Another meeting tonight, so, once again, real life throws up so many distractions. I was even thinking about not writing anything. But I know I should. Not for any other reason than I want to remain committed to reading the Bible, trying to understand it and explaining how this understanding is affecting me on a personal level.
So, even through I blame “real life”, the Bible is “real life” too! So here are my thoughts tonight, but in brief.
Genesis 16 is fascinating. One of my friends, who is a Muslim, was explaining to me last year that the story of Hagar is told in the Quran. There are a few differences, but the story here is basically the same. Abram (known as Ibraheem by Muslims) cannot have children of his own. His wife (the long suffering Sarai!) tells him to sleep with her servant, Hagar. If the reading a few days ago read like a soap opera, we have moved into slap-stick farce territory in the best traditions of the Westend theatre or even a “Carry On” film.
Hagar becomes pregnant and so thinks herself better than Sarai. Sarai blames Abram! Hagar runs away. An angel tells Hagar to go back and do what she’s told by Sarai. Understandably, she is reluctant. But there’s a sweetner: she’ll have a son called Ishmael (or Ismaeel) and not only that, more descendants than she can count. Sounds like a winner to me! Oh, but there’s a catch. Isn’t there always? Ishmael is going to be a bit of a handful, “As untamed as a wild donkey”.
And so into Genesis 17 and more news from God. Abram is to change his name to Abraham because that means “Father of many”. Sarai is to change her name to Sarah. And she’s going to have a son. What, at her age? General snorts of disbelieving laughter. But, God doesn’t joke about things like this. And he makes a promise to Abraham, that he will have countless descendants.
But there’s just one catch. Another one? God wants Abraham to keep his side of the bargain. God will give him many nations. Abraham must give God… Well… Abraham, his children, and all the males in his camp must be circumcised. Not only that, but God states that any male who is NOT circumcised, “will be cut off from the family”. Interesting choice of words there…
Abraham doesn’t hang about and that very day does as God has asked. Starting with himself, Ishmael and then every other male. Now that’s commitment.
Meanwhile, back to Matthew, now we’re into chapter 6 but we’re still listening to Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. He is absolutely clear with his instructions when it comes to charity. Don’t shout about it. God knows what you have done. He’ll reward you for it, you don’t need to blow trumpets in the synagogue! And the same goes for prayers. God knows what’s in your heart. You don’t need to pray publicly on the street corners. And you don’t need to babble on for hours either! Have I been babbling? Perhaps.
Jesus tells us how to pray. Short and to the point. Do it quietly, without a fuss. In this case, I have definitely been going on too long! But there’s still two readings to go…
Psalm 7 is a prayer. The writer is asking God for protection against his enemies. “I am innocent, Lord!” But he knows that God is honest and will judge any who do not repent. So wicked people will fall into their own pit. Oh yes, I have seen this for myself! Time and time again, there are those who are so arrogant in their own invincibility but they always come a cropper sooner or later.
Wow! Proverbs is (I’ve said this before) my favourite book. Because of verses like this: Chapter 2:3 “Cry out for insight, and ask for understanding.”
I’m exploring parts of Genesis I’ve never read before amongst bits I know TOO well. And what a massive difference it makes when you read it in context! The Sermon on the Mount is probably Jesus’ most influential speeches. I absolutely and firmly believe that being close to God isn’t about how loudly you shout or “blow trumpets”. It’s about what’s in your heart. And that’s something only you and God know.