement, but God knows that not everyone is motivated by affirmation. Sometimes we also need to be aware of the negative consequences of a situation. After a detailed description of the blessings that would come from following God’s ways, we read more than fifty verses that describe what will happen (in heart-wrenching detail) if God is not obeyed. It is tragically sad that these warnings foreshadow what will take place in years to come for the Israelites.
The Book of Proverbs, written later in history, wisely warn us to guard our hearts. That is what Moses seeks to convey as he retells the story of the Israelites, preparing them for their future. Everything we do flows from our hearts, where we decide and then act upon the options before us. I pray we would stay near to God and value His love and wisdom above all else. “Beware lest there be among you a man or woman or clan or tribe whose heart is turning away today from the Lord our God to go and serve the gods of those nations. Beware lest there be among you a root bearing poisonous and bitter fruit, one who, when he hears the words of this sworn covenant, blesses himself in his heart, saying, ‘I shall be safe, though I walk in the stubbornness of my heart.’ ”
The consequence for a rebellious attitude is severe. No matter how much we might try to rationalize the situation, when we are separated from God we are far from safe. Beware, beware! Stubborn independence is not a virtue but a strong vice. Although we may feel free, God warns us that an obstinate mindset is a lethal trap.
Moses may not have used alliteration as he spoke, but I can imagine somewhere along the line a preacher saying, “Now if blessed cities, blessed countryside, blessed citizens, blessed cash crops and blessed cows are not enough to get a nation’s attention, God continued speaking through Moses to tell of the additional blessings that await the Israelites.” “Your fruit baskets and breadboards will be blessed. Wherever you go and whatever you do, you will be blessed.”
God’s plans also involved safety from their enemies. To a people in need of physical protection, this was a very big concern and God was offering to again defend and provide for His people. “The Lord will guarantee a blessing on everything you do and will fill your storehouses with grain. The Lord your God will bless you in the land he is giving you.” Moses then recaps the message; “The Lord will give you prosperity in the land he swore to your ancestors to give you, blessing you with many children, numerous livestock, and abundant crops. The Lord will send rain at the proper time from his rich treasury in the heavens and will bless all the work you do.”
It is as if God Almighty wrote His people a blank blessing check. And for them to cash it, all they needed to do was remain faithful to the God who cares for them and who has time and time again shown His covenant love. Will they love Him in return? Do we?
So many blessings come from the Lord when we are obedient. Some of the detailed blessings God offered to the Israelites were dependent on their obedience to Him. “Now if you faithfully obey the Lord your God and are careful to follow all His commands I am giving you today, the Lord your God will put you far above all the nations of the earth. All these blessings will come and overtake you, because you obey the Lord your God: You will be blessed in the city and blessed in the country. Your descendants will be blessed, and your land’s produce, and the offspring of your livestock, including the young of your herds and the newborn of your flocks.”
I love the phrase, “All these blessings will come and overtake you.” Think about it: to be overtaken with blessings! And that is not all. The Israelites will experience even more specific blessings if they remain faithfully obedient to the Lord, so read on!
God was concerned with the well-being of the priests, the foreigners, the orphans, and widows, and to meet their needs, a special tithe was offered every third year. Those who presented the offering followed the commands of the Lord and then said to God, “Look down from your holy habitation, from heaven, and bless your people Israel and the ground that you have given us, as you swore to our fathers, a land flowing with milk and honey.” When we give our “first fruits” to the Lord to help those who cannot help themselves, everyone is blessed!
We can bless people in a variety of ways today because many churches have foundations in place to help the poor, the widows, and the orphans in their communities. Even a tithe of time can bless us and those we share our time with. We can teach English as a Second Language, giving a much-needed life skill to people in our country who need to learn a new language. Time is a precious gift to those in retirement homes. Can we share a little of our time with them? We can make a difference for good by reaching out to foreign students in colleges near us. The impact we could have on other countries without even getting a passport is potentially incredible! By donating to and shopping at Salvation Army, or other stores like it, we can promote good. Recently I was helping a lady “shop” at our community benevolent center. It was as if a light bulb of hope came on for her when I said, “Sure, take as many of these shirts as you need, and when you don’t need them anymore, bring them back or pass them on so then you can bless someone else.” All of us can be a part of the blessing cycle. Be creative, be generous, be a blessing!
“In God we trust” appears on US coins and paper currency. The Israelites needed to decide if they were going to trust in God when it came to money matters and the following verse gave them guidance: “You may charge a foreigner interest, but not a fellow Israelite, so that the LORD your God may bless you in everything you put your hand to in the land you are entering to possess.” Other laws were put in place to ensure that people were provided for: “Return the cloak to its owner by sunset so he can stay warm through the night and bless you, and the Lord your God will count you as righteous.” Later on we will see how the following principle was lived out in Ruth’s life to further God’s Story: “When you are harvesting in your field and you overlook a sheaf, do not go back to get it. Leave it for the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow, so that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hands.” These specific examples helped establish the operating manual for life in the new land. God cares how we treat one another and blesses us for loving as He does.
Moses retells a story found in Numbers 22-24 about a spiritualist name Balaam who was ordered by the king of Moab to curse the Israelites. In the end, the potential cursing turned to blessings, but why? Because again God showed His love toward His people. When Russell and I worked to start a fresh church for Spanish speakers in Texas, an outspoken man mocked us while doing door-to-door outreach. This man, Juan de Leon, made fun of the nervous way that Russell’s disciple, Mario, was trying to share the good news. Russell took an opportunity to stand up to the challenge with a pun based on the man’s last name “of the Lion”. He quoted a verse in Ecclesiastes and shared how it is better to be a live dog than a dead lion. Juan hesitated, nodded, and invited us in. Mario was encouraged, Juan became a Christian, and Juan’s wife made us some great tamales. We were all blessed! There is no promise that we will go through life free of enemies who would like to see us cursed. So we, like the Israelites in their time, need to be reminded of God’s love for us. Yet the LORD your God would not listen to Balaam, but He turned the curse into a blessing for you because the LORD your God loves you. Trust in the simple yet profound truth that God loves you.
Deuteronomy 23:5 HCSB
Would you like to live in complete joy? The people of Israel were told to give back to God. This giving was a celebration and in proportion to what He had provided and what He would continue to provide: blessings including success with work and abundant joy. Why would we not want to return blessing for blessing and to do so with a happy heart? Then celebrate the Festival of Weeks to the LORD your God by giving a freewill offering in proportion to the blessings the LORD your God has given you. Remember, life is not all about work and making a profit. Take time out from working to celebrate the Lord. For seven days celebrate the festival to the LORD your God at the place the LORD will choose. For the LORD your God will bless you in all your harvest and in all the work of your hands, and your joy will be complete. What price would you pay for complete joy? God has provided salvation, material blessings, His Word as a handbook for living a purposeful life, and so much more. Thank You God!
We read in the New Testament that God loves a cheerful giver. This concept goes way back to the times of Moses. There will always be the poor among us, so those who have more should give more. Give generously to the poor, not grudgingly, for the Lord your God will bless you in everything you do. We are happier when we live life with an open hand rather than with a stingy heart. It is helpful to keep in mind that God has created all people, those who have and those who don’t have. When we are given the opportunity to give, we should do so, for it is God who has blessed the work of our hands by providing us with the wealth to give. It is a delight to live as part of the solution, staying close to God to know His desires for the good of all. In the way of giving, we are blessed to be a blessing too. Giving generously is more than just giving financially. People need care, a listening ear, time. Do you have peace with God? If so, offer peace to others so they can know God and know peace too. Give generously, live generously; for we can trust that the Lord our God will bless us.
“However, there need be no poor people among you, for in the land the Lord your God is giving you to possess as your inheritance, he will richly bless you, if only you fully obey the Lord your God and are careful to follow all these commands I am giving you today. For the Lord your God will bless you as he has promised, and you will lend to many nations but will borrow from none. You will rule over many nations but none will rule over you.”
To a newly established nation, this blessing from God must have seemed almost too good to be true. The Book of Deuteronomy is mostly one long message, and those initially hearing it had been listening for quite some time at this point. I have a feeling their ears perked up when Moses got to this part. Although sandals did not wear out from all the desert walking they did, presently they were not particularly rich.
When Russell and I started our married life together we encountered some challenging financial times. Every penny was stretched. We even sold a partial book of postage stamps to some friends so we could have enough change to buy a cold drink on one hot day. Even though we were poor, we decided to trust God and give at least a tenth of everything we earned toward God’s work. As the years have passed and our blessings have grown, we have been able to help others and this has been one of our greatest joys.
When God’s people remembered their history of being poor and enslaved in Egypt, and then reflected on all the years of living in the desert, the promise of wealth and power was a great contrast. This contrast offered hope in so many ways. The Israelites had an opportunity for a fresh start and it was due to God’s faithfulness and blessings. And again we see that in the middle of it all was a big “if.” The blessings are there if we are careful to obey.
Moses knew that he was not going with the Israelites when they crossed the Jordan River to occupy the land promised to them. With great care he continued to address the assembly by telling them more specific instructions that would be vital for them to follow. When the Lord your God has brought you into the land you are entering to possess, you are to proclaim on Mount Gerizim the blessings, and on Mount Ebal the curses.
Then Moses detailed the importance of pure worship that pleases God. Again both negative and positive conclusions were explained. Moses desired those he lead for the past forty years to thrive in their new land.
So many benefits awaited those who choose to obey. There, in the presence of the LORD your God, you and your families shall eat and shall rejoice in everything you have put your hand to, because the LORD your God has blessed you. God was blessing them with a land promised to them. No more wandering, but meaningful work and life with their families was before them. Joy should be a part of work, of life, and it really can be as we live in the Presence of the Lord. I pray that as we live lives that are joyful, thankful and prayerful our times of personal worship as well as corporate worship would bless the Lord our God. Amen.
“Look, today I am giving you the choice between a blessing and a curse! You will be blessed if you obey the commands of the Lord your God that I am giving you today. But you will be cursed if you reject the commands of the Lord your God and turn away from him and worship gods you have not known before.” What commands did God give? These instructions include loving the Lord, walking in all His ways, and staying near to Him, wholeheartedly. God is very clear about what He thinks about other gods. Idols, foreign gods, pagan worship poles and practices may seem exotic and enticing, but they will not set us free. These will ensnare those who choose to live outside of God.
The Israelites have been on a long journey; they felt the oppression of the false gods of Egypt and received the rescue from God Almighty. They experienced victories against idolatrous nations when All-powerful God fought for them. They knew about child sacrifices and other evil behaviors required to appease pagan gods. God does not want His people to be ignorant of the importance of choosing wisely. When we live intentionally for God, we will enjoy a lifetime of the blessing of being close to Him, our Creator and the One who loves us most. Yet God gave His people a choice back in the days of Moses and we too have a choice to make: to be blessed or to be cursed. Our actions indicate to Him as we day-by-day, choice-by-choice decide.
Do you remember that Moses smashed the original Ten Commandments when he saw those he was leading engaging in indisputable sin? Sin ruins so much but now the time had come for a renewed covenant between God and His people. God told Moses to chisel out two stone tablets, like the first set. Then Moses carried these up the mountain where the Lord wrote the Ten Commandments upon the stone. How easy it is to read through portions of God’s Story and not pause long enough to let it sink in. I wonder what it was like to have a blank writing tablet made of stone and then see the completed Commandments knowing the finger of God wrote them?
This time a wooden box, called the Ark of the Covenant, was also made and the stone tablets were stored in the box. Life went forward and blessings were pronounced. At that time the LORD set apart the tribe of Levi to carry the ark of the covenant of the LORD, to stand before the LORD to minister and to pronounce blessings in his name, as they still do today. What a job that must have been for the Levites! Imagine being set apart and responsible for pronouncing the blessings in the name of the Lord.
Who in our communities today have roles like these? Our children were blessed with godly soccer coaches. Life lessons were taught both on and off the playing fields and as a high school senior in Thailand, our son Isaiah helped lead devotional times for the younger players on his soccer team. There is something special about having a responsibility to lead and teach, not just agreeing with words about God’s goodness, but being the one to speak those blessings to others. As we minister to one another I pray our words would be words of blessing. Let us give encouragement that instills courage, not discouragement that takes it away.
Deuteronomy means “second law” and this part of God’s Story contains a flowing history lesson for the Israelites. Moses didn’t deliver a different or additional law, but the same law given a second time to a new generation of Israelites who were only children at the time the original Ten Commandments were presented. They needed to hear God’s law fresh for they were about to go into the Promised Land. He described the many and specific ways that God had provided for His people and ended with a wonderful description of the land that would soon be theirs. How about a little foretaste of what was in store for the obedient? “And you shall eat and be full, and you shall bless the Lord your God for the good land he has given you.”
Moses told those following him to remember God, and not to forget that it was He who brought them into this great situation. Several translations quote Deuteronomy 8:10 as “you shall praise the Lord…” which is a great thing to do, however, I like how the English Standard Version puts it: “you shall bless the Lord.” God is the One who blesses us with all that we have, and we are to bless the Lord and be careful not to forget Him when we are filled with blessings.
Moses told the Israelites that holiness has its privileges. And we will see how the little two-letter word “if” can have big implications. “If you listen to and are careful to keep these ordinances… He will love you, bless you, and multiply you. He will bless your descendants, and the produce of your land—your grain, new wine, and oil—the young of your herds, and the newborn of your flocks, in the land He swore to your fathers that He would give you. You will be blessed above all peoples.”
All of these blessings (and there are a lot of them!) depend on the condition of carefully following the good laws that God has established for His people. God does bless, and the blessings are huge, but at times these blessings hinge upon the obedience of His people. Have we grown accustomed to the blessings but have we forgotten the obedience part? I remind myself: “You better check yourself before you wreck yourself!”
Love the Lord your God with all you have; with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your strength. As you do this it will not be a chore but a joy to pass down God’s teachings to your children, grandchildren, and to people God has blessed your life with. As we love completely and know that we are completely loved, we will be filled with the desire for others to have an opportunity to love in these good ways too. God gave us life and blessings and purpose. Moses emphasized the importance of not forgetting such a valuable truth.
The Shema, the confession of Jewish faith in God alone, found in portions of Deuteronomy chapters 6 and 11 and in Numbers chapter 15, adds further details that describe how one is to live as a follower of God. Moses ended this chapter by saying, “And the Lord our God commanded us to obey all these decrees and to fear him so he can continue to bless us and preserve our lives, as he has done to this day.” Righteousness (a good and right way of life) is a blessing to those who carefully follow God’s commands. We fear what we cannot control. Wisdom comes when we realize that it is God whom we cannot control, but we do not need to control Him because He is trustworthy. These are good lessons to pass on to the generation that will follow. May others not only hear our words but see our actions as we follow God wholeheartedly.
God blesses those He chooses to bless. Some blessings are not based on condition or obedience or situation but on the choice of the God who is Lord of all; the One who has the power to bless. Moses again reminded the Israelites of this truth about God. “Because he loved your ancestors, he chose to bless their descendants, and he personally brought you out of Egypt with a great display of power.” Thank You Father God for the way You bless us with direction. You show us love and give us gifts just because You are good. You are the Mighty One, God, the Lord, and You are all powerful and all good and personal. You are a good and faithful Leader. What an awesome combination! Thank You for Your love. Amen.
From time to time we all need to be reminded of God’s past faithfulness. This helps us as we continue to journey with Him, stepping out in faith bravely marching into uncharted territory. The Israelites were venturing into uncharted territory so Moses gave a much-needed pep talk: “the Lord your God has blessed you in everything you have done. He has watched your every step through this great wilderness. During these forty years, the Lord your God has been with you, and you have lacked nothing.” God was with them; He will be with us. Sometimes we get comfortable in the place that our last faith steps have taken us and we think we have arrived. But God yearns to move us out of the familiar and into a deeper trust of His guidance.
After our first year of living in a provincial city in China I was not excited about moving to the rural back woods near Burma. It was the summer of 1997 and I had grown to know the flower lady on the corner and the egg man in the market. I knew several ways to ride my bike across town to language school, our family had made local friends, and odd as it may seem, the bustling Chinese city, filled with foreign smells and sights and sounds, felt like home. Oh, the blessings we would have missed if we had not stepped forward with God’s leading, leaving the newly familiar to pursue Him into the more unknown. When we focus on His Presence, the steps of faith are not taken alone for Jesus is right next to us along the way.
As we resettled, and made yet another new place home, relationships developed. We trusted in God in fresh ways, relying on Him to be our “Steadfast Constant” when so much around us was again uncharted. Over time, we had the joy to share truth with a minority tribal man. When he understood God’s love and forgiveness, he asked, “God can understand my dialect? I can talk directly with Him?” If we had stayed in the familiar, how would this man have heard God’s good news? I believe God would have made a way, but we would have missed out on being a part of the blessing.
In February we wrap up the life and ministry of Joseph, Jacob’s eleventh son. Reading of the many ways that Joseph was blessed, and how he used his position in Pharaoh’s palace to bless the Israelites, we too are encouraged to bless. Moses is the next major character in God’s Story. Excitement builds through the great escape from Egypt and God’s chosen people, now in large numbers, learn how to follow Him. On our journey we are just steps away from entering the long awaited Promised Land.
Even if this year does not have a leap year day, you will not want to miss reading this blessing. The time had come! Years of wandering in the wilderness were over and God told Moses to tell all the Israelites to go and take possession of the land that He promised to them. The promise that God made to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob was about to become reality! The land was right before them. Moses continued, “May the LORD, the God of your ancestors, increase you a thousand times and bless you as he has promised!” Moses appointed leaders and encouraged the group not to be afraid but to trust God and take the land.
This is exciting! This is what everyone had been waiting for! Yet, even with years of faithfulness shown to them by a holy God, most of the assembly rebelled against the Lord, rather than obeyed Him. This was a shocker to me. Why didn’t they take those final steps to victory? But are we any different? How do we respond to God’s blessings? When things look a bit scary do we leap forward in obedience or go the way of rebellion?
The next several chapters of God’s Story show interesting interactions in the pursuits of blessings. Some of God’s enemies wanted to bribe Balaam, a diviner, to get God to bless them and curse God’s people. Fear causes people to do weird things; so does bribery. But as the account unfolds we read how God is God and He will bless those He chooses to bless and He will curse those He chooses to curse. He can even cause a donkey to speak to get His point across.
Balak, king of the Moabites, is afraid of God’s people so he bribes Balaam to curse them. But just the opposite happened. Then Balak’s anger burned against Balaam. He struck his hands together and said to him, “I summoned you to curse my enemies, but you have blessed them these three times.” From the very beginning, the Bible records that God blesses His people. We need to stay close to Him especially when it may feel like our enemy has the upper hand and wants us to be cursed.
Everyone is packed up for the Promised Land and the marching orders have been given when Moses asked one of his relatives to come along as their guide. One day Moses said to his brother-in-law, Hobab son of Reuel the Midianite, “We are on our way to the place the Lord promised us, for he said, ‘I will give it to you.’ Come with us and we will treat you well, for the Lord has promised wonderful blessings for Israel!” “You know the places in the wilderness where we should camp. Come, be our guide. If you do, we’ll share with you all the blessings the Lord gives us.”
Hobab may have known where to camp, but it was the Lord who provided the guidance as the Israelites followed the cloud and fire over the tabernacle. In our life journey we are very tempted to seek out human guides and that may be helpful, but I pray we do not miss out on the ways God personally desires to mark the path before us. Destination is important, but so is the adventure of the journey as we learn and grow close to God along the way.
Over and over again God told His people that blessings would come from Him, and in specific ways, if only they would obey the good laws He had put in place which were for their benefit. Yet, God knows human hearts and so He also tells them how they will be punished if they choose to follow their own stubborn, prideful ways. “And I will break and humble your pride in your power, and I will make your heavens as iron [yielding no answer, no blessing, no rain] and your earth [as sterile] as brass.” Even with the lessons of the past to learn from, today we are often no different than the generations before us. We are frequently bent in a sinful direction of selfishness. Oh, for the blessings that would flow if only we would choose to live in obedience to God.
Russell and I arrived in Texas during the drought of 2011. With the average rainfall for the year at about 11 inches, it made it the driest year of Texas history (and the history of droughts in the area goes back to the days of Spanish exploration in the 1500’s). Traveling the dry and depressing land to preach and to support our son’s soccer team, we read sign after sign, along the highways, in small towns and in bigger ones, with the words, “Pray for rain”. The sky was like iron and rain was desperately needed. In times like these it seemed like everyone was calling out to God for His intervention. But when the rains come, do we thank Him, or return to our prideful thinking that says we can live without Him?
One of my all-time favorite blessings in the Bible is the blessing that the Lord gave to Aaron to pass on to His people. I want this blessing of God’s protection, His smile and His peace and I want it for everyone whom I love. Revel in the goodness of a good God who has good things to offer those He loves. If we try, we can almost feel the warmth of these ancient words, known as the priestly blessing, relayed from God to Moses to Aaron to us.
“Tell Aaron and his sons to bless the people of Israel with this special blessing: ‘May the LORD bless you and protect you. May the LORD smile on you and be gracious to you. May the LORD show you his favor and give you his peace.’ Whenever Aaron and his sons bless the people of Israel in my name, I myself will bless them.” It is so good I want to bless again: May the Lord bless you and protect you. May the Lord smile on you and be gracious to you. May the Lord show you His favor and give you His peace. What a blessing! What a God!
Over the next forty years or so, God, through Moses, sets in place many laws and standards which affected the religious duties, diet, hygiene, the political and social responsibilities, as well as the morality of this young nation. These laws guided the Israelites so they could function on a daily basis. One law that gave interesting direction was about farming. Every seventh year the land was to remain fallow; dormant and uncultivated.
I am blessed to have had grandparents who were farmers, for I feel a sense of special connection to the earth. While riding through the countryside in various seasons I like to see how crops are growing. When I fly and look upon farmland from the perspective I picture God having, I’m fascinated how fields cover the earth like a well-stitched quilt. Although I am not an expert, even I know that fallow land normally does not produce food. But so the people in the time of Moses didn’t worry about starvation, God assured them: “I will send you such a blessing in the sixth year that the land will yield enough for three years.”
When the Israelites followed the decrees and laws of God, they lived safely and were blessed with God’s good provisions. God is still the provider of what we need today. Even though Russell and I have never owned a home, we have never been homeless in all our years of placing God’s Kingdom first. Through many wonderful and varied situations we continue to be blessed by God’s provisions. The faithfulness of our Father is good to remember, for He wants us to be anxious for nothing but to talk to Him in prayer for what it is we need. And in doing so, to be thankful.
Moses, as God’s leader for Israel, helped the people in many ways as they grew to understand and live out what it meant to be in a covenant love relationship with God. They needed to know how to deal with sins that separated them from God. Aaron lifted up his hands toward the people and blessed them. He came down after sacrificing the sin offering, the burnt offering, and the fellowship offering. Moses and Aaron then entered the tent of meeting. When they came out, they blessed the people, and the glory of the Lord appeared to all the people.
God’s people in the time of Moses needed to be trained to be holy. We have that same need today. Through the sacrifice that Jesus made, once for all, on the cross, we are able to enter into in a deep relationship that depends fully on a holy God. But dealing correctly with our sin-nature does not come naturally to us. Like the Israelites, we too need training. Physical trainers are popular for fitness but we are more than physical beings.
God, please give us the coaches we need for our spiritual growth. May we be disciplined to value discipleship, may our spiritual muscles be strengthened by spending time in Your Word, and may we better understand Your Story. Help us to live out Jesus’ teachings so our lives are not wasted but instead used so Your glory shines through us. Amen.
P.S. Having raised children just a little older than ours, Susan Hodges continues to teach me and not just about children. I thank God for Pastor Gerald and Susan, serving faithfully for over twenty- five years at Westwood Baptist Church. Their mentorship in godly living has blessed many. Who has mentored you? Who are you mentoring?
The breach of contract that God’s people found themselves in led to a very serious wake-up call. They needed to re-establish their relationship with the Lord so when Moses relayed the instructions that God had given to him about building the tabernacle, everyone listened carefully and followed God’s instructions with great attention to detail. The tabernacle was to be an exceptionally special place where God met with His people and it was designed to be portable too. I love how the phrase, “all who were willing” is used several times to describe how people gave specific supplies and services. People gave from a willing heart to the extent that Moses had to say, “enough!”
Everything that was required to build the tabernacle had been received. Moses inspected all the work they had accomplished. They had done just as the Lord commanded. Then Moses blessed them. Oh, the joy of knowing that you have done a job well. The glory of the Lord then filled the tabernacle and that concludes the blessings from the book of Exodus, the Story of God’s people rescued from the Pharaoh of Egypt to live life in a relationship with the God of the universe.
God has already blessed mankind immensely but there are a whole lot of blessings yet to come, and some of those blessings will depend on the faithfulness to the work God gave the Israelites to do. One of my jobs after my enlistment in the Marine Corps and before getting married, was to help people better understand their electric bills. My workdays were spent tethered to a phone line looking up records on microfiche, seeking to find resolutions to electric questions that were most commonly asked in the form of a complaint. Over the year I spent at Consumer’s Power Company, I received several “people pleaser” awards as satisfied customers expressed gratitude for my service. Things like those are fun to get as they can represent doing your job to the best of your ability. God too has rewards in store for His faithful ones. Will we one day hear God say to us, “Well done, my good and faithful servant”? That hinges on whether or not we have lived a life of faithfully serving Him.
All of Israel had just agreed whole-heartedly to the covenant with the Lord. This was not a small deal so God called Moses into an exclusive executive meeting and gave him massive amounts of information including specific plans so Moses could construct a tent of meeting where God’s people would worship Him. The plans included instructions for the priests and described the items required inside the tabernacle too.
Moses was gone for over a month for this administrative meeting with God. He then came down the mountain with the first hard copy of the Ten Commandments, written on stone tablets. But while Moses was away, the people begged Aaron to give them “gods” they could see, so Aaron gave them what they wanted: a golden calf. The people chose to break the promises they had made to God and this made the Lord, and Moses, furious. God told Moses that He was going to destroy them all; however, Moses interceded on behalf of the Israelites. He demolished the god of gold and also broke the tablets of stone.
Moses then called those who were for the Lord to come to him and the tribe of Levi responded. With swords the Levites went through the camp killing 3,000 of the disobedient Israelites. Purity is not a small thing in the eyes of a holy God. I cannot begin to imagine the grief experienced in the camp that day. With great reverence to God, Moses spoke to the Levites, “Today you have ordained yourselves for the service of the LORD, for you obeyed him even though it meant killing your own sons and brothers. Today you have earned a blessing.” What a sobering experience. The blessing earned would not be quickly forgotten.
We can read pages of God’s promises to the Israelites as His Story continues to unfold for His people during the time of Moses. Some of these blessings were very conditional. Do this and this will happen; if not, it won’t. The next blessing is contingent on the people’s choice to worship. “Worship the LORD your God, and his blessing will be on your food and water. I will take away sickness from among you, and none will miscarry or be barren in your land. I will give you a full life span.”
God desired the Israelites to take over the land He had promised to them. This would require trust in God since the land was presently occupied by the enemies of God. Worship draws us near God; it gives us a proper perspective of the goodness and greatness of our Lord. Although the blessing mentioned above was specifically for those about to enter into the Promised Land, we as those living years later can still draw on the importance that God places on worship.
Choosing to worship God blesses us in many ways. Worshiping God is easy to do when our world is humming along smoothly. I remember thinking about this with heightened depth one Sunday morning. Several members of our house church family were enjoying a vacation together so we gathered to worship God on the beach. The waves were rolling in and before Russell preached, one of the young guys strummed his guitar as we sang a song called, It is Well with my Soul. My eyes welled up with tears, thinking of how the day before Sophie had nearly drowned as a rip tide took her further and further from the shore. Did I have the deep conviction that even in tragedy, God is worthy of worship? I sang on, sensing His nearness. Come what may, because of Him, it is well with my soul.
There were a wide variety of laws passed down from God to Moses and many of these same laws are recorded in the four books that follow Genesis: Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. God was crystal clear that other gods were not to be called upon (do not invoke the names of other gods) for He alone made the covenant with the people Israel. “In all I have said to you take heed; do not mention the name of other gods [either in blessing or cursing]; do not let such speech be heard from your mouth.” Other “gods” are not God. That may seem straightforward to us, but many people struggle with this truth. A Chinese taxi driver and Russell had a conversation about God as the taxi crawled through afternoon traffic. When Russell had shared the new covenant hope through Jesus, the cab driver commented, “Gods are gods. Jesus? Buddha? Same-same”. Russell responded, “People are people. When I get out someone else can pay. O.K.?” “What? I drove you; you pay me.” “I guess you are right; it’s not the same. There is only one God who has paid my debt and who provides for me. That is the only God I will honor.” Who we say God is matters to God.
God proclaimed the Ten Commandments to the people. There was thunder, lightning, the sound of a trumpet and smoke surrounded the mountain. It was natural for the people to be afraid; I would have been too! Wise fear of God, as the One we certainly cannot control, can keep us from sinning. God told the Israelites not to craft any “gods” but instead, “You must make an earthen altar for Me and sacrifice on it your burnt offerings and fellowship offerings, your sheep and goats, as well as your cattle. I will come to you and bless you in every place where I cause My name to be remembered.” Through Moses, God continued to talk to the Israelites about the covenant He established with His people clarifying many areas of life.
In hindsight we see how everything was leading up to a new covenant. Jesus is that new covenant. When we place our faith and trust in God’s Son, the sacrificial substitute who takes away the sins of the world, we can come before Him clean and blessed by God Almighty. The fear of realizing we cannot control God is replaced by the assurance that we do not need to try to control Him. He is good. The Almighty blesses.
It is hard to know exactly, but about 500-650 years have passed since God promised Abraham that he would be blessed and all peoples would be blessed through him. God’s Story is a long one! Three months after God led the Israelites from Egypt, He was ready to make a very personal covenant with His people. Were His people ready to live out their part of the agreement?
At Mount Sinai, with dense smoke coming from the mountain, God spoke what we would later refer to as the Ten Commandments. Right before the commandment “Honor your mother and father”, God gave this one: “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work… For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.”
The Israelites’ leader was God Himself and they learned that loyalty and allegiance is shown through obedience, even when obeying is hard. Resting is a difficult thing for me. I think my issue with this command ultimately has to do with trust. Do I trust that God is really in control and that things will not fall apart if I put my lists aside to rest? My head knows the right answer, but living out what I know is right is an on-going process.
During the years of raising our family while working in Asia, two of my most cherished rests were vacations only an hour’s drive from home. Leaving behind the computer and language books and packing lots of snacks and board games we “camped out” at a mountain hotel near a British soccer camp that our kiddos attended. In the crisp morning air Russ took the kids to training and I took long runs in the countryside and allowed my mind to be refreshed in the beauty of God’s creation. Afternoons and evenings were intentionally restful as we enjoyed being together as a family. God has blessed us to rest. In fact, as part of the Ten Commandments, He has commanded us to do so each week as we set aside time to purposely meet with Him. Just like the Israelites of the Old Testament, when we obey, we live out our loyalty.
With the multitudes departing, the Exodus began. The Egyptians even gave the Israelites gold to take with them as they made their exit! As God guided him by a cloud and by fire, Moses led the people. The Israelites passed through the parted Red Sea, the Egyptians who pursued them were destroyed, and the liberated sang songs of praise to God. God provided water, manna, and quail and the Israelites journeyed on.
Moses had a wonderful family reunion when his wife, their two sons and Jethro, his father-in-law, met up with him in the desert. I love these little personal glimpses into the big Story, for they are like a small puzzle piece put into place and the whole picture is made more complete. Jethro was thrilled to hear that the Israelites were delivered from the oppression in Egypt and how it was all due to God’s strength and goodness to bless His people. Jethro told Moses, “Blessed be the Lord, who has delivered you out of the hand of the Egyptians and out of the hand of Pharaoh and has delivered the people from under the hand of the Egyptians.”
While we lived outside of the US, our family experienced a lighter version of this kind of a reunion during our annual group meetings. Christian workers would gather together representing extended families and tribes, and celebrate the Father’s blessings from the past year. Fellow missionaries became uncles and aunts to our children, their own children were like cousins to ours, and to this day our family is blessed with those deep relationships forged from rejoicing in God’s redemption. Reflecting upon and sharing God’s blessings with others leads us to thank and bless God. A thankful life is a blessed life, and the goodness course continues.
Moses was eighty years old and the task before him must have seemed insurmountable. Pharaoh was not budging but God told Moses it would be that way for a reason: all would know that He is the Lord when the Story of God’s miraculous power would be told. It took several devastating plagues for Pharaoh’s eyes to be opened to see that God was in charge.
One night, Pharaoh finally summoned Moses and Aaron and said, “Get out! Leave my people—and take the rest of the Israelites with you! Go and worship the Lord as you have requested. Take your flocks and herds, as you said, and be gone. Go, but bless me as you leave.” Pharaoh ultimately saw God as powerful. The leader of all of Egypt bowed to ask for God’s blessing.
No matter if we see ourselves as weak or strong, the reality is that God is the most powerful and He is able. May He bless us today as we choose to connect with Him. May we then follow Him as we continue to make choices that come before us; the easy ones and the hard ones. Let’s seek to see from God’s perspective and bless people, even those who have hearts that to us may seem like stone.
Back to the Blessing Book….
A Hard Heart toward God’s Blessing
About half a century later Joseph died. Joseph’s death concludes the Genesis record and the first of many chapters in God’s Story. Years passed and a new leader emerged in the Story; Moses. Family heritage is important to God as we will often see in listed genealogies. It is interesting to know that Moses was a great-grandson of Levi, one of the twelve sons of Jacob. The youngest of three children, Moses was born in Egypt, rescued from the Nile River as a baby, grew up in the Egyptian palace, spent years in the outback as a shepherd for his father-in-law, and would be used by God to deliver His people from the hand of the Egyptians to be brought into the land of blessing and promise.
This would not be an easy rescue mission but a very fascinating one as God’s provision, protection and blessing continually guided His people. By this time in history the Egyptians do not remember Joseph and all the good he had done for them. Even as slaves in the land, the Israelite community grew and because they were seen as a threat, they were mistreated. Moses, as God’s spokesperson, asked that all the Israelites be given permission to leave to worship Yahweh and this new Pharaoh did not want to lose his workforce. Pharaoh said, “I’d sooner send you off with God’s blessings than let you go with your children.” Once again, Moses and Aaron (his brother and ministry partner) were thrown out of Pharaoh’s sight. Pharaoh, with his hard heart, did not get a blessing from God and another plague, this time of locusts, filled his land. God, may our hearts be soft to Your ways in our days. Amen.
Israel said his final good-byes to his twelve sons, and as he did so he blessed each of them. All these are the tribes of Israel, the twelve tribes. And this is what their father said to them as he blessed them, blessing each one with his own special farewell blessing. Jacob (Israel) went on to repeat his burial desires while he had everyone assembled, and then he died. The whole community (both the Israelites and the Egyptians) mourned his death and a very impressive procession traveled from Egypt to Canaan. Jacob was buried next to his wife Leah since Rachel had been buried where she had died while giving birth to Benjamin on the journey to Bethlehem. Jacob’s parents and grandparents were all buried together in the same cave back where it all began when God gave Abraham the promise and blessing that he would be a great nation and all nations would be blessed through him.
Three generations of God’s blessed people have now died. But the blessing lives on. God blesses people to be a blessing. It is humbling to realize that we are a part of God’s blessing cycle. Thank You, our Father for Your loving kindness toward us. Way beyond what we will ever know, You give to us good gifts. May we live lives that honor You as we share with others from the abundant favor You have supplied so that all can know You. Amen.
Before he died, Jacob gathered his sons around him to tell each one, in the form of a blessing, what would happen in the days to come. So he “blessed” all twelve of his sons in the order in which they were born. When he got to son number eleven (Joseph), again we can read the way Jacob loved him more because he blessed him more. Joseph will be fruitful and strong due to the hands of the Mighty One of Jacob, by the name of the Shepherd, the Rock of Israel, by the God of your father who helps you, and by the Almighty who blesses you with blessings of the heavens above, blessings of the deep that lies below, and blessings of the breasts and the womb. The blessings of your father excel the blessings of my ancestors and the bounty of the eternal hills. May they rest on the head of Joseph, on the crown of the prince of his brothers.
Now that is a whole lot of blessing! God did bless Joseph extra; He blessed him with humility to trust Him in the hard times and to forgive his brothers. Joseph had the wisdom to know that what his brothers had initially meant for evil, God turned to good. Out of God’s goodness Israel’s family did not die of famine but lived! God placed Joseph just where he needed to be. I want to be faithful to humbly live out my life where God places me.
When Jacob was blessing Joseph’s sons, Joseph tried to correct his father about which son was older, for the older son was due the special blessing. Jacob however, refused Joseph’s guidance and said, “I know, my son; I know. Manasseh will also become a great people, but his younger brother will become even greater. And his descendants will become a multitude of nations.” So Jacob blessed the boys that day with this blessing: “The people of Israel will use your names when they give a blessing. They will say, ‘May God make you as prosperous as Ephraim and Manasseh.’” In this way, Jacob put Ephraim ahead of Manasseh.
There in Egypt, in the land of Pharaoh, Jacob blessed his two grandsons from Joseph. Jacob then went on to bless the other men in his family. What a special occasion that must have been, but it was also bittersweet. These blessings were given at the end of Jacob’s time on earth. Not all of us will be granted a time for giving bedside blessings. One of our saddest sacrifices was being overseas when Russell’s mother, Ann, died. Though we spent the previous Christmas with her, it was difficult not to have one more chance to give and receive blessings before she passed from this world. We continue to learn to live each day extending blessings while we can.
Jacob asked about Joseph’s two sons who were born to him in Egypt. The grandfather then said, “Bring them to me so I may bless them.” Even though age had robbed Jacob of clear sight he hugged and kissed his two grandsons. With his hand on the heads of Joseph’s sons, Ephraim (the younger) and Manasseh (the older), Israel began. Then he blessed Joseph and said, “May the God before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked faithfully, the God who has been my shepherd all my life to this day, the Angel who has delivered me from all harm—may he bless these boys. May they be called by my name and the names of my fathers Abraham and Isaac, and may they increase greatly on the earth.” It was a very moving time for the three generations of men, the descendants of Abraham and Sarah. This unexpected reunion was indeed a blessing from God. And blessings continued to flow from Israel’s heart and lips.
The Israelites (Israel’s family) moved to Egypt and Israel (Jacob) lived the last seventeen years of his life there. Jacob made Joseph promise to bury his body where his father Isaac and grandfather Abraham were buried. I’m curious if Jacob thought back to the time of his own father’s funeral and how he and his brother Esau had buried Isaac. When we know we are at the end of our lives, what will we look back on with joy?
A whole lot of blessing takes place at the end of Jacob’s life and it begins with Jacob recalling the way in which God had blessed him. Jacob reminisced and told his son Joseph, “God Almighty appeared to me at Luz in the land of Canaan and blessed me, and said to me, ‘Behold, I will make you fruitful and multiply you, and I will make of you a company of peoples and will give this land to your offspring after you for an everlasting possession.’” Who can forget a blessing like that?
The twelve tribes of Israel came from Jacob, and indeed the Promised Land would be theirs. God’s good Story is worth passing down from generation to generation. What has He done in our lives that we are sharing with the generations that follow us? Are we purposefully leaving a legacy of thanksgiving? If not, it may not be too late to rethink and align afresh to God the giver of all blessings. We have been given the gift of life; I pray we would choose to live wisely.
The handsome and well-built Joseph became quite the Egyptian ruler over the years but before that happened he finds himself thrown into prison because he did not give in to the advances of his master’s wife. Although not as serious as the episode with Potiphar’s wife, I’m grateful that Russell knew how to resist an unwanted approach. In broad daylight on a public street in our little Chinese town, a “professional” woman asked him to come into her shop for a haircut. He responded, “Uh, I don’t have any hair.” “That’s ok,” she purred, “I don’t have any scissors.”
Back in Egypt, Joseph was put in charge of the prison that he himself was thrown into. Through a series of dreams and interpretation of dreams Pharaoh is made aware that the spirit of God was in Joseph, so he promoted Joseph over all of Egypt. During this time there is an extreme famine and who comes asking for food, but Joseph’s brothers. Long story short, there was great rejoicing when Joseph finds out that his father, Jacob, is still living.
When Jacob arrived in Egypt with the rest of his clan, Joseph presented his father before Pharaoh. After Jacob blessed Pharaoh, Pharaoh asked him, “How old are you?” And Jacob said to Pharaoh, “The years of my pilgrimage are a hundred and thirty. My years have been few and difficult, and they do not equal the years of the pilgrimage of my fathers.” Then Jacob blessed Pharaoh and went out from his presence. I have a feeling that in his wildest dreams Jacob never thought that he would one day be blessing Egypt’s number one man. Russell did not start out in a prison or end up in a royal palace, but he eventually led church planting work in five countries. When we stay near God, who knows how we may be led by Him to bless others.
For some reason, Jacob (Israel) loved his eleventh son Joseph more than his other children. Maybe it was because Joseph was Rachel’s firstborn. Things took a turn for the worse for Joseph when he was about seventeen years old. The favoritism of his father coupled with the seemingly arrogant dreams that Joseph had about his own brothers pushed his brothers over the edge. In a series of challenging events Joseph ends up in the bottom of a well and then sold to a man named Potiphar in Egypt, far from the father who loved him.
But Joseph found favor with the Lord. From the day Joseph was put in charge of his master’s household and property, the LORD began to bless Potiphar’s household for Joseph’s sake. All his household affairs ran smoothly, and his crops and livestock flourished. Even in this far away land God did not forget Joseph and He blessed the work of his hands. At times we might ask ourselves, “What in the world am I doing here?” I bet Joseph wondered that while down in the pits a few times in his life. Hold on, the story is not over yet. God is a God who redeems and blesses! The stark contrast between our darkness and His light is often the backdrop we read about in His Story as well as experience in our own lives.
God, may we be quick to turn to You when life does not make sense. Thank You for the precedent that has been set and lived over and over, that You are able to release us from the darkness of our own prisons and give beauty in place of ashes. Amen.
Just because we are blessed does not mean we will live life free of hard times. We see in the life of Jacob that some of his young adult children made some bad choices that led to bad consequences and challenging times, yet God did not leave Jacob. God faithfully led Jacob. He was told by God to move once more to Bethel and to build an altar where he had lived back in the day of the blessing from his father Isaac. When they arrived, God appeared to him again and blessed him. Restating what was told to Jacob during the all-night wrestling match, he was told by God, “Your name is Jacob, but you will no longer be called Jacob; your name will be Israel.” Another pillar was set up, like the time after Jacob’s dream of the stairway, and with wine poured over it, Israel worshipped God. The recording of God’s Story goes back and forth sometimes calling Jacob, “Jacob” and at other times “Israel”. I wonder what name his wives used to call him by?
After God described the promise of a great nation with great land, Israel and his family moved on toward Bethlehem. On the way there, Benjamin was born but he lost Rachel, the wife he loved most, as she gave birth to his twelfth and last son. Israel held a brand new baby instead of the love of his life. This unexpected death must have been devastating. Even though we are blessed we will not be exempt from times of suffering. The world is a fallen, broken one, but remember, God is over this world and He gives us hope.
It was a very scary time for Israel (Jacob) and his large traveling family. Instead of being refreshed by a night of sleep he had just wrestled until dawn. It must have been encouraging to know God was near him, even blessing him, yet he did not know how Esau would respond to seeing him again. How relieved Israel must have been when Esau met him with forgiveness. With a big bear hug and weeping the two powerful men were filled with joy from their reconciliation and were genuinely happy to see each other again. Israel urged, “Please, take my blessing that is brought to you, because God has dealt graciously with me, and because I have enough.” Esau accepted the gift then Israel and his family moved on to settle in Succoth. How completely wonderful is reconciliation! God is a God of forgiveness and He must beam with joy when His children forgive one another. Jesus came so that we could be reconciled to God Himself. What an amazing gift that is.
During our seminary days we wrestled with our calling. Were we to settle into our lives in rural North Carolina, go deeper into Hispanic ministry or take up a challenge to travel to the other side of the world to pioneer work with an unreached people group? Long talks and pro/con worksheets played their parts, but wrestling with God in prayer for direction is what led us to gather up our young kiddos and journey to China.
Jacob continued his journey with all that belonged to him and he too knew what it meant to wrestle. As he approached his brother’s land it was inevitable that he would need to face Esau. Jacob had not seen Esau in over twenty years, ever since the time their father had blessed Jacob with Esau’s blessing and Esau had threatened to take Jacob’s life. This meet-up could be life threatening for Jacob and the family he loved. With this in mind, Jacob separated gifts of animals and people to go on ahead of him, then he placed his wives and children in the safest place he could find and he remained alone for the night.
He prayed to God reminding Him of the promises God had given and was thankful for God’s great provision. But instead of his prayers leading to sleep, he had an all-night wrestling match with God. When the sun began to rise Jacob heard, “Let Me go, for it is daybreak.” But Jacob said, “I will not let You go unless You bless me.” Jacob was given a new name “Israel” and then the One he was wrestling with blessed him there. Do we value wrestling with God long enough for a breakthrough to come with a blessing? I pray we do even if it means sleepless nights.
After a seven-day pursuit, Laban caught up with Jacob, and there was a heated confrontation and then a resolution, which ended with an oath that neither man would harm the other. A meal was eaten together and they all spent the night peacefully on the mountain. Early the next morning Laban kissed his grandchildren and his daughters and blessed them. Then he left and returned home. Although God’s Story does not record it, I have a feeling the blessing of their father made for a better trip for his two grown daughters, Leah and Rachel. Let us never hold back on blessing those we love, especially when it involves our children as they start out for lives on their own.
I felt a lot of emotion the summer of 2011 when Isaiah, our last to fly from the nest, walked through security checks at the Chiang Mai airport to board the plane that would take him from our home in Thailand to a new life in America. I remembered Sophie making the same solo flight the year before and how a short time before that we helped Hannah unpack into her freshman dorm then we said good-bye and flew to a new nest in London. So many changes in such a short time, yet God remained faithful through it all. A part of me wanted to hang on with a long hug at each departure, but instead I kissed each of our kiddos good-bye, as parents have been doing for generations before me, and I thanked God through tears for the life and time we shared as a family. One thing I love about God is that He is everywhere. No matter what time zones we are scattered through, He is near those we love and our prayers are heard by Him who cares even more than we ever can.
P.S. Time ticks forward and God blessed my children with three different Texas university experiences and each have now graduated: Hannah from Baylor, Sophie from Rice and Isaiah from UMHB. Life continues to change yet God remains faithfully constant, lovingly Present.
Jacob wanted to leave Laban’s control and start a life away from his uncle. Because Laban recognized the blessing of God upon the life of Jacob, he does not want Jacob to leave. Laban thinks that maybe God’s blessing will go when Jacob goes. Laban tells Jacob, “I have become wealthy, for the LORD has blessed me because of you. Tell me how much I owe you. Whatever it is, I’ll pay it.” Jacob explained that he worked very hard (seven years for each wife then six more years for the flocks) and that during those two decades, Laban’s wealth also increased enormously. Jacob then gives the credit to God. “The LORD has blessed you through everything I’ve done. But now, what about me? When can I start providing for my own family?” When Laban did not give his blessing for Jacob and his family to leave, Jacob left secretly. He packed up his wives, their maids, a dozen children (eleven sons and a daughter) and all he owned. The whole family headed back to the land of Jacob’s father Isaac, like God had said to do.
As a young adult, Rebecca arrived in Thailand ready to serve only to find that her team leaders had resigned. We brought Rebecca on board with our team and began to invest in her life. We were blessed by Rebecca’s friendship and by her contributions as she faithfully served her two year commitment. When the time came for her to decide her future service Rebecca chose to join a different team. We liked Rebecca; it would have been easy to want to hold on to her, or we could have let her go, but done so grudgingly. I’m glad we chose to bless her as she left and be thankful for how God matured her to go forth as a blessing to the new team that He had provided.
Laban was Jacob’s provision when Jacob needed a fresh start in life. Jacob worked hard for Laban and the time had come for him to step out on his own. This type of a relationship dynamic continues in many ways still today. May we not turn it into an unhealthy form of co-dependency, but allow for good growth, even when it means change will be involved. It is best if we do not hoard blessings (especially those that come to us in the form of people) but to allow blessings to flow. I’m so thankful that in doing so with Rebecca we maintain a joyful friendship and she continues to bless so many through the experiences God keeps giving to her.
Jacob fell head over heels in love with Rachel, his Uncle Laban’s youngest daughter. Jacob worked hard for seven years to earn her hand in marriage only to discover on the morning after his wedding night that he had married her older sister, Leah instead! How did he handle this deception? How did Leah feel about the whole situation? I’m sure this state of affairs caused a little tension in Rachel’s life too. Tricky Uncle Laban offered another work incentive program to Jacob and he worked an additional seven years for Rachel. As Jacob spent time shepherding did he reflect on his life and remember how he had deceived his own brother Esau out of his blessing?
Sometimes what goes around comes around. At any rate, the years had added up and by that point, Jacob had acquired many herds and flocks of animals, which meant his livelihood had grown. Jacob’s family also grew. His wives who were sisters were in steady competition to give him sons. Rachel and Leah even provided Jacob with their maidservants to expand the family. Zilpah, Leah’s maid, bore Jacob [her] second son. And Leah said, I am happy, for women will call me blessed (happy, fortunate, to be envied); and she named him Asher [happy]. Jacob now had eight sons. His number was indeed increasing and this was just the beginning of the blessing passed down from God to Abraham to Isaac and now to Jacob coming to fruition.
We have traveled through a whole lot of blessings! God blessed humanity over and over and we were introduced to people like Adam and Eve, Noah, Abraham and Sarah, as well as Isaac and Rebekah. God’s great covenant blessing in Genesis 12, that we are blessed to be a blessing, is now being passed on to Jacob. February holds some great stories of how God’s Story continues to unfold, blessing after blessing. Read on, be blessed and bless! Feel free to pass along TheBlessingBook to those you would like to bless. Love, Karla
Ready to find his wife, Jacob set out for his mother’s land. Along the way, he grew tired and using a stone for a pillow he fell asleep and dreamed. During his unusual dream of a stairway to Heaven, God spoke to Jacob saying he would have many descendants. “Your offspring will be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out toward the west, the east, the north, and the south. All the peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring.” God told Jacob that He would watch over him and give to him the land on which he slept. The blessing given to Abraham and Isaac has now been passed on to Jacob. Are we keen to listen when God speaks to us through dreams, His Word or through messengers He sends? What blessings are we passing on to the generations that follow us?
Jacob turned his “pillow” into a pillar, poured oil over it and after making a vow to God, continued his journey. It was a pivotal time in Jacob’s life and he took ownership of his own faith in the Lord. The world offers many roads for young adults to choose as they venture out into life on their own. Wise discernment is needed now just as it was needed back in the days of Jacob. Father, we pray for ourselves and for the next generation. Please provide us with direction and increase our desire to choose to walk in step with Jesus. Open our ears to hear You speak, and then like Jacob, may we follow in obedience. Amen.
By being obedient to his parents and leaving when he did, Jacob’s life was spared because his brother Esau was plotting to take it. Esau knew that his father, Isaac, had blessed Jacob and sent him to Paddan-aram to find a wife, and that he had warned Jacob, “You must not marry a Canaanite woman.” By this time Esau had already married two Canaanite women and the pagan daughters-in-law made life bitter for Isaac and Rebekah. Esau added another wife to the mix, this one was from his dad’s brother’s family. For the hope of the generations to come, for those who would inherit the blessing of Abraham, a lot was resting on the need for a healthy wife for Jacob. I’m sure Isaac and Rebekah were hoping for some peaceful family reunions too. Just think of how the conflicts grew even more intense for the elderly couple due to the proximity of the tents in which their extended family lived. Family relational struggles can be a hindrance to the joy of living in peace and harmony, no matter what time period. Let’s pray deliberately for those who will one day marry into our families and continue to pray for those who we are committed to through marriage. May we practice loving God now with all that we are, and may God bless our families with people who love and honor Him and one another.
In 1990, on the first Christmas with our firstborn, Hannah, I gave my mom a daily scripture calendar by Dr. James Dobson called The Heart of the Family. The next Christmas, she gave a copy to each of her grown children so we could read the same passages day-by-day. Over the years I continue to use it to record special events. On a very meaningful Thanksgiving with our house church family in Thailand, I jotted down a blessing I did not want to forget. It was 2006 and our thankful hearts were quite aware that soon the oldest children in our group would be leaving for college. With the smells of special food filling the room it was great to hear different voices reflecting on holidays from the past. Looking over at the kids’ table it was obvious that our kiddos had grown up and life was about to change as they each would head out on their own.
My calendar for that day held a blessing from Genesis 28. “May God Almighty bless you and make you fruitful and multiply you until you become a group of peoples.” This original blessing was given by Isaac to his son Jacob, but I couldn’t help but feel blessed by the Lord who had formed our group of families into a blessed church called Sojos. As Jacob was about to head out on his own, his father, talking about God, said, “May He give the blessing [He gave to] Abraham to you and your descendants with you, that you may inherit the land He gave to Abraham, in which you are a sojourner.” In time we will see that the blessing from Isaac was passed down again from father to son. Present times will become memories but the future holds hope because of God’s faithful promises. Even as sojourners, God provides the blessing of communion with Him and with others.
P.S. Nearly a decade after that special Thanksgiving, Russell and I reconnected again with Sojos. It was a joy to visit with a once troubled teen who Russ baptized in his senior year. Joey is now leading a thriving ministry to those with disabilities and has a beautiful young family of his own. He and his wife have just adopted a daughter with special needs from Serbia. God’s blessings continue to multiply as His love is lived out.
Tension continued to build in Isaac’s family. Once again Rebekah tried to protect Jacob; this time, using marriage. When she heard that Esau wanted to kill his brother Jacob, she made a plan for Jacob’s escape. Rebekah told Isaac that she didn’t want Jacob to marry a Hittite woman but instead he needed to travel to her hometown to marry a woman from her family line. Isaac summoned Jacob, blessed him, and commanded him: “Don’t take a wife from the Canaanite women.” As a father, Isaac sends his son on the same journey that Abraham sent his trusted servant on years before. Isaac instructed Jacob to marry one of his mother’s brother’s daughters. And it will be intriguing how Rebekah’s brother Laban again becomes a part of God’s Story. I think that Laban might have had a challenge with greed and manipulation. It is interesting that Jacob, on the run from out-maneuvering his brother, finds himself on a journey to live with Uncle Laban. Uncle Laban was the needed shelter from this storm, however, God desires for there to be peace within our families. Because we are often stiff-necked and stubborn, sometimes a little time and space is required for that desired peace to come about. Jacob will find out later that pursuing peace is not for the cowardly. May we be brave in the Lord to offer and accept both forgiveness and apologies for the sake of peace.
After Isaac finished blessing him, and Jacob had scarcely left his father’s presence, his brother Esau came in from hunting. Esau approached his father with the meal he had freshly prepared and said, “My father, please sit up and eat some of my game, so that you may give me your blessing.” This interaction really confused Isaac and he had to tell Esau that he had already given away the blessing to his brother Jacob: “I blessed him—and indeed he will be blessed!” Esau took this news really hard and with a loud and bitter cry he said: “Bless me—me too, my father!” Isaac answered, “Your brother came deceitfully and took your blessing.” With growing hurt and anger Esau spoke what was on his mind, “Isn’t he rightly named Jacob? This is the second time he has taken advantage of me: He took my birthright, and now he’s taken my blessing!”
Esau asked his father, “Haven’t you reserved any blessing for me?” Isaac told Esau plainly that he had given it all to Jacob. Can you hear the desperation in Esau’s voice? “Do you have only one blessing, my father? Bless me too, my father!” Then Esau wept aloud. Esau received a sad “blessing” and held a grudge against Jacob because of the blessing his father had given him. When we think about the present and we reflect on this part of God’s Story written years ago, the names may be different, but the challenge to living morally upright lives in complicated settings is the same. May we learn from the examples of others, and seek God for His guidance to lead us through the confusion.
So now we find Jacob posing as his brother Esau to gain the blessing of their father Isaac. After telling his father that he was his firstborn, Jacob urged, “Please sit up and eat some of my game so that you may give me your blessing.” At first, Isaac is not convinced because the voice sounded like Jacob’s but the fur that Rebekah had placed on Jacob’s hands convinced him, and he proceeded to bless him. Isaac asked again if Jacob was really his firstborn son Esau and Jacob replied that he was. So Isaac continued, “My son, bring me some of your game to eat, so that I may give you my blessing.” Jacob moved closer to his father and kissed him. When Isaac caught the smell of his clothes, he blessed him and said, “Ah, the smell of my son is like the smell of a field that the LORD has blessed. May God give you of heaven’s dew and of earth’s richness—an abundance of grain and new wine. May nations serve you and peoples bow down to you. Be lord over your brothers, and may the sons of your mother bow down to you. May those who curse you be cursed and those who bless you be blessed.” This blessing should sound familiar to us as it is similar to the blessing that God gave to Abraham back in Genesis chapter twelve. We will see that this blessing story is far from over!
Generally speaking, having favorites is an unhealthy habit for parents. We can see this statement lived out in the lives of Jacob and Esau as their parents each had their favorite son. Even though Isaac’s firstborn son Esau sold his birthright to his brother Jacob for a bowl of bean soup, Isaac still planned to give Esau his blessing. Just before he died, Isaac told Esau, “Prepare me the kind of tasty food I like and bring it to me to eat, so that I may give you my blessing before I die.” Rebekah overheard Isaac and since she loved Jacob and wanted the best for him, she schemed with her favorite son, Jacob. “Now, my son, listen carefully and do what I tell you: Go out to the flock and bring me two choice young goats, so I can prepare some tasty food for your father, just the way he likes it. Then take it to your father to eat, so that he may give you his blessing before he dies.” Jacob wasn’t so sure the plan would work, for although Isaac had lost his eyesight, he hadn’t lost his sense of touch. If Isaac touched Jacob he would know Jacob was not his hairy son Esau. Jacob replied, “I would appear to be tricking him and would bring down a curse on myself rather than a blessing.” The backdrop is set for the battle over the blessing.
Isaac and his family were now in Beersheba, and the Lord appeared to him one night and said, “I am the God of your father Abraham. Do not be afraid, for I am with you. I will bless you and multiply your offspring because of My servant Abraham.” Again, God blesses Isaac, and reminds him that He is faithful. He tells him that just as He was with Abraham, He will be with Isaac, too. Isaac had moved quite a bit and it must have felt good to be settling his family in Beersheba. He had just built an altar to worship the Lord and maybe Rebekah got the last picture hung on the tent wall before they received a surprise visitor. Remember the king who sent Isaac away because he felt threatened by Isaac’s power? Well now he traveled to find Isaac. Was he coming for war or for peace? Did Isaac’s recent dream flash through his mind, hearing afresh that he did not need to be afraid? The king came for peace and he wanted a treaty with Isaac because he could see that the Lord was with him. Along with other things the king said, “You are now blessed by the Lord.” In life we will have surprises. There will be good times, hard times and times when we are astonished at how the times can change around. May we seek and stay near to God during our transitions as well as in times of settledness. Like Isaac, may we not be afraid, for He is with us.
God also blessed Isaac’s finances. Substantially. When Isaac planted his crops that year, he harvested a hundred times more grain than he planted, for the LORD blessed him. The increase in Isaac’s wealth and power caused the king of that land to be fearful of Isaac so he sent him away. Then there were conflicts over water rights and wells. These disagreements brought about many quarrels and more moving. It must have been a stressful time for the whole family. But in stressed-filled times we can draw near to God who desires our closeness at all times as He provides what we need.
What I needed for my family back in the winter of 1992 was diapers. God had blessed us with three babies in the span of twenty-eight months, which meant we went through a lot of diapers. At the end of one of those months there were no diapers, and no money to buy them. How we rejoiced when there was a check in our mailbox for just enough to get us through another round of diapers! Years later we had three kiddos in college; diapers are expensive but college even more so! Our mission board generously provided “X” amount toward scholarships but when we took a leave of absence from the mission field those scholarships were no longer available to us. We would have a tuition fund shortage. God knew this and the very next day a Marine Corps scholarship was presented to us for the exact amount that the mission board previously provided. God used the time we served in the Marine Corps as singles, to bless us as a family almost thirty years later. Isaac was blessed with grain. We were blessed with diapers and scholarships, and so much more. God likes to bless His children.
It was during this time of famine when the LORD appeared to Isaac and said, “Do not go down to Egypt; live in the land where I tell you to live. Stay in this land for a while, and I will be with you and will bless you. For to you and your descendants I will give all these lands and will confirm the oath I swore to your father Abraham. I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and will give them all these lands, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because Abraham obeyed me and did everything I required of him, keeping my commands, my decrees and my instructions.” Isaac grew up hearing that his father Abraham was blessed by the Lord. There was God’s promise that all nations would be blessed through Abraham. Now the Lord spoke this same blessing to Isaac, giving him confirmation and assurance. What peace Isaac must have felt knowing God would be with him. I pray we sense that kind of peace from our Father today. Lord, may we draw near to You and take time to reflect on Your many blessings in our own lives. We thank You for Your decrees that show us the way to truth and full life. Thank You for peace that over-comes the world. Amen.
Isaac was meditating as he walked along his property when he first saw Rebekah approaching on the back of a camel. Whether or not it was love at first sight, we do not know, but God’s Story does say that Rebekah was beautiful. Isaac was forty years old when he married Rebekah and she comforted him greatly in the loss of his mother. Isaac deeply loved his wife and the couple had quite a while to get to know each other for Rebekah was barren for twenty years. By this time Father Abraham lived until he reached the ripe old age of 175. When he died his two sons, Ishmael and Isaac, buried him in the same cave with his dear wife Sarah. After Abraham’s death, God blessed his son Isaac, who then lived near Beer Lahai Roi.
One of the ways that God blessed Isaac was to answer his prayers on behalf of his wife who could not have children. After two decades of married life, twins were born to Isaac and Rebekah. What joy must have filled their tent! The brothers grew up and Esau, the older of the two, became a skillful hunter. Isaac loved the taste of wild meat, so of the two boys, Isaac favored Esau. Rebekah, however, favored their son Jacob as he quietly enjoyed time with her among the tents. Due to a famine in the land, the family moved to Gerar, yet God remained faithful in His promise to bless Isaac. In the days to come, we will see more clearly how God continued to bless Isaac.
Rebekah’s father, brother and mother all gave permission for Rebekah to marry Isaac for they understood this opportunity was from the Lord. But the choice was left to Rebekah. When she said “yes”, they gave her this blessing as she parted: “Our sister, may you become the mother of many millions! May your descendants be strong and conquer the cities of their enemies.” Many were blessed with this arrangement and wedding plans were quickly formulated. Along with her childhood nurse, Rebekah left all that was familiar to her and traveled a long distance to be married to a man she had never met. Her future was unknown yet she trusted enough to get on a camel and begin the journey. It must have given her comfort and assurance to know that this wedding was arranged and blessed by God. May He be the foundation in each marriage.
Marriage is not an easy partnership as it will, maybe more than any other relationship, bring out what is really inside of us. Character traits, like the good, the bad and the changing are often shown most intensely to those we are the closest to. Some would say that marriage is not just meant to make us happy but that God uses marriage to make us holy. And even the most mature are still on a journey in becoming complete. I’m happiest when I am holy (pure, un-mixed) and enjoy the blessings that come with married life. As Rebekah entered into marriage she was given a blessing to be the mother of millions. Content with the three children God has blessed Russell and me with, I look forward to embrace those who may one day extend our family through additional marriages and grandchildren. This blessing promise that began with Abraham continues on through the ages.
Oh, to be a prayerful, faithful servant. When we start our day, do we ask for God’s direction and then take time to pray specifically for His intervention as we go about on our mission? Abraham’s servant is a wonderful role model to us. He not only prays but he wastes no time to praise God for providing an answer. God’s Story records this account twice, first as the servant does it and then as he retells his story of God’s faithfulness to Rebekah’s family. And I bowed my head and worshiped the Lord, and blessed the Lord God of my master Abraham, who had led me in the way of truth to take the daughter of my master’s brother for his son. The servant felt Rebekah was the answer to his prayer for Isaac but she still needed to respond. That was a huge decision to make all in one day. Her whole life could possibly change if she said yes. But that is how life works. One decision leads to a whole new set of possibilities.
What if a girl from Michigan never went to boot camp in South Carolina, and then on to training in Florida for an intelligence unit where she met a young Marine from Texas who was in Florida learning Morse code? What if he never pursued her to Spain? What if God did not intervene and reconcile each of them into His family? What if on a rainy night he never asked the marriage question? What if she did not reply, “Yes, I’ll marry you!” As I have experienced in my own life, the journey offers several opportunities to respond and a different choice along the way brings about a very different conclusion. A whole lot was resting on how Rebekah and her family took in the news from Abraham’s servant concerning a bride for Isaac.
The servant shared the interesting wedding proposal situation with Rebekah, the beautiful girl at the spring, and gave her jewelry. She excitedly passed on this unexpected news to her mother and brother Laban. Laban rushed back to the well and invited the servant to their home. “Come and stay with us, you who are blessed by the Lord! Why are you standing here outside the town when I have a room all ready for you and a place prepared for the camels?” Inside, with the family gathered, the servant told them the reason for his visit. “I am Abraham’s servant,” he explained. “And the LORD has greatly blessed my master; he has become a wealthy man.” He added that Isaac was his master’s son and he was sent to bring back a wife for him. If you were Rebekah’s parents how would you take such news? Life was going along with normal activities, then one day, one visit, and all that would be customary for the future of your daughter, could potentially be radically different. Did Rebekah’s parents have the boy-next-door picked out for her to marry? Would giving her hand in marriage to a man miles away mean never seeing their grandchildren grow up? What about Rebekah; would she be given a say in the matter?
Abraham asked one of his servants to be the matchmaker for his son and so he traveled to Abraham’s hometown in search of a wife for Isaac. As the servant journeyed he prayed to God for guidance and success. When a beautiful maiden gave him water to drink from the spring and watered his camels too he knew God had answered this specific request. The man bowed his head and worshiped the Lord and said, “Blessed be the Lord, the God of my master Abraham, who has not forsaken his steadfast love and his faithfulness toward my master. As for me, the Lord has led me in the way to the house of my master’s kinsmen.”
In order to get an answer from a specific prayer we need to go to God and voice our specific needs. Sometimes the answer comes quickly as it did for Abraham’s servant and sometimes our faith is grown as we wait upon God’s timing. Our young family had a great lesson in faith growing during our second time of living in a Chinese village. Duke, an adorable puppy brought lots of joy to our household, and Sophie was especially attached to the little guy. One afternoon right out of the blue, a man walked into our courtyard, picked up Duke and ran away before we could catch him. Duke’s “dognapping” led to several trips to the local market in hopes of finding him and nightly prayers were lifted to God, pleading to bring Duke back. Thirty days later, Sophie still leading the prayer campaign, a local friend called saying they spotted Duke with a thug. Russell rushed to the rescue, decisively dealt with the drug dealer and Duke returned to our home with much rejoicing to God! God cares about our cares, whether they be dog-sized or concerning a new bride. Blessed be the Lord!
Thirty-seven years have passed since the birth of Isaac. Sarah, Abraham’s faithful wife, has just died. Abraham mourned the loss of his wife, who was his partner, companion and friend through life. By this time, Abraham was now a very old man, and the LORD had blessed him in every way. When his grieving subsided, the next thing on Abraham’s mind was to find a wife for Isaac. He did not want Isaac to marry a local girl from the pagan land where they now lived, but instead Abraham looked to his hometown to find a mate suitable for his son. I picture Abraham reminiscing about the years of life lived with his dedicated wife and he must have desired his son to be blessed with a godly wife as well. As we will find out in the story of Isaac’s wife, it is a good and godly thing to pray for the future marriage partner of the children God has blessed us with. Lord, I pray we would honor You by living faithfully with the spouse You have given to us and in doing so be a godly example for the next generation. Please provide for our children marriage partners who love You above all else. May we live with the joy and blessing that comes when marriage is built on Your foundation. Amen.
In the ancient Near East, child sacrifice was an unfortunately common practice. People believed that the gods demanded the blood of children as signs of worship. As horrific as that seems to us, this was the world that Abraham and Sarah inhabited. It is crucial to remember this point when reading about Abraham’s most difficult test. One day, God called out to Abraham and asked him to sacrifice his son Isaac. In addition to being a heartbreaking request, this must also have been confusing to Abraham. Wasn’t Isaac the child God had promised? Hadn’t Abraham waited for years to have a son? These thoughts undoubtedly raced through his mind, but Abraham again obeyed God.
As a parent of three beautiful children, I cannot even imagine Abraham’s heavy heart as he and Isaac climbed the mountain together. My heart grows heavier still when I think of how he had to then tie Isaac down to the altar, and how, with a trembling hand, he drew the knife to slay his son. This is horrible to imagine. But God had something besides death in store, for He is different from the pagan gods. At the last minute, just as Abraham was about to sacrifice Isaac, the angel of the Lord stopped Abraham and said that now it was known that Abraham feared God above all else. Then the angel of the LORD called again to Abraham from heaven. “This is what the LORD says: Because you have obeyed me and have not withheld even your son, your only son, I swear by my own name that I will certainly bless you. I will multiply your descendants beyond number, like the stars in the sky and the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will conquer the cities of their enemies. And through your descendants all the nations of the earth will be blessed—all because you have obeyed me.” What an incredible test. Again, Abraham obeyed God, and God’s blessing followed his obedience.
To prepare to serve God in China, our family received a series of injections, some of which could actually infect us with enough virus to make us extremely sick and even die. Although we sensed God’s leading to move our young family to the other side of the world, our trust in Him was truly tested when our four-year-old child, Sophie, began to show an adverse response to the injections. In some ways, like Abraham, we needed to obey God fully before we saw His provision. We intentionally reflected on the truth that our children were given to us from God, but that they belonged to Him. God, I pray that we continually trust You with the lives of those we love most dearly. Loving You and living obediently will never disappoint us even when the situation at hand may not be what we would naturally choose. In the end, Sophie was okay and with grateful hearts we boarded the plane, blessed to grow closer to God than ever before.
The grievous sins of Sodom and Gomorrah reached an all-time high and destruction by the Lord was at its doorstep. Abraham’s nephew Lot and his family still lived in that area and Abraham bartered with the Lord not to destroy the righteous along with the wicked. During this conversation with Abraham, God restated His promise. “Abraham will surely become a great and powerful nation, and all nations on earth will be blessed through him. For I have chosen him, so that he will direct his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing what is right and just so that the LORD will bring about for Abraham what he has promised him.”
Does keeping the way of the Lord make a difference to God when we ask Him for His help? It did for Abraham, and because of it, Lot was spared again. How we live our life matters. Abraham knew that righteousness and justice were important to God. He could choose to obey the commands that God gave to him or reject His instruction. Obedience was the only wisdom he had. Let’s be wise and learn to listen to God’s voice. Obeying God leads us to wisdom. Lord, may we seek to make progress on changing according to Your plan rather than repeating the sins of Sodom and Gomorrah. Amen.
Backtrack a few chapters and thirteen years earlier in the life of Abraham. He had seen the power of God and knew His promises. Yet he remained childless and so Sarah came up with a plan to offer her maidservant to Abraham to start a family through her. Abraham was eighty-six years old when Hagar gave birth to Ishmael. Now Ishmael is a teenager and Sarah is soon to be expecting her first child. Abraham had just been retold that the blessing (all nations would be blessed through him) would come through the son born of Sarah. Listen to the concern and dilemma in this father’s voice regarding his first son as Abraham said to God: “May Ishmael live under your special blessing!” But God replied, “No—Sarah, your wife, will give birth to a son for you. You will name him Isaac, and I will confirm my covenant with him and his descendants as an everlasting covenant. As for Ishmael, I will bless him also, just as you have asked.” May we learn this lesson from Abraham that God’s ways and His timing are best. We cannot always make sense of the natural order of situations in our life. I believe this is to grow our trust and it aids us in seeking God’s Presence for guidance. If we saw everything clearly, we would be walking by sight, but God calls us to walk by faith, trusting Him with each step.
We missed out on a blessing once. Russell sensed that God was leading our young family to Costa Rica, but we could not figure out why. Isaiah was a baby, and his sisters were just one and two years old. All was going well with the Hispanic church we started, and Russ had just completed Bible College and had been ordained. Costa Rica? Pushing the thought from his mind, we packed up and took the next logical step; seminary. We may never know of the blessings God had in store for us had we moved to Costa Rica at that time, but the experience grew us to trust Him more, even when we don’t have the full picture before us. Later, when the opportunity to serve in communist China came up, we pursued God’s leading. Lots of prayer and preparation went into this life-changing decision, yet confirmation that we were truly following God’s plan for that time came on the airplane, somewhere over the Pacific Ocean. We would get to participate in the blessing of Abraham, that all nations would be blessed by God, including those that had never even heard of His name.
Can you imagine what it would be like if you received a name change in your nineties? That is what God gave Abram and Sarai. Abram was ninety-nine when he got his new name, Abraham, to remind him that he would be the father of many nations. The covenant was to be an everlasting one between God, Abraham and the descendants who were yet to come. God also said to Abraham, “As for Sarai your wife, you are no longer to call her Sarai; her name will be Sarah. I will bless her and will surely give you a son by her. I will bless her so that she will be the mother of nations; kings of peoples will come from her.” Never give up on a promise God gives. He is faithful and can change more than just our names.
I’ve been called by a variety of names through the years. Back in the summer of 1965 my parents named me Karla Kay. Because I love the song Ave Maria I chose Maria as my confirmation name. After graduating high school I lived with a family in Germany as a summer exchange student and my host dad changed my name to Speedy because I liked to run. Marine Corps friends shortened my name to K.K., which I liked so much better than being called by my last name, which is commonly done in the military. Many women take their husband’s last name when they marry, and my name changed from Spindler to Minick in 1989. In our early married years, when Russ and I served among Spanish-speakers in Dallas, I was called Karlacita, a term of endearment. As each of our babies were born, their names were lovingly changed too by the wonderful people in our first church for Hispanics. We moved to China in 1996 and one of my Chinese friends took it upon herself to rename me Ming Yang Yan. In China, people are called by their last name first, so Ming was chosen because it is close to Minick. Ming means bright and Yang Yan translates to sunshine. It is hard not to be cheerful when you are called Bright Sunshine! Our ministry to the minorities in China moved us to Thailand and my name changed yet again. To the ears of most Thai people the letters “r” and “l” sound the same, so I answer to Kaalaa or Kaaraa when I’m in Thailand, that wonderful land of smiles. With the birth of our first grandchild I’m adding “Grammie”to my long list of names.
I have lived in many interesting places but I always thank God that my citizenship is in Heaven. We read in the second chapter in the book of Revelation that those who overcome will be given a white stone with a new name on it. I can’t wait to receive the name that God will bless me with on that day when I see Him face-to-Face!