Live Long and Prosper

The Word of the Lord

Genesis 14.13:  Now Abram was living near the great trees of Mamre the Amorite, a brother of Eshkol and Aner, all of whom were allied with Abram.

Genesis 18.1: The Lord appeared to Abraham near the great trees of Mamre.

Meditation

Abram traveled through Canaan and settled at the great trees of Mamre near Hebron. The great trees at Mamre were most likely Palestinian oak trees. The oak trees would have provided shade for Abram’s tents and individuals in them.

In the Bible, oaks were associated with power, strength, and longevity in the sense of a long life. The great oaks of Mamre symbolized Abram’s long life. A Palestinian oak near Hebron, named Abraham’s Oak, is thought to be over 850 years old.

God promised that he will be with his servants through life, even into their old age and gray hairs (Psalms 71.18). Christians don’t have to worry about what they will do in retirement. They can use Abram as their role model. God called Abram to a new adventure when Abram was 75 years-of-age.

If you are retired, think about adventures you have  experienced since retirement. What are some of them? How did they enhance your life? Do you anticipate new adventures in your life going forward? Adventures can include ministering in your home church and community as well as travel.

The religious order that I belong to includes women in their 70s, 80s, and 90s. At monthly meetings, women report the numerous activities they are involved in. Each is totally excited by what she contributes to the church as well as to her community. An Israelite proverb is that the fear of the Lord adds length to life; but, the years of the wicked are cut short (Proverbs 10.27).

Reflection: Is having a long life important to you? How do you think a long life is related to fear of the Lord? Is a long life span more important that what you do with that life span?

Copyright 6/19/2020

Going it Alone

Pistacia terebinthus

The Word of the Lord

 Genesis 12.1-7: The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you. I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” So Abram went, as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he set out from Haran. He took his wife, Sarai, his nephew Lot, all the possessions they had accumulated and the people they had acquired in Haran, and they set out for the land of Canaan, and they arrived there. Abram traveled through the land as far as the site of the great tree of Moreh at Shechem. At that time the Canaanites were in the land. The Lord appeared to Abram and said, “To your offspring I will give this land.” So he built an altar there to the Lord, who had appeared to him.

 Meditation

God called Abram to leave Haran and travel to Canaan. There, God promised to make Abram the father of a large nation. Abram didn’t worship God when God called him. In fact, Abram worshiped the gods of the Chaldeans; yet, Abram complied with this strange new God’s direction.

 Abram was approximately 75 years-of-age and childless. He had been married for decades. I believe that part of Abram’s motivation for following God’s direction was God’s promise that Abram would be the father of a nation. This promise implied that Abram would sire at least one son.

When Abram reached Canaan, Abraham stopped at the great tree of Moreh in the vicinity of Shechem. There, Abram offered a sacrifice to God. Some of the underlying motivation for his sacrifice at Moreh could have been Abram telling God, “I’m here in Canaan; now remember your promise.”

Notice, the Bible’s description was of a tree, not trees. Modern-day Bible scholars believe the tree was a terebinth. Normally, the terebinth tree tops out at 33 feet; however, this tree may have been larger than the norm.

In the ancient near East, terebinth trees didn’t grow in groves or groups.  Usually, they grew alone without other trees around them; thus, were seen from far distances and/or used to identify locations. Abram was the first Israelite patriarch. Similar to the terebinth growing alone, Abram and his family traveled to Canaan alone.

One feature of the terebinth tree is its deep root system. Botanists claim that the tree’s deep root system gives it stability. Abram’s root system was God. Abraham was willing to be planted where God wanted him even if he was the only one of his nationality in Canaan.

Reflection: What is your root system? What makes your life stable? Are you rooted in God?

Copyright: 6/18/2020

 

Drunk on Wine

The Word of the Lord

Genesis 9.20-29: Noah, a man of the soil, proceeded to plant a vineyard. When he drank some of its wine, he became drunk and lay uncovered inside his tent. Ham, the father of Canaan, saw his father naked and told his two brothers outside. But Shem and Japheth took a garment and laid it across their shoulders; then they walked in backward and covered their father’s naked body. Their faces were turned the other way so that they would not see their father naked. When Noah awoke from his wine and found out what his youngest son had done to him, he said, “Cursed be Canaan! The lowest of slaves will he be to his brothers.” He also said, “Praise be to the Lord, the God of Shem! May Canaan be the slave of Shem. May God extend Japheth’s territory; may Japheth live in the tents of Shem, and may Canaan be the slave of Japheth.” After the flood Noah lived 350 years.

Meditation

 After emerging from the ark, the farmer Noah planted a vineyard. In the ancient near east, grapevines were valued. From grapevines, individuals made wine, ate fresh grapes,  and dried raisins to eat during times when food was scarce. Despite the clear value of vineyards, often the grapevine didn’t elicit positive images in the Bible.

Frequently, when Old Testament prophets referenced vine or vineyard, they spoke about judgment that God would bring. Noah made wine from the grapes. He drank the wine and became drunk. This  Bible story as old as 5000 years recounts the effect of over-indulgence in alcohol.

My discomfort with this Bible narrative in which Noah became drunk and his offspring ridiculed his nakedness,  is that the righteous Noah took no responsibility for his own actions, i.e., over-indulging in alcohol to the point of drunkenness. Instead, Noah cursed his grandson, Canaan, for displaying and ridiculing Noah’s nakedness. True, Canaan’s actions weren’t admirable; but, neither were Noah’s in the matter of drinking wine to the point of drunkenness.

So many things in our world are intoxicating, even addicting,  besides alcohol. It is possible to be addicted to things that we don’t eat or drink. We can become addicted to television programs, pornography, romance novels, praise, money, shopping, etc. I wonder if an accountability partner can assist us to be free of addictions.

Reflection: Have you ever over-indulged in alcohol (or something else)? What happened? Did you harm yourself? Do you have regrets? Where does blame lie?

Copyright: 7/17/2020

Burning Bright

The Word of the Lord

Genesis 8.6-12: After forty days Noah opened a window he had made in the ark and sent out a raven, and it kept flying back and forth until the water had dried up from the earth. Then he sent out a dove to see if the water had receded from the surface of the ground. But the dove could find nowhere to perch because there was water over all the surface of the earth; so it returned to Noah in the ark. He reached out his hand and took the dove and brought it back to himself in the ark. He waited seven more days and again sent out the dove from the ark. When the dove returned to him in the evening, there in its beak was a freshly plucked olive leaf! Then Noah knew that the water had receded from the earth. He waited seven more days and sent the dove out again, but this time it did not return to him.

 Meditation

The first place that the olive tree was mentioned in the Bible is when Noah sent a dove out of the ark and it returned with an olive leaf. Olive trees may have survived the torrential rain and lived submerged in water for as long as a year. Alternatively, God may have newly created this olive tree after the flood.

Olive trees are known to live 1000 years. That means that some of the trees on the Mount of Olives are two-to-three-generation offspring of those present when Christ walked the earth.

Olive trees produce olives from which olive oil is made. In ancient times, olive oil fueled lamps, i.e., in the Tabernacle, Solomon’s temple, and individual homes. Olive oil was used in cooking. Olives were eaten both green and ripe.

To ancient Israelites, the olive tree, branch, and leaf were associated with peace and prosperity. Other symbols could be resiliency and light. Jesus told believers: “You are the light of the world…. let your light shine before men that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5.14-16).

When I read these three Bible verses, my mind remembers the words of William Shakespeare, “How far that little candle throws his beams! So shines a good deed in a weary world.”

Your small kindnesses can be the beam of light in the world.

Reflection: The interesting point of Jesus’ words is that he didn’t limit them to Sundays, or to interactions only with fellow Christians.

Copyright: 6/17/2020

Do you want to live forever?

The Word of the Lord

Genesis 6.9-22: Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked faithfully with God. Noah had three sons: Shem, Ham and Japheth. Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight and was full of violence. God saw how corrupt the earth had become, for all the people on earth had corrupted their ways.So God said to Noah, “I am going to put an end to all people, for the earth is filled with violence because of them. I am surely going to destroy both them and the earth. So make yourself an ark of cypress wood; make rooms in it and coat it with pitch inside and out. This is how you are to build it: The ark is to be three hundred cubits long, fifty cubits wide and thirty cubits high.Make a roof for it, leaving below the roof an opening one cubit high all around. Put a door in the side of the ark and make lower, middle and upper decks. I am going to bring floodwaters on the earth to destroy all life under the heavens, every creature that has the breath of life in it. Everything on earth will perish. But I will establish my covenant with you, and you will enter the ark—you and your sons and your wife and your sons’ wives with you.You are to bring into the ark two of all living creatures, male and female, to keep them alive with you. Two of every kind of bird, of every kind of animal and of every kind of creature that moves along the ground will come to you to be kept alive. You are to take every kind of food that is to be eaten and store it away as food for you and for them.” Noah did everything just as God commanded him.

Meditation

Noah was over 500 years old when God told him to build an ark, a giant water-proof vessel. The ark saved Noah, his family, and animals from a flood that destroyed the known world. The ark was rectangular (450 feet long, 75 feet wide, and 45 feet high).

Most of us remember seeing pictures of the ark from childhood Bible story books. The front (prow,  bow) of the ark was pointed. Sometimes, the back (stern) was pointed. In reality, the ark didn’t have a prow or stern. It didn’t move forward through the water while being steered by a rudder. Instead, the ark was built to floated on the top of the water.

Noah used cypress wood, also called gopher wood, to build the ark. I’m not sure why Noah used gopher wood; but, surmise it had something to do with the long, central tree trunk. Using a long piece of wood reduced the number of trees Noah had to cut down. Also, cypress wood contains resins which prevents wood from absorbing water, which could sink the ark. Cypress wood’s odor makes it unattractive to insects, such as wood termites, which could destroy logs.

In the past centuries, gopher wood became associated with immortality. In the upward tip of the columnar-shaped cypress tree and in every shoot and leaf, cypress branches and needles point upward to immortal life with God.  Today in ancient near east areas, cypress trees are often planted in cemeteries where they denote immortality.

Receiving immortality from God doesn’t absolve men and women from acting right (or righteously). The Bible is the ultimate “self-help” book for a successful life. The Bible tells us (believers and non-believers) how to have immortal life with God. In reality, every individual’s life will have immortality. The question is where we spend that immortal life. By our choices in this physical life, we decide where we will spend our immortal life.

Reflection: How much time do you spend each day reading the Bible, the Christian’s self-help book?

Copyright 6/16/2020

Good News in Nature Book Trailer

Are you malicious?

Zilla spinosa plant

The Word of the Lord

Genesis 4.17-24: Cain made love to his wife, and she became pregnant and gave birth to Enoch. Cain was then building a city, and he named it after his son Enoch. To Enoch was born Irad, and Irad was the father of Mehujael, and Mehujael was the father of Methushael, and Methushael was the father of Lamech.Lamech married two women, one named Adah and the other Zillah. Adah gave birth to Jabal; he was the father of those who live in tents and raise livestock. His brother’s name was Jubal; he was the father of all who play stringed instruments and pipes.Zillah also had a son, Tubal-Cain, who forged all kinds of tools out of bronze and iron. Tubal-Cain’s sister was Naamah. Lamech said to his wives, “Adah and Zillah, listen to me; wives of Lamech, hear my words. I have killed a man for wounding me, a young man for injuring me. If Cain is avenged seven times, then Lamech seventy-seven times.”

Meditation

In Genesis, individuals are named after plants and plants are named after individuals. Zillah, the second wife of Lamech, was named for a relatively ugly, spiny plant with beautiful lavender flowers. We know little about Zillah; perhaps she was ugly in words and actions. Alternatively, she may have been like a lovely flower.

We are told that Zillah’s husband, Lamech, was a murderer. He admitted to his wives that he murdered a young man because the young man injured him.

A brier that Ezekiel identified is associated with the zilla plant. Briers are ugly with sharp spines that can tear skin. Ezekiel wrote, “No longer will the people of Israel have malicious neighbors who are painful briers and sharp thorns (Ezekiel 24.28).

The maliciousness that Ezekiel referenced means a desire to cause pain, distress, or injury to another. Malicious isn’t an inadvertent causing of pain, distress, or injury; it is intentional. When Lamech murdered a young man, he acted with purpose and was malicious. Equally true, adjacent countries’ peoples treated Israelites maliciously, that is, intentionally ugly.

Recently, a dear friend told me that a mutual friend’s words hurt, i.e., she believed the friend was intentionally ugly to her.  At about the same time, the mutual friend shared that she was hurt by my dear friend’s malicious words.

Ponder the best response to each person’s belief that the other was malicious. Dear Abby would advise that you tell each friend to talk with the other. The question is what should be a loving Christian response?

Reflection: Let’s each look at our own behaviour. Do you ever act in a malicious way to another individual? Think about those comments you post on social media.

Eternal God, you do not change. You have revealed yourself to me in your Word. You call me to worship you in spirit and in truth. But I confess that I often worship not your true self but who I wish you to be. I too often ask you to bless what I do rather than seeking to do what you bless. Forgive me for seeking concessions when I should be seeking guidance. Forgive me when my worship shapes you into what I want instead of shaping myself into what you want. Help me to meet you here, that I might bow before your unspeakable majesty and so live for you now and ever, in Christ. Amen.

Copyright 6/16/2020

Fruit of the Soil

 The Word of the Lord

 Genesis 4.1-7: Adam made love to his wife Eve, and she became pregnant and gave birth to Cain. She said, “With the help of the Lord I have brought forth a man.” Later she gave birth to his brother Abel.

Now Abel kept flocks, and Cain worked the soil. In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the Lord. And Abel also brought an offering—fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The Lord looked with favor on Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor. So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast.

Then the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.”

 Meditation

Cain and Abel were the sons of Adam and Eve. Cain was a farmer and Abel herded sheep and goats. Both Cain and Abel brought thanks offerings to God. Each set of gifts reflected their vocation. As a farmer, Cain offered fruit from labour in his fields.  As a herder, Abel offered the fat portion of the first born of his flocks. God rejected Cain’s offering, but, accepted Abel’s offering. Many of us wonder why God rejected Cain’s offering. Both offerings were from the brothers’ toil.

Some Bible scholars suggested that God rejected Cain’s offering because Cain didn’t shed blood, i.e., sacrifice an animal, to make the offering. Others identified that the discord was an allegory for the conflict that occurred in early times between farmers and herders.

Careful reading of this Genesis story suggests a different perspective. Notice, Cain offered God some, but not necessarily his best, crops. In contrast, God accepted Abel’s sacrifice because Abel gave the best from his flocks, i.e., fat portions of the first born of his flock. Perhaps, God didn’t accept Cain’s sacrifice because he didn’t give his best to God.

Have you ever wondered where Cain’s best crops went? Would Cain have taken them to his mother, Eve,  who doted on him as her first-born son? Because of Eve and Cain’s close relationship, Cain may have wanted the  best for his mother.

Very likely, Eve never told Cain to bring his best crops to her; but, Eve praised Cain when he offered her succulent, beautiful produce. Perhaps, Eve’s influence on Cain was emotional, she appealed to his heart. Cain may have wanted recognition for his hard work. That recognition most often came from his mother.

Reflection: We shouldn’t put anyone or anything before God and surely not encourage loved ones to put us before God. What do you put before God?

Copyright 6/16/2020

Are You Trash?

The Word of the Lord

Genesis 3.17-20: To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat from it,’ “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.”

 Meditation

 God cursed the ground because of Adam’s rebellion. Thorns were a result of God’s curse. Throughout the Bible, thorns don’t have a good reputation. Frequently, they are symbols of desolation and devastation.

The Hebrew word for thorn is shayith which often translates as trash.  Trash is debris (often from plants) worth little or nothing, and often thrown away or burnt.  Trash is an excellent symbol for men and women who reject Christ’s atoning work for the trash of their present lives.

The Palestinian buckthorn was a bush that grew in the ancient Middle East. The buckthorn grows as an evergreen shrub with a many-branched, tangled form, and velvety, thin thorns. Young stems and thorns are green. As bark matures it becomes gray.

Most gardeners don’t plant buckthorn. It’s an unattractive shrub that normally doesn’t grow in cultivated gardens or fields. Buckthorn grows well in poor soil that is gritty and highly eroded.

Along with the thistle, the buckthorn is the last species to disappear when livestock over-graze an area. The Mediterranean buckthorn has no value for mankind or livestock. An ancient strategy to remove buckthorn was to burn the land.

At times in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, we have referred to individuals as “trash” or “trashy.” From God’s perspective none of his creation—including buckthorn, you, me—are trash. Each person is worthy. God put each person on the earth for a purpose. “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2.10).

Reflection: Name some aspects of God’s laws you treat as trash. You know the ones I mean—the ones that you think are outdated or don’t apply to you.

Copyright: 6/16/2020

 

I Hate Consequences

 

The Word of the Lord

 Genesis 3.17-20: To Adam he (God) said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat from it,’ “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.”

 Meditation

After Adam and Eve’s rebellion, the world, including plant life, became subject to death. Because of Adam’s disobedience, God cursed the ground. From that point to the present time the entire creation groans (Romans 3.22-23). Creation’s groaning will continue until the redemption of human bodies at the end of the ages.

After God cursed the ground, Adam toiled (worked, sweated) to raise vegetables and grow fruit to feed his family. As Adam and his offspring plowed and planted crops, some plants became weeds. The most troublesome weeds were thorns and thistles.

Scholars don’t know which thistle grew first when Adam tilled the soil. The milk thistle, called St. Mary’s thistle, is widespread around projected locations of the Garden of Eden and a likely candidate for the first thistle.

In the Genesis story, the symbolism of thistles is consequences. Consequences are the direct outcome of an action or its end result. Adam and Eve’s disobedience and rebellion against God’s direction to not eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil resulted in consequences to their lives, to their livelihood, and to planet Earth.

When the serpent tempted Adam and Eve, they could have responded differently. What would have happened if Adam and Eve (as a couple) discussed possible consequences of eating from the tree of knowledge of good and evil before they took the first bite of its fruit? Perhaps, they would have eaten the fruit; but, perhaps they would have decided not to eat the fruit as they contemplated alternative actions.

Consider ways that you rebelled against God, i.e., how you disobeyed his statutes. List alternative ways you could have behaved in some of these situations had you thought longer.

Reflection: What are some consequences you experienced from your rebellion against God?

Copyright: 5/16/2020