Christianity, Religion, Genesis, Sunday School Lesson

Sunday School Lesson (September 8, 2019) Faithful During Grief / God Answers Prayer 1 Samuel 1:9-20

Faithful During Grief / God Answers Prayer 1 Samuel 1:9-20

Hello Sunday school teachers, preachers, and students! Welcome to SundaySchoolPreacher.com.  This week I review how God answers prayer for Hannah.  Hannah is a childless woman in a society that values women with children and male children in particular.  Hannah is distressed, distraught, and discouraged.  She faces “baby mama drama” from her husband’s other wife and she’s had about enough of living in this pain.  In the end, Hanna’s situation works out.  God answer’s her prayer.  But for so many people, things don’t always work out the way we think they should.  Like Hannah, many people are unable to do anything about their circumstances, knowing that only God can work it out.  Like Hannah, we rejoice when things do work out.  But when life throws us twists and turns we can be confident that God loves us no less, and in fact God’s love for us is infinite.   Hannah didn’t know things were going to work out.  But after hearing the man of God tell her to go in peace; her soul was no longer troubled.  She had a calm assurance that somehow God was still on her side.    

As we continue to understand how God is faithful, this week I focus on Hannah as she responds to God with calm assurance after promising to give her firstborn child back to God as a Nazarite.  Some of the ideas surrounding this week’s text include the terms: 

Vows

Nazarite

Background

The books of 1 Samuel and 2 Samuel bear the name of the Priest / Judge / Prophet however, Samuel dies before 1 Samuel ends.  The New Interpreter’s Study Bible notes that “these two books were originally one book and remain one book in the Jewish canon.  The division into two books probably originated in the second century BCE with the translation of the Hebrew into Greek”.  Regardless of whether Samuel is read as one or two books, its major themes remain the same and are seen through both books.  The NISB notes “there are two large and interlocking themes in 1 Samuel.  The first is public:  the importance of good government.  The second major theme which continues in 2 Samuel is personal: the complexity of relationships both between people and God and among people”.  Additionally, Nelson’s Bible Handbook explains that “1 Samuel records the critical transition in Israel from the rule of God through the judges to God’s rule through kings”.  It also notes that “all of 2 Samuel and a major portion of 1 Samuel deal with events that happened after Samuel’s death”.  This is likely an indication of the importance of Samuel as a major figure during a transitional time for the Israelites. 

The NISB notes as part of the second major theme in Samuel “the complexity of relationships between families.  These inter-human relationships are almost always conflicted, beginning with Hannah and Peninnah and going through Eli and his sons, Samuel and his sons, and Saul and his children.  Listen, Parent/child relationships are a constant concern in all of Samuel”. 

This first chapter of 1 Samuel opens with the story of Samuel’s mother Hannah praying to conceive a man-child.  Hannah, a barren woman has been tormented by Peninnah the other wife of Hannah’s husband Elkanah.  They have come to Shiloh to offer sacrifices unto the Lord.  The text notes that Elkanah gave portions to his wife Peninnah and to all her sons and daughters; but to Hannah he gave a double portion, because he loved her, though the Lord had closed her womb. 

The NISB explains that “there are three themes in this story: 

1) Strife within the family.

2) God acting behind the scenes in ways that are apparent only to those who look for such actions.

3) God’s penchant for unexpectedly raising up the lowly”.

The central theme of this week’s lesson continues to be God’s faithfulness – this time during grief, and that God answers prayer.  In this text we see a powerless woman beset with family conflict and we see how God moves on her behalf to answer her prayer.  Our text will reveal how Hannah prayed, how God answered, and how Hannah honored God for answering her prayer.  One note of caution… Please be considerate knowing that God has not favorably answered the prayer of every woman and every man who desires to have a child.  Many women and men struggle for years to have a child only to be disappointed.  We know that God is able and that God can change their situation.  What we don’t know is when or even if God will.  So please be considerate.  Some important words to consider from this text include:

Vows

Nazarite

Review of Last Week 

Last week’s lesson was taken from Genesis nineteenth chapter.  It was titled Faithful During Distress and Faith and Doubt.  Verse one began with two angels arriving Sodom in the evening.  When Lot sees them from the gates of Sodom he got up to greet them.  The text then skipped to verses four and five and then fifteen.  I covered verses two through fourteen as a way to more fully understand the entire story.

In verses two and three Lot invited the two angels to spend the night at his house where he showed them great hospitality by providing shelter and making a feast.  Before they fall asleep all the men from the city, both young and old, surrounded Lots house and demanded “bring them out to us so that we may know them”.  I quoted the NISB’s explanation that “since know them is a veiled reference to sexual intercourse (4:1), the men of Sodom must be intent on homosexual relations with Lot’s guests”.  I also quoted the NISB explaining

“While Israelite law prohibited sexual relations between men (Lev 18:22, 20:13); the narrator appears more appalled by other aspects of the Sodomites’ behavior.  This story is particularly critical of their mistreatment of guests and disregard for the inviolable (unbreakable) codes of hospitality and of their mistreatment of an alien in their midst.  This is an instance of the social oppression identified as the cities chief sin (18:20-21)”.

I noted that this is a story focused on the punishment of Sodom because of inhospitality toward its guests as well as its violence toward aliens in their midst.  The men of Sodom were evidently seeking to gang rape these guests.  And for these transgressions God would destroy this city.  I quoted the The New Interpreter’s Bible One Volume Commentary noting that “The obligation to extend generous hospitality to vulnerable strangers is deeply rooted in Israelite law (Exod. 22:21; 23:9; Lev. 19:33; 23:22; Deut. 10:19; 24:17-21)”.  Additionally, it notes their intention to have sexual relations with these strangers

“Signals their intention to commit the violent act of male rape, a technique of humiliation and torture of vulnerable people (both men and women).  The wickedness of Sodom here is not homosexuality.  Sodom’s sin is the lack of hospitality and the threatened violence by heterosexual men against vulnerable people in the community, those considered aliens and strangers in their midst”. 

Again, this text is not primarily focused on homosexuality, but more so the violence and inhospitality.  Ezekiel 16:48 – 50 explains the sin of Sodom.

48 As I live, says the Lord God, your sister Sodom and her daughters have not done as you and your daughters have done. 49 This was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy. 50 They were haughty, and did abominable things before me; therefore I removed them when I saw it. 

Lot begs the men to not act so wickedly.  Then surprisingly he makes the horrible offer to give the men his two virgin daughters instead of the two guests.  Keep in mind that this was a patriarchal society.  Women were often if not always treated as property.  Women had little if any rights at all and were treated at best as second class citizens.  The men refuse Lots offer and then threaten that they will deal worse with Lot than with his guests.  The NISB notes that “this is a desperate act of a man trying to preserve both his life and the ancient codes of hospitality; but it also reveals the perilous place of women as second-class citizens in ancient society”. 

After these two guests rescue Lot by reaching out to bring him in the house and shut the door behind him the angels strike the men outside the door with blindness. 

When morning dawned, the angels urged Lot to take his wife and two daughters out of the city so they would not suffer the same punishment of the city.  Lot lingers, the angles seize him, his wife, and two daughters by the hand and took them outside the city.  The text does not say why Lot lingered. 

Verse seventeen told us “When they brought them outside they said, flee for your life; do not look back or stop anywhere in the plain; flee to the hills or else you will be consumed”.  These guests are intent on sparing Lot and his family. 

Verses eighteen and nineteen show Lot’s gratefulness but they also show his doubt that he could make it to the hills. 

In verse twenty, Lot offers an alternative.  Instead of fleeing to the hills he asks to flee instead to a nearby small city.  Lot believes he can make it to this nearby city and there his life would be spared. 

In verse twenty-one the angel says to Lot “very well, I grant you this favor too, and will not overthrow the city of which you have spoken”.  The angels have indeed been gracious to Lot.  God’s compassion and mercy toward Lot has been on display throughout this story. 

In verses twenty-four through twenty-six the Lord rained on Sodom and Gomorrah sulfur and fire from the Lord out of heaven and he overthrew those cities and all the plain, and all the inhabitants of the cities, and what grew on the ground.  Because of their sins of inhospitality and the mistreatment of aliens in their midst God destroys these two cities, the plain surrounding the cites, all of its inhabitants, and all that grew on the ground therein.

Verse twenty-nine restates how God destroyed the cities of the Plain, but remembered Abraham.  Because God remembered Abraham, Lot and his two daughters were saved from the destruction of the cities.  It was Abraham’s faith that God would do justly that saved Lot.  “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is Just”?

This week’s lesson continues with the theme of God’s faithfulness.  This time God is faithful during grief; but God ultimately answers Hanna’s prayer.  In the same way Abraham pleaded with God on behalf of Lot and his family, now Hannah pleads with God to answer her prayer for a man-child.  Last week we saw how God was faithful to Abraham.  This week we see how God is faithful to Hannah and how Hannah honors God for God’s faithfulness.  The lesson this week is entitled Faithful During Grief and God Answers Prayer.  The scripture text comes from 1 Samuel 1:9-20. 

What Takes Place in This Passage: 

The lesson opens at verse nine.  Hannah along with her husband Elkanah and Elkanah’s other wife Peninnah are gathered at the temple in Shiloh.  After eating and drinking, Hannah arose and presented herself before the Lord to pray.  Eli the priest is seated in the temple door.  The NISB notes that at this point “Shiloh is the central Israelite shrine which contains the Ark of the Covenant”. 

In verse ten Hannah is deeply distressed as she prays to the Lord weeping bitterly.  Hannah is a woman without a child in a society that values women who have sons.  She weeps bitterly because not only is she childless but Peninnah her husband’s other wife is her rival and provokes her severely to irritate her (verse 6).  Dr. Theodore W. Burgh writes in The Africana Bible that “Hannah’s antagonistic rival torments her with vicious barbs and taunts.  Hannah is caught in the midst of what could be understood in contemporary street vernacular as “baby mama drama””. 

Townsend Commentary notes that “ancient Eastern legal texts allowed an infertile wife to provide her husband her maidservant to bear children for her as his heir.  Therefore, the principal wife may possess legal rights to the children of her servants”; if you watch The Handmaid’s Tale that sounds familiar.  But this however, is not the desire of Hannah’s heart.  Hannah desires a man-child birthed from her own body.  Hannah is distressed, she is distraught, and she is ready for her circumstances in life to change.  She’s tired of being picked on and talked about.  She’s tired of being laughed at and scorned.  Even though her husband loves her, she’s tired of being treated badly about something for which she has no control.  She has no child of her own and there is nothing she can do about it.  In the Africana Bible Dr. Theodore W. Burgh explains “Hannah feels the pressure of the high value her society placed on bearing a child – particularly a male – in order to confirm her womanhood, she prays diligently to her god asking to become pregnant. 

In verse eleven Hannah makes a vow.  She vows to God that if God will remember her with a man-child she’ll give him back to God as a Nazarite until the day of his death.  Elkanah loves Hanna despite the Lord having “closed her womb” (vs 5).  And now Hannah believes this is something only God can fix.  She makes a bargain with God.  If only God will bless her with a man-child, she’ll give the child back to God as a Nazarite. 

Westminster Dictionary of Theological Terms define “vow” as that which one has promised, particularly to God or to other persons, that binds one to them.  And as much as Hannah wants a child of her own she promises God she’ll return the child to God if only God remembers her with this blessing.  We can look upon Hanna’s vow with compassion and understanding as a powerless woman desperately desiring to change her circumstances.  However there are numerous other uses of vows throughout scripture that we can look at both favorably and unfavorably.  Jonah makes a vow inside the great fish (Jon. 2:9).  Jezebel vows to kill Elijah (1 Kings 19:1-2).  Jacob vows at Bethel if God will keep him, that he’ll serve God. (Gen 28:20, 21).  And in Acts 23:12 certain Jews vow to kill Paul. 

But Hannah’s vow was specific.  Hannah vowed to give God a Nazarite.    Westminster defines a Nazarite as a member of a group of Israelites who vowed abstinence from eating or drinking the fruit of the vine, who let their hair grow long, and who sought to avoid contact with dead bodies (num. 6), as a way of expressing their devotion to God.  Hannah’s child will be special.  Hannah’s child will serve God in a specific way.  This child will be set apart for service to God and as the rest of 1 Samuel will show how Samuel indeed becomes an iconic servant of God.  Hannah like many parents today wanted her child to make a difference in the world. 

Additionally, Dr. Theodore W. Burgh explains in the Africana Bible that “a Nazarite was a male or female who dedicated himself or herself, or who was dedicated to YHWH by others, through specific vows (Num. 6:1-21, Judges 13:7). 

In verses twelve, thirteen and fourteen Hanna continues praying silently with only her lips moving.  Eli the high priest notices her and thinks she is drunk.  Eli said to her “how long will you make a drunken spectacle of yourself? Put away your wine”.  The NISB notes that Eli’s first speech shows his inability, unexpected in a priest, to distinguish between prayer and drunkenness.  This raises the question of how effective a leader such an out-of-touch man can be, especially one who is the priest of the nation’s most important shrine”.  Eli was indeed out of touch.  He could not distinguish between the sincere prayer of a powerless woman and the antics of someone drunk with wine.  Perhaps there are ways in our own lives we mistake someone’s sincerity for what we see as playful antics.

In verses fifteen and sixteen Hannah sets the record straight.  Hannah tells Eli she hasn’t been drinking.  She’s been pouring out her soul before the Lord.  She informs Eli that she has been “speaking out of great anxiety and vexation all this time”. 

After having set the record straight, verses seventeen and eighteen show Eli is at least an understanding priest.  Now he recognizes Hannah’s pain and distress.  Now he sees her for the woman she is and he tells her to “go in peace; the God of Israel grant you the petition you have made to God”.  So many people have been in Hanna’s situation.  Unable to do anything about their circumstances and knowing only God can work it out.  After hearing the man of God tell her to go in peace her soul is no longer troubled.  Hannah has a calm assurance that somehow God is going to work it out.  She left her place of prayer, went to her quarters, ate and drank with her husband, and she was no longer sad. 

Verses nineteen and twenty close this lesson as Hanna and the others rise the next morning, worship God, and then travel back to their home in Ramah.  At some point Elkanah has sex with Hannah and the Lord remembered her.  Hannah conceives the son she wanted so desperately and names him Samuel.  Verse twenty says “she named him Samuel, for she said “I have asked him of the Lord””.  Hannah gets the answer to her prayers.  The birth of Samuel changes her life and her circumstances.

Context

Hannah’s prayers were answered.  She was blessed with the child she so desperately wanted.  Her circumstances changed for the better and she has a happy ending to her story.  But sometimes our stories don’t end like we thought they should.  Life takes us on twists and turns that we would not have chosen on our own.  Regardless of the bargains we make or the vows we take with God, our circumstances will be what God purposes for them to be.  Sometimes we desperately hang on to any thread of hope that God will hear our prayer and answer for us positively.  We rejoice when things work out.  But sometimes things don’t work out like we thought they should.  Beloved, even when things don’t work out like we think they should, know that God’s love for you is infinite and what we don’t understand now, we’ll understand better by and by. 

Key Characters in the text:

Hannah – She is the mother of Samuel and wife of Elkanah.  She prays fervently at the temple in Shiloh for God to relieve her bareness.   

Elkanah – He is the father of Samuel and husband of Hannah.  Despite Hannah’s barrenness he confesses and demonstrates his love for her.    

Eli – He is the high priest at the temple in Shiloh.  Also one of the last minor judges; in the latter role he is said to have served for forty years (Townsend). 

Key Words (not necessarily in the text, but good for discussion): 

Vow(s) – That which one has promised, particularly to God or to other persons, that binds one to them.  In the Roman Catholic tradition, the entrance into the religious life is marked by vows.  Other vows may be made for undertaking specific actions. 

Nazarite – A member of a group of Israelites who vowed abstinence from eating or drinking the fruit of the vine, who let their hair grow long, and who sought to avoid contact with dead bodies (num. 6), as a way of expressing their devotion to God. 

Ark of the Covenant – The chest carried by the Hebrews that contained the tablets of the law.  It was lost from history after the time of Nebuchadnezzar’s destruction of Jerusalem (586 B.C.).

Themes, Topics, Discussion, or Sermon Preparation Ideas: 

1.  Let your request be made known to God (Phil 4:6). 

2.  Praying your heart’s desire.

Questions

1.  Why did Hannah want her child to become a Nazarite?         

2.  God answered Hannah’s prayer positively.  How should we respond when we see no positive results to our prayer? 

3.  Did you know women could take the Nazarite vow in the Old Testament?

Concluding Thought:

God answers prayer.  Sometimes the answer is yes, sometimes the answer is no, and sometimes the answer is not now, maybe later.  At any rate, God answers prayer.  It’s up to us to understand the answer and continue to move forward in God’s plan. 

Preview of Next Week’s Lesson:

Next week the lesson comes from the book of Exodus.  We see God’s faithful provision for the Israelites in the wilderness.  Very soon after departing Egypt the Israelites face difficult times and they began to mummer against Moses and Aaron.  When they face hard times in the wilderness God demonstrates God’s faithfulness by miraculously supplying their needs.  The lesson is entitled “Bread From Heaven”.    

Religion, Genesis, Sunday School

Sunday School Lesson Overview for November 25, 2018. God’s Blessing / God Blesses Jacob and Rachel Genesis 30:22-32, 43

Review of Last Week and How it Connects to This Week: 

Last week’s lesson dealt with Jacob’s dream at Bethel.  He had an encounter with God that changed his life.  Jacob dreams of a ladder (or stairway) reaching to heaven with angels ascending and descending on it.  In the same way that God spoke to Abraham and Isaac, God now speaks to Jacob and tells him “I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your Father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring”.  God reassures Jacob with the same promises he had given to his father and grandfather.   God continues to reassure Jacob telling him “I am with you and will keep you wherever you go”.  When Jacob awakens from sleep he declares “Surely the Lord is in the place – and I did not know it”!  He takes the stone he used for a pillow and sets it up as a pillar and called the place Beth el (the house of God).  Jacob then makes a vow.  “If God will be with me, and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat and clothing to wear, so that I come again to my father’s house in peace, then the Lord shall be my God,”.  Last week’s lesson is a direct connection to this week as Jacob’s story continues to unfold.  This week we learn of Jacob’s marriages and the beginning of what will become the twelve tribes of Israel.  Boyd’s and Townsend Title this week’s lesson “God Blesses Jacob and Rachel”.  Standard titles the lesson “God’s Blessing”.  The Scripture text is Genesis 30:22-32, 43.

Background: 

In between last week’s lesson and this week a lot has transpired.  Jacob finally arrives Haran and meets Rachel at a well.  This is the same way his father Isaac met Rebekah.  Rachel’s father is Laban and Laban is Jacob’s uncle.  After staying with Laban for a month, Laban asks Jacob “what shall your wages be”?  One of the reasons Jacob fled Canaan was to find a wife.  He loved Rachel and agreed to work seven years to marry her.  But of course, that’s not how this story will go.  In summary, Jacob the trickster will be tricked by Laban.  After working seven years for Rachel, Laban gives Jacob Leah the eldest daughter instead.  It is ironic that Jacob the younger brother supplanted Esau and now Leah the older sister supplants Rachel the younger sister.  This seems to be an excellent example of “what goes around comes around”. 

Since Jacob loves Rachel he agrees to work an additional seven years to marry her.  In the interim, Jacob begins a family that will grow to twelve sons and one daughter (Dinah).  Leah births four sons.  Rachel who is barren but determined to have a family gives Jacob Bilhah (her servant) who births two sons.  Leah’s servant Zilpah births two sons. Then Leah births two more sons and Dinah the only daughter.  Finally, Rachel births Joseph.  Benjamin the twelfth son would be born later. 

What takes place in this passage: 

The text begins with God “remembering” or blessing Rachel through conceiving her first child, Joseph.  This seems to be a turning point for Jacob.  Now that Rachel has borne Joseph, Jacob asks Laban to let him leave.  Laban responds by telling him “I have learned by divination that the Lord has blessed me because of you”.  Laban tells Jacob to “name his price” (wages).  Jacob finally changes his mind and agrees to stay if Laban will give him all the spotted and speckled sheep, goats and cattle.  This ordinarily would seem like a great deal for Laban since only a small number of sheep, goats, and cattle would have spots.  But that’s not how this story goes.  Jacob’s herds would grow so much that he became “exceedingly rich and had large flocks, and male and female slaves, and camels and donkeys”. 

Context:  

After Rachel conceives, the text describes how Jacob grows wealthy.  The NISB explains that wealth is equivalent to well-being.  For the ancient patriarchs wealth and well-being meant possessing land, family, animals, and respect.  Having these things was part of the divine blessing granted by God (NISB).  In the larger picture of what transpires between last week’s lesson, is the use of divination by Laban to retain Jacob’s service.  Jacob uses divination to obtain sheep, goats, and cattle.  While divination is condemned in Deuteronomy 18 the NISB explains that “Certain religious practices were regarded differently at different times and places in the biblical period”.  So just because it’s acceptable in Genesis 30 does not mean it is acceptable at a later date in history.  Additionally, we see both Rachel and Leah giving their maids to Jacob to bear children.  This was the case with Sarah and Hagar also.  While that was acceptable conduct in the ancient Hebrew people’s day, it is certainly not acceptable today.  However, the popular television show The Handmaid’s Tale would have us imagine how forcing women into sexual servitude could become a possibility.    

Key Characters in the text:

Jacob – He is the sly, deceptive, selfish, and cunning second born son of Isaac and Rebekah.  In this text the trickster has already been tricked.  He serves Laban (his uncle) 14 years to marry Rachel. 

Leah –   She is the elder daughter of Laban.  She becomes Jacob’s first wife (by Laban’s deception).  She does not share her sister’s beauty.  She is described as tender-eyed but gives Jacob six sons (two from her maid Zilpah).

Rachel – She is Laban’s younger daughter.  She is described as beautiful and is also a shepherdess.  “In the entire Bible there is only one scene of a man kissing a woman” and Rachel and Jacob are the actors (Gen 29:11).  Song of Solomon is a description of what she wants, this is a description of what happens.  Jacob works 14 years to earn her in marriage. 

Laban – He is Jacob’s uncle (Rebekah’s brother).  Also known for tricking his nephew Jacob into servitude for 14 years to marry his daughter Rachel.  Laban substituted Leah on Jacob’s wedding night for Rachel.  He seems to always try to get an advantage over other people for selfish purposes.

Key Words (notnecessarily in the text, but good for discussion): 

  1. Divination – the determination of Divine intentions by some kind of ritual procedure.  Both Laban and Jacob practice it but divination is condemned in other places in the Bible.  The KJV uses the word “experience” in all other places the Hebrew word used here means some form of “enchantment”.
  2. Manipulate – to manage or influence skillfully, especially in an unfair manner.  Both Laban and Jacob manipulate each other.

Themes in this Lesson: 

  1. What goes around comes around
  2. When the trickster gets tricked.
  3. Reaping what you sow.

Questions:

1.  Jacob left Canaan fleeing from his brother with instructions from his mother to find a wife in her homeland.  He ended up staying 14 years just for Rachel and then even longer.  Was this long timeframe part of God’s plan?   

2.  Before fleeing Canaan Jacob receives the patriarchal blessing from his father that included “Blessed be he that blesseth thee”.   Was it Laban’s deception that caused Laban to become rich or Jacob’s patriarchal blessing? 

Concluding thought: 

Luke 12:3 therefore whatever you have said in the dark will be heard in the light,

Preview of Next Week’s Lesson:

Next week is the first lesson in the winter quarter.  The winter quarter will focus on our love for God, Gods love for us, and close with love songs that glorify God.  The first lesson is taken from Deuteronomy 6 and deals with the ideas of love and devotion to God and obeying God. 

Religion, Genesis, Sunday School

Sunday School Lesson Overview for November 18, 2018. Jacob Forms a Relationship with God / Jacob’s Dream

Review of Last Week and How it Connects to This Week:

Last week’s lesson dealt with Jacob and Rebekah’s deception of Isaac.  Instead of Esau receiving the first-born son’s blessing, Isaac is tricked into blessing Jacob instead.  This blessing promises him land and tells Jacob other people including his mother’s sons would bow down to him.  Again, we see the term “cursed be everyone that curseth thee, and blessed be he that blesseth thee.  Last week connects to this week by continuing the Hebrew people’s ancestral saga.  This week it is of the third great patriarch, Jacob.  As Jacob flees his family and the only home he has known, he encounters God.  Boyd’s and Townsend Title this week’s lesson “Jacob Forms a Relationship with God”.  Standard titles the lesson “Jacob’s Dream”.  The Scripture text is Genesis 28:10-22.

Background:

Chapter 28 begins with Isaac’s instructions to Jacob regarding marriage.  It’s important to Isaac and Rebekah that Jacob marries “in the family”.  So Jacob, like his father, will marry a relative.  Perhaps this is a secondary but still important reason to leave home now.  Esau has vowed to kill his brother after their father Isaac dies.  Jacob knows his brother hates him.  After all, Jacob has taken Esau’s birthright and stolen Esau’s blessing from their father.  Jacob is fleeing his home in the Promised Land to return to his father’s homeland.  The pretense for this 500 mile journey is for him to find a wife.  But his mother Rebekah has learned of Esau’s intention to kill Jacob and she is again the one who steps in to aid her favored son, Jacob.  Esau had already married Hittite women.  This was a source of displeasure, disappointment, and bitterness for his parents.  Rebekah uses this reason to save her son from Esau’s death threat.

Fleeing from his brother, Jacob is sent to his uncle Laban who lives more than 500 miles away.  He will leave everything he knows and travel to a land he has never been to before.  Not only to escape his brother but to also find a suitable wife.  Laban is Rebekah’s brother.  When Esau learns that Jacob has been sent to Laban for a wife, Esau marries Ishmael’s daughter.  Perhaps Esau is thinking he can find favor in his parents’ eyes if he marries an even closer relative than Jacob.

What takes place in this passage: 

These 12 verses detail Jacob’s dream at Bethel.  After leaving Beersheba and on his way to Haran he stops for the night.  Jacob uses a stone for a pillow.  He dreams of a ladder (or stairway) reaching to heaven with angels ascending and descending on it.  The Lord says “I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your Father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring”.  God continues with language we have heard before with the same promises of land, many descendants, and the same blessings Abraham and Isaac had also heard.  God continues to reassure Jacob telling him “I am with you and will keep you wherever you go”.  When Jacob awakens from sleep he declares “Surely the Lord is in the place – and I did not know it”!  Jacob takes the stone he used for a pillow and set it up as a pillar.  He pours oil on the stone and called the place Beth el (the house of God).  Jacob then makes a vow.  “If God will be with me, and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat and clothing to wear, so that I come again to my father’s house in peace, then the Lord shall be my God,”.

Context:

At Bethel, Jacob receives promises from the Lord.  Those promises were first given to Abraham, then Isaac and now Abraham’s grandson Jacob.  He is the third great patriarch.  These promises deal with the land of Canaan, having many descendants, and being a blessing so great that others will also be blessed.  They are the same promises his grandfather Abraham received from God.  These three patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are the ancestors of what would become the Israelite nation.  These patriarchs’ great success and wealth are a result of God’s intervention and that explains why the nation of Israel is blessed with great success and wealth.

Key Characters in the text:

Jacob – He is the sly, deceptive, selfish, and cunning second born son of Isaac and Rebekah.  Though he has character flaws, he will still become the chosen son and third great patriarch of the Hebrew people.

The Lord God of Abraham –

Key Words (not necessarily in the text, but good for discussion)

  1. Dreams versus visions – Jacob had a dream. Both can be prophetic but visions always look to the future.
  2. Pillar – An upright shaft or structure of stone, brick, or other material. In this case, Jacob used a stone as a pillar for a memorial.
  3. Consecrate – To make sacred, the setting apart of a person or object or place for a special divine use.
  4. Bethel – In Hebrew it means “house of God”. This is where Jacob has his dream.
  5. Vows – That which one has promised, particularly to God or to other persons, that binds one to them. Jacob vows to God.
  6. Tithe – The practice of giving one-tenth of one’s property or resources to support a religious institution as response to God for God’s blessing. Jacob promises a tenth if God blesses him on this long journey.
  7. Memorial – Something designed to preserve the memory of a person or event. After Jacob’s dream he memorializes the experience by anointing a stone pillar.

Themes in this Lesson:

  1. Negro Spiritual – We Are Climbing Jacob’s Ladder
  2. Karma – When your past catches up with you
  3. Reaping what you sow.

Questions:

  1. When God spoke to Jacob in his dream, why didn’t God mention Jacob’s past lies and deceit?
  2. Thanksgiving is approaching. If you could create your own holiday what event or occasion you would memorialize?

Concluding thought:

Time has a way of catching up with you.  You will surely reap what you sow.

Preview of Next Week’s Lesson:

Next week’s lesson is taken from Genesis chapter 30.  Here Jacob has finally reached his father’s homeland.  This is where he will meet his wives including Rachel.  This is also where the trickster gets tricked.

Religion, Genesis, Sunday School

Sunday School Lesson Overview for November 11, 2018. Jacob Receives Isaac’s Blessing / Jacob’s Deception

Review of Last Week and How it Connects to This Week:

Last week’s lesson began by listing the descendants of Isaac and informing us that Isaac was forty years old when he married Rebekah.  Isaac prays to the Lord because Rebekah is barren.  She conceives twin sons Esau and Jacob.   Her twin babies struggle in her womb and would later struggle in life.  Isaac loved Esau, because he was fond of game; but Rebekah loved Jacob.

Then we learn how Esau sold his birthright to Jacob.  While Jacob was cooking a stew, Esau came from the field famished.  He asks for some of the stew and Jacob tells him “first sell me your birthright”.  Esau decides that the birthright would do him no good if he were to die of hunger so he agrees.  Last week Esau lost his birthright.  This week Esau loses his blessing.  Both times by the hand of Jacob his brother.

Last week’s lesson ties to this week by continuing the narrative that tells the Hebrew people how they got to where they were.  Utmost in this narrative is none of it is possible without the direct intervention of God working on behalf of the Hebrew people.  Boyd’s and Townsend Title this week’s lesson “Jacob Receives Isaac’s Blessing”.  Standard titles the lesson “Jacob’s Deception”.  The Scripture text is Genesis 27:5-10, 18-19, 21-29.

Background:

Our text is taken from Chapter 27.  In chapter 26 Isaac is the main character as he moves to Gerar and deals with Abimelech, king of the Philistines.  The Lord tells Isaac – “Reside in this land as an alien, and I will be with you and will bless you; for to you and to your descendants I will give all these lands and I will fulfill the oath that I swore to your father Abraham”.  In Gerar, when asked about his wife Rebekah, Isaac lies (like his father Abraham did with Sarai) and tells the men that she is his sister.  He lies because he is afraid they will kill him for his beautiful wife.  King Abimelech discovers his deception and warned all the people not to touch this man or his wife.  The final comment in Chapter 26 tells us Esau was forty years old (just as his father Isaac was with Rebekah) when he married Judith and Basemath, both Hittite women.  This greatly troubled Esau’s parents Isaac and Rebekah.

Chapter 25 details the second time the second born son is blessed with the firstborn’s birthright.  Chapter 27 deals with another deception; the birthright has already been taken; now the blessing will be taken also.  Standard Commentary tells us the “blessing should not be confused with the birthright”.  In last week’s lesson Jacob took advantage of his brothers desperation telling Esau to sell the birthright to him for some food.  This week Jacob steals the blessing by deceiving his father with food.  So Jacob through selfishness and deception has now taken both the birthright and the blessing from his older brother.  The covenant promise has been passed from Abraham to Isaac and here in Chapter 27 Isaac will also pass the blessing to Jacob instead of Esau.

What takes place in this passage: 

Chapter 27 deals with Jacob and Rebekah’s deception of Isaac.  Instead of Esau receiving the first-born son’s blessing, Isaac is tricked into blessing Jacob instead.  Isaac is now an old man.  He is preparing for death and asks Esau to hunt some game and prepare a savory meal “so that I may bless you before I die”.  Rebekah overhears the conversation and when Esau leaves, she tells Jacob to bring her two kids from the flock.  She prepares the meal, just as her husband likes it and tells Jacob to take it to his father “so that he may bless you before he dies”.  After Rebekah prepares the meal she puts Esau’s clothes on Jacob and covers his smooth skin with the hair from the kids.  Jacob then takes the meal in to his father Isaac and tells him “I am Esau thy firstborn”.  Isaac is not convinced.  He asks him to “come near, that I may feel thee”.  Isaac recognizes the hands are the hands of Esau but the voice is Jacob’s.  Isaac asks for the stew.  He eats, drinks, then asks Jacob to come near so that he could bless him.  When Jacob comes near he smells the clothes of Esau and then he blesses Jacob.  Verses 28 and 29 detail the blessing.  It is a blessing that covers both the bounty of the land and that other people including his mother’s sons would bow down to him.  Again, we see the term “cursed be everyone that curseth thee, and blessed be he that blesseth thee.

Context:

Dysfunctional families, moral flaws, unhealthy attitudes, unhealthy behaviors, undermining social norms, and undermining authority are all part of life in this truth telling text of Genesis.  Here we see the good, the bad, and the ugly.  Chapter 26 shows in detail the character flaws of both Rebekah and Jacob.  It details “a family drama that explains how Jacob, the younger son, became Isaac’s primary heir.  Here, is the passing of God’s promises and blessings to the third great patriarch and accounts for the preeminence of Jacob’s descendants, the Israelites, over Esau’s descendants the Edomite’s” – New Interpreter’s Study Bible.  In other words, this narrative of Jacob and Esau helps to explain how the people of Israel became so blessed and others did not.  In previous lessons we saw the distinctive intervention of God to ensure their blessing.  In this text we see the distinctive intervention of Rebekah and Jacob as deception and lies are used to accomplish the will of God.   But keep in mind, it was The Lord who told Rebekah there were two nations in her womb, and the elder shall serve the younger.  So does this mean Rebekah is somehow “helping” God achieve God’s purposes? Or does it mean Rebekah is acting in accordance with the will of God?  Or is it a case of theft by deception and lies.  The text does not condemn Rebekah.

Key Characters in the text:

Isaac – He is the second great patriarch of the Hebrew people, born when his mother was 90 years old and his father 100 years old.  Isaac marries Rebekah at 40 years old and his twin sons Esau and Jacob are born when he is 60 years old.  In this text he is an old man near death.  He must now pass the blessing to the third generation.

Rebekah – She is matriarch of the clan.  Although she has no authority to determine who will receive the first born son’s blessing she certainly exercises the power to do so, even though she does so through deception.

Esau – He is the first born twin in the Bible and the first son of Isaac and Rebekah.  Even though he sells his birthright to Jacob, his father Isaac had every intention of passing the firstborn son’s blessing to him.   Esau is denied this blessing by the deception of his mother Rebekah and brother Jacob.

Jacob – He is the second born to Isaac and Rebekah and like his father who is also the second born son, Jacob would become the chosen son.

Key Words (not necessarily in the text, but good for discussion)

  1. Birthright – a right, privilege, or possession to which a person is entitled by birth.
  2. Blessing – A blessing could be given regardless of birthright or birth order. In this case it is a patriarchal blessing.
  3. Deception – the act of deceiving; the state of being deceived.
  4. Manipulate – to manage or influence skillfully, especially in an unfair manner:

Themes in this Lesson:

  1. Lies, deception and manipulation.
  2. A willing participant.

Thoughts:  Going along to get along.

Jacob willingly went along with his mother’s plan to deceive Isaac and defraud Esau.  There were consequences and repercussions.

Question:

The plan to steal Esau’s blessing was completely Rebekah’s.  But Jacob carried it out without objection.  How do these actions affect God’s will?

Concluding thought:

Family dysfunction has consequences.  Jacob would incur the hatred of his brother Esau and Rebekah would send her favored son, Jacob away to never see him again.

Preview of Next Week’s Lesson:

Next week’s lesson is taken from Genesis 28 and continues the saga of Jacob.  He has a profound dream with a ladder reaching to heaven and angels of God ascending and descending upon it.  He declares that this place must be the house of God and the gateway to heaven.

Religion, Genesis, Sunday School

Sunday School Lesson Overview for November 4, 2018. A Troubled Birth / Sibling Rivalry

Review of Last Week and How it Connects to This Week:

Last week’s lesson began with Eliezer, Abraham’s most trusted servant, praying to God.  He seeks a sign from God in order to know who Isaac’s wife should be.  Before he can finish his prayer Rebecca arrives on the scene.  She offers him a drink of water and very graciously volunteers to water his camels also.  That was the sign Eliezer needed to know whom God had chosen.

Eliezer meets Rebekah’s family, negotiates for her marriage to Isaac, and after her family realized this was the work of God, they agree to the marriage.  Isaac takes Rebekah as his wife and he loves her.  We noted Rebekah’s hospitality and Isaac’s genuine love of Rebekah.  Last week’s lesson connects to this week by showing how God’s covenant with Abraham will be fulfilled through Jacob and Esau.  Keep in mind, this text is assembled during the monarchic period.  The writer is telling the reader how and why the people of Israel came to be so divinely blessed as the people of God.

Boyd’s and Townsend Title the lesson “A Troubled Birth”.  Standard titles the lesson “Sibling Rivalry”.  The Scripture text is Genesis 25:19-34.

Background:

Chapter 25 begins with Abraham taking Keturah as another wife.   It is listed in the text after the death of Sarah and the marriage of Isaac.  Abraham is perhaps 140 years old.  Isaac is born when Abraham is 100 and Isaac marries when he is 40 years old.  After listing the six children Keturah bare for Abraham the text mentions how Abraham gave all he had to Isaac, but to the sons of his concubines Abraham gave gifts.  Of all Abraham’s children, Isaac would be the one true heir to the promise.  The text then transitions to the death of Abraham at 175 years old.  Note that the text mentions both his sons Isaac and Ishmael buried him.  Verse twelve begins the description of Ishmael’s descendants and note also the text described Ismael’s sons as twelve princes.  Soon the text will also lead us to the twelve tribes of Israel.  Again, Abraham is the father of many nations.  Isaac was forty years old when he married Rebekah.  He is sixty years old when Rebekah gives birth to the twins.  So Rebekah has been barren for twenty years.

What takes place in this passage: 

The text begins by listing the descendants of Isaac and informing us that Isaac is forty years old when he married Rebekah.  Isaac prays to the Lord because Rebekah is barren.  Rebekah’s barrenness is similar to her mother-in-law Sarah.  And likewise, after some time, Rebekah conceives.   Her twin babies struggle within her and she asks “if it is to be this way, why do I live”?  After inquiring with the Lord, the Lord tells her “two nations are in your womb.   Two peoples who shall be divided, one stronger than the other and the elder shall serve the younger”.  When Rebekah gives birth, the first twin (Esau) came out red and hairy.  The second twin (Jacob) came out with his hand gripping Esau’s heel.  Isaac is sixty years old when the twins are born.  As the boys grew Esau would become a skillful hunter, a man of the field.  Jacob would become a quiet man, living in tents.  Isaac loved Esau, because he was fond of game; but Rebekah loved Jacob.

Next we learn how Esau sold his birthright to Jacob.  While Jacob was cooking a stew, Esau came from the field famished.  He asks for some of the stew and Jacob tells him “first sell me your birthright”.  Esau decides that the birthright would do him no good if he were to die of hunger so he agrees.  Jacob tells him “swear to me first”.  So Esau swears to him and sold his birthright to Jacob.

Context:

“This chapter provides the transition from one ancestral generation to the next.  It contains the concluding episodes of Abraham’s life and introduces the families of his two sons, Ishmael and Isaac” – New Interpreters Study Bible (NISB).  It is important to also note the importance of being the first born.  The first born is ordinarily entitled to a double portion (or the major portion) of the inheritance and leadership of the clan after the patriarch dies.  Yet this was not the case with Isaac.  Ishmael was Abraham’s first born and now it is not the case with Jacob as Esau is the first born to Isaac.  This sets the stage for sibling rivalry between Esau and Jacob.

This sibling rivalry is a theme in Genesis.  Cain and Able, Noah’s sons, Isaac and Ishmael and now Esau and Jacob are examples.  The NISB tells us “in the majority of these cases, conflict is introduced when a younger son is favored over an older son who is the legitimate heir”.  In this text we see struggle from the very beginning of Esau and Jacob.  Even before birth Esau and Jacob struggle in the womb of Rebekah.  They struggle so much so, that Dr. Wilda Gafney in Womanist Midrash describes it as “a pitch so violent in Rebekah’s womb that one is crushing [the life out of] the other”. This struggle in the womb foreshadows struggle that is to come for these twin brothers.

Key Characters in the text:

Isaac – He is the second great patriarch of the Hebrew people, born when his mother was 90 years old and his father 100 years old.  Isaac marries Rebekah at 40 years old and his twin sons Esau and Jacob are born when he is 60 years old.

Rebekah – She becomes the matriarch of Abraham’s clan.  Like her mother-in-law Sarah, she is barren for at least 20 years until the birth of Esau and Jacob.

Esau – He is the first born twin in the Bible and the first son of Isaac and Rebekah.  He eventually sells his birthright to Jacob and would come to serve his younger brother.  He is also the father of the Edomite clan.

Jacob – He is the second born son of Isaac and Rebekah.  Like his father Isaac, he is also the second born son and would become the favored and chosen son.

Key Words (not necessarily in the text, but good for discussion)

  1. Birthright – a right, privilege, or possession to which a person is entitled by birth.
  2. Impulsiveness – a sudden spontaneous inclination or incitement to some usually unpremeditated action.
  3. Selfishness – concerned excessively or exclusively with oneself: seeking or concentrating on one’s own advantage, pleasure, or well-being without regard for others.
  4. Favoritism – the showing of special favor or partiality.

Themes in this Lesson:

  1. Conception, Conflicts, and Consequences.
  2. Why Me?! – See Rebekah verse 22

Thoughts:  Favoritism

Isaac loved Esau.  Rebekah loved Jacob.  I have five daughters.  My wife and I raised them the same yet each one is completely different.  While they are all very different each one will lovingly say she is my favorite.  Yet, they each know my wife and I show no favorites.  Think of the hurt it must cause to feel less than fully loved by one of your parents.

 Question:

Esau sold his birthright but it was Jacob that took advantage of his brothers’ desperation.  Which one is more guilty?

 Concluding thought:

Rebekah waited twenty years for her twins.  Even their birth foreshadowed struggle and tension.  The point is, even when God blesses us it does not mean the blessing will be trouble free.

Preview of Next Week’s Lesson:

Next week’s lesson is taken from Genesis 27 and continues the saga of Jacob and his brother Esau as their father Isaac is tricked into blessing the younger brother.  Rebekah participates in the deception and God’s promise through Jacob is continued.

Religion, Genesis, Sunday School

Sunday School Lesson Overview Isaac and Rebekah Continue the Legacy / The Marriage of Isaac (Oct 28, 2018)

Review of Last Week’s lesson and how it connects to this week:

Last week we saw 3 visitors appear to Abram.  He demonstrates genuine hospitality by preparing a feast and you get the idea that he treats the visitors with the very best he has to offer.  And then one of them tells him “I will surely return to you in due season, and your wife Sarah shall have a son”.  In Chapter 17, it was Abram that laughed.  In chapter 18 it was Sarai that laughed.  And if you put yourself in their shoes, you might have laughed also; because people don’t have babies when they are 90 years old.  In chapter 21 Sarah indeed laughs, but it is laughter of joy.  God had blessed her with the birth of Isaac.  And finally after 8 days, Abraham circumcised Isaac.

Last week’s lesson connects to this week by showing how God’s promise to Abraham will be fulfilled through Rebekah and Isaac.  God has a covenant with Abraham and in order for the covenant to continue; Abraham must ensure his son Isaac marries.  Abraham is in his twilight years of life.  He needs to ensure his son Isaac will carry on in the faith.  This week’s lesson comes from Genesis 24:12-21, and 61-67.  Boyd’s and Townsend Title the lesson “Isaac and Rebekah Continue the Legacy”, Standard titles the lesson “The Marriage of Isaac”.

Background:

Abraham and Sarah have been blessed with substantial material wealth and they recognize that in order to fulfill the covenant their son must himself marry and produce offspring.  Abraham and Sarah have now lived in the land of Canaan many decades (probably 60 years).  It was 25 years after leaving his father’s house before Isaac was born and now Isaac is old enough for marriage and to take on the leadership of his father’s clan.  Soon Isaac will become the patriarch and replace his father.  God’s covenant to Abraham in Genesis 12:1-3 will now continue through Isaac.

Standard Commentary says “after Sarah passed away (Gen 23:1, 17-20), Abraham was left with a final task: finding Isaac a wife”.  Abraham is in his twilight years.  Townsend tells us, “The words of Abraham at the beginning of Genesis 24 were his final words recorded in Genesis”.  So his last thoughts in the text are about fulling the promise of God.  But we should also understand that Abraham’s legacy is tied up in this promise.  Ishmael, Isaac’s half-brother could not fulfill the promise nor the other children from Abraham’s concubines.  Thus, as was the tradition at that time, Abraham arranged for the marriage of Isaac.  He gave specific instructions to Eliezer that Isaac’s wife MUST come from the people of his homeland and kindred and NOT from the Canaanites where he lived.  Rebecca is Isaacs’s cousin – she is the granddaughter of Milcah, Isaac’s aunt.

Context:

Dr Michael Coogan writes in The Old Testament A Very Short Introduction that “Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are designated “Abrahamic” religions because of their genetic and spiritual links with Abraham”.  Through Isaac and his grandson Jacob, Abraham becomes the ancestor of the Hebrew people who would become known as the nation of Israel.  Abraham through Isaac and Ishmael would become the father of many nations (Gen 17:4).

Notice verse 8b.  Abraham tells Eliezer “only you must not take my son back there”.  Perhaps Abraham gives these instructions because he believes it is important that God selects Rebekah and not Isaac.  I should also note Dr. Wil Gafney in Womanist Midrash states “In verse 67, for the first time in the canon, the relationship between a woman and her man is characterized by love.  Indeed, Isaac’s love for Rebekah introduces the verb “love” (including romantic love) into the text”.  So this is a genuine love story.  It is a story about a man who meets a woman and he genuinely loves her.

What takes place in these passages:

This text begins with Eliezer, Abraham’s servant, praying to God.  It’s interesting that he says “O Lord, God of my master Abraham”.  So Abraham’s faith has obviously influenced Eliezer enough for him to pray to the God of Abraham.  Eliezer has already arrived in Abraham’s homeland.  He is at a water spring and before he can finish his prayer in verse 14 Rebecca arrives on the scene.  Eliezer asks God for a sign.  The woman that offers him a drink and volunteers to water his camels also would be the one God has selected for Isaac.  The text describes Rebekah as “very fair to look upon, a virgin”.  After giving Eliezer water to drink, she volunteers to water his camel also just as he had prayed.  “Eliezer gazed at her in silence to learn whether or not the Lord had made his journey successful”.

After Eliezer rewards Rebekah for her kindness, she extends more kindness by offering food and shelter to him and his caravan.  Eliezer meets her family and negotiates for her marriage to Isaac.  Rebekah’s family realized this was the work of God and agrees to the marriage.  The text picks up at verse 61 with Rebekah and her maids following Eliezer back to Cannan to meet Isaac.  As Isaac walks in the field he sees the camels coming.  When Rebekah sees him she slipped quickly from the camel and covers herself with a veil.  Eliezer tells Isaac all that has happened and the text says “Then Isaac brought her into his mother Sarah’s tent.  He took Rebekah, and she became his wife; and he loved her”.

Key Characters in the text:

Eliezer – Abraham’s senior and most trusted servant.

Isaac – The second great patriarch of the Hebrew people, born when his mother was 90 years old and his father 100 years old.

Rebekah – The daughter of Abrahams nephew Bethuel.

Key Words (not necessarily in the text, but good for discussion)

  1. Signs from God: Eliezer needed a sign from God.  Before his prayer was finished God was already working to fulfill his prayer.
  2. Matriarch: a woman who rules or dominates a family, group, or state specifically :  a mother who is head and ruler of her family and descendants
  3. Patriarch: a man who is father or founder

Themes in this Lesson:

  1. It will all work out – A every critical moment in the story God is present to bring about God’s will.
  2. Responsibility to the next generation – Abraham makes sure Isaac is correctly positioned for the promise to continue. Shouldn’t we do the same for our descendants – voting rights, life insurance etc. etc.?

Thoughts:  Hospitality

Notice how Abraham graciously treated the three visitors last week.  This week Rebekah very graciously offers hospitality to Eliezer.  Hospitality was important to the Hebrew people.

Question:

  1. Since Abraham arranged the marriage of Isaac, should fathers arrange the marriage for their children today? – Some cultures in the world still practice arranged marriages. If it isn’t a part of your culture you will likely cause more harm than good.

 Concluding thought:  We are the hopes and dreams of our ancestors.

Preview of Next Week’s Lesson:

Next week’s lesson is taken from Genesis 25: 19-34.  It deals with Isaac and Rebekah as they deal with barrenness, then the birth of twins Esau and Jacob.  Esau sells his birthright.  And we learn about parents having favorites among their children.

 

Religion, Genesis, Sunday School, Uncategorized

Sunday School Lesson Overview for October 14, 2018 – The Call of Abraham and God is Always Working

Review from Last Week and how  it connects to this week

Last week Noah was the central character of the text.  Genesis Chapter 5 listed the genealogy from Adam all the way up to Noah and chapter 5 ended by telling us that Noah was five hundred years old when he had Shem, Ham, and Japheth.

Chapter 6 described the situation before the flood after men and women had multiplied greatly upon the earth.  We talked about the Nephilim or the giants who were the product of the sons of God and the daughters of men.  And also, how the wickedness of humans was great in the earth and that every imagination of the thoughts of their heart was only evil continually.  This grieved God’s heart and the text indicates THAT’S WHY THE EARTH WAS DESTROYED.

We also discussed how one man in particular could make a difference.    The REASON Noah could restore what was right and the reason God did not completely wipe all of humanity off the face of the earth is because Noah was righteous.

All of that ties into this week’s lesson as we now consider the genealogies of the people of Israel leading up to another man that God chose to make a difference for the world.  God gave Abram a promise.  Perhaps there are ways, we can make a difference and perhaps there are promises for us also.

This lesson is taken from Genesis 10:1, 11:10, 27, 31, 32; 12:1-4.  Standard Commentary Titles the lesson “The Call of Abram” Boyd’s and Townsend title it God is Always Working”.

Background:

These books of Genesis help explain the relationships between the nations that came to exist after the descendants of Noah repopulated the earth.  The genealogies in chapter 10 and 11 describe who the people were and from whom they came.  But the point is – at this time in history, all of the various nations – the Canaanites, the Moabites, the Ishmaelite’s, the Philistines; (If the great flood happened like it says it did) they all descended from Noah and Noah’s children.  So the question is – HOW DO THEY END UP FIGHTING!  The simple answer is because they are human – just like you and me.  Sometimes, even brothers and sisters have a hard enough time getting along.  And the farther we grow apart the easier it is for disagreements, misunderstandings, mistakes, and problems to occur.  The New Interpreters Study Bible tells us “the Ishmaelites, Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, and Aramaeans were all descendants of Abraham or his father, Terah.  Through chapters ten and eleven, seventy nations are listed.  Townsend commentary tells us “this is typological, that is, it can be used for rhetorical effect to evoke the idea of totality”.  In other words the number seven represents completion and 70 nations represents God’s completion of restoring the population.

Chapter 11 begins with the Tower of Babel.  “The whole earth had one language and the same words”.  Then chapter 11 concludes with the descendants of Shem – one of Noah’s three sons.  Abram is descended from Shem.  And then chapter 12 begins with the call of Abram.  God selects, chooses, picks, Abram one of the sons of Terah and gives Abram some life changing instructions.

Context: 

Now, let’s put these three chapters in context.  One of the central points of today’s lesson is who these people are, and from whom they came.  These genealogies are drawing a line all the way down to Abraham.  The New Interpreters Study Bible (NISB) says “the ancestral stories in Genesis, together with the theme of promise that unites them, were actually put into the form in which they now exist during the later monarchic period”.  In other words, what we are reading today was formed during the time of Saul, David and Solomon – that’s the Monarchic period.  They were formed this way and told this way to help the people who were living right then, to understand how they got to where they were.  So the writer is telling the nation of Israel – The REASON we are so blessed is BECAUSE God promised this to Abraham, God promised this to Isaac, and God promised this to Jacob.  So in other words, this text “must be read as being directed to a particular HISTORICAL context.

Now listen, The NISB says, “We have to be cautious about removing these promises from the historical setting for which they were intended and relating them to the contemporary (or modern day) political context in the Middle East”.  So let me say this as plainly as I can.  I have a problem with Christians who worship Israel.  Genesis 12:3 says And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed.  This is what is quoted so often in Christian circles.  People who believe that anything modern day Israel does is blessed by God.  Now listen, I read the Bible from a Christological perspective.  Everything I read, I’m trying to see Christ in it.  But this verse wasn’t written with Jesus Christ in mind.  It is compiled for the Hebrew people to help them understand where they came from, and how they got to where they are.  So I have a problem with people who bow down and worship Israel.  People who accept anything and everything this current Israeli government does without question.  And since this quarter is focused on God creating and re-creating – let me just say, I’ll be glad when God re-creates peace and justice in the Holy Land.

What takes place in the passages:

After listing the genealogies of Noah and his sons down to Terah who is the father of Abram, the text tells us how Terah took Abram and Lot his grandson and Sari his daughter-in-law to Haran and dwelt there.  When Terah was two hundred five years old, he died in Haran.  Then Genesis 12 shows us how God spoke to Abram.  God gave Abram specific instructions to leave his country, leave his kindred and to go to a land that God would show him.

God promises Abram – if you do what I tell you to do, if you leave everybody I tell you to leave, all of your culture, everything that you’re familiar with, all of your kinfolk, friends and neighbors, all of your cookouts, all of your family reunions, all of your favorite places to hang out and favorite people to hang out with.  Everything that’s familiar to you and go where I tell you to go – I’ll make you a great nation and I’ll bless you and make your name great in the earth.  In fact Abram, if you do what I tell you to do – I’ll bless them that bless you and curse them that curse you and in YOU all the families of the earth shall be blessed.

So at 75 years old, Abram packs his bags, and he does what God tells him to do.

Key Characters in the text:

God –

Abram – He is the first great patriarch.  Christians, Muslims, and Jews regard him as the epitome of human faith in the will of God.  His name means father of a multitude.

Key Words (not necessarily in the text, but good for discussion)

  1. Call: When God summons someone to salvation or to a particular work of service, implying Devine selection.
  2. Legacy: something transmitted by or received from an ancestor or predecessor or from the past.

Themes in this Lesson:

  1. Just as God called Abram with a specific task, God can call each of us with specific tasks.
  2. Noah left a legacy of righteousness, Abram left a legacy of faith, what will your legacy be. Keep in mind, only what you do for Christ, will last.

Thoughts: 

Promise – Some Biblical promises are for those to whom they were written.  Others are for all of us.

Questions:

  1. Genesis 10 and 11 tell the Hebrew people from whom they came. If it is important for the Hebrew people, is it also important for African Americans.  (In the last few months, I’ve noticed a movement to classify African Americans as “American – Descendants of Slaves”).
  2. Abraham’s blessing was conditional. What has God promised us that is conditional / unconditional?

 Concluding thought:

God called Abram and Abram responded with complete trust and faith in God.  Pray that we may do the same when God calls us.

Preview of Next Week’s Lesson:

In next week’s lesson we see 3 visitors who appear to Abram.  Abram demonstrates genuine hospitality by preparing a feast and you get the idea that he treats them with the very best he has to offer.  And then one of them tells him “I will surely return to you in due season, and your wife Sarah shall have a son”.  90 year old Sarah gives birth to Isaac and eight days later Abraham circumcises him.