WEEK 47 — November 25, 2015



week 47


“Asking for Trouble,” So Abigail Says


David said to Abigail, “Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, who has sent you today to meet me. May you be blessed for your good judgment and for keeping me from bloodshed this day.”
1 Samuel 25:32-33a

Here’s an ancient proverb rarely heard any more these days, amid strident calls for gender equality:

“Behind every great man there stands a great woman.”

Yet that old saying has been proven true more than a few times. Case in point: Abigail.

Abigail first got herself linked with a less-than-great man. Nabal was great in possessions but small in soul. He contemptuously refused to acknowledge that David’s roving band of outlaws had protected him, his flocks, and his herdsmen from harm. When David heard about that, he was furious and went on the warpath.

Fortunately Abigail also heard about it when David’s messengers were churlishly turned away. Quickly she loaded a donkey caravan with goodies, met David on a narrow mountain path, and turned aside his murderous wrath.

Was there a bit of malicious intent in Abigail’s timing when she later told her husband what had happened? After his drunken feasting, Nabal was having a hangover. When he then heard how narrowly Abigail had averted disaster, he apparently suffered a heart attack or a stroke.

After the foolish Nabal was dead, Abigail became the wife of David. According to Hebrew law and custom, David also thus became the lord and master of all that Nabal had owned. From being a wandering landless bandit, David suddenly became a man of substance, an owner of property, a chieftain among the tribes of Judah.

Abigail bore David a son, but that’s the last we ever hear about either him or his mother. Did the son die young? Did he suffer from some sort of disease or disability, so that he was not considered eligible among the many princely candidates to succeed David on the throne?

The Bible doesn’t tell us. Yet the Bible does make plain what a tremendous influence Abigail had on David’s early life. Without her good sense and quick action, he would have exacted a bloody revenge. Without her willingness to become David’s wife, he would not have been recognized as the legitimate heir to Nabal’s estate.

The seeming disappearance (or neglect?) that Abigail experienced during the later life of David makes all the more poignant the cry that imagination has placed upon her lips in the last line of this Bible-based poetic meditation:

                    David was asking for trouble:
                     I’d tell him so now to his face.
                              But when we first met,
                               I didn’t forget
                     to greet him with honor and grace.

                    David (back then) was a bandit;
                     he hadn’t yet taken the throne.
                               He captained a band
                               that roamed through the land
                     and took what they liked as their own.

                    David showed kindness to Nabal:
                     His men took not even a kid.
                               We should have at least
                               asked them to our feast –
                     but no, that’s not what Nabal did.

                    Nabal was asking for trouble:
                     he flouted and jeered David’s men.
                               That surely meant war,
                               but I went before
                     and met them this side of the glen.

                    “Nabal” means “Fool” in our language,
                     and Nabal lived up to his name.
                               To David I said,
                               “Your men shall be fed,
                     and I will assume all the blame.

                    “Nabal said nothing about it
                     when messengers came to our door.
                               Thank God, someone heard
                               and then brought me word.
                     Enjoy the feast! Soon there’ll be more.”

                     Nabal and David – both foolish,
                     both asking for trouble, you see.
                               My wit as a wife
                               saved many a life.
                     O husband, appreciate me!

O Lord, help each husband in the family of faith to honor and appreciate the wife You have given him. Amen.

Copyright © 2015 by Perry Thomas

WEEK 46 — November 18, 2015



week 46


Job and His Wife


His wife said to him, “You are still as faithful as ever, aren’t you? Why don’t you curse God and die?” Job answered, “You are talking nonsense! When God sends us something good, we welcome it. How can we complain when he sends us trouble?”
Job 2:9-10ab, GNT

The story of Job is one of the most compelling in all of world literature. No wonder the American poet and playwright Archibald MacLeish wrote J. B., a great verse drama retelling this timeless tale.

In the Scriptural cast of characters, Job’s wife doesn’t come off too well. Her sole advice to her husband in their shared misery is, “Curse God and die!”

Have you ever wondered what you would have said if you had been in her place? Consider:

God has thus far spared my wife and me the agony of losing a child. We have, though, agonized with dear friends who have experienced this bitterest of losses. Yet even those unfortunate friends would be hard put to empathize with parents who had lost all ten of their children.

This multiple bereavement came on top of staggering material losses. And after that – Job’s health broke.

As the Bible tells the story, Job’s wife is mentioned only in the beginning, not the end. In a polygamous culture, was she still the same wife to whom Job later turned to bear him more children? The Bible does not say.

The following Bible-based poetic meditation assumes that Job’s wife was indeed still around when things took a turn for the better. I hope and pray that you, too, will experience the same sort of happy ending. Whether you do or not, I hope and pray that you will learn the truth stated in the last line of the poem.

“God doesn’t live here any more.”
That’s what I said when Job got sick.
How could I trust God as before,
after disasters fast and thick?

First our possessions dropped like leaves –
sheep, camel, oxen, shepherd, slave –
whirlwinds engulfed them, fires and thieves . . .
even the dearest gifts God gave.

Once by my fireside three girls knelt,
once seven sons . . . but none today.
Can you imagine how I felt?
All of my children swept away.

Then Job, my husband: Boils broke out
over his body, scalp to sole.
How can you blame me? Lost in doubt,
everything shattered, nothing whole.

“Curse God!” I told him. “Then you’ll die.
End all this misery. God is blind.”
Job, my good husband, stilled my cry:
“Such talk is foolish. God is kind.”

Now I can see it: Job was right.
God the Eternal does no wrong.
After the storm clouds, morning bright;
after the struggles, even song.

Somehow I stumbled toward the light.
Sometimes I wondered: Does God care?
I learned my lesson in the night:
Even in darkness, God is there.

O Father of mercies and God of all comfort, strengthen me in my sorrows so I in turn may help others bear their griefs. Amen.

Copyright © 2015 by Perry Thomas

WEEK 45 — November 11, 2015



week 45


Out of the Desert : Zipporah and Moses


After Moses had sent away his wife Zipporah, his father-in-law Jethro received her . . . . Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, together with Moses’ sons and wife, came to him in the desert.
Exodus 18:2, 5a

What’s that? You don’t know much about Zipporah, wife of Moses?

Don’t feel inferior; most people don’t know much about her, either. Even the spell-check feature on my computer underlined her name in red, desperately trying to warn me, “There is no such word!”

The spell-check is wrong (as is often the case). Yet it isn’t surprising that Zipporah is so little known. The Hebrew Scriptures tell us a lot about the wives of many famous Bible characters: Sarah, for instance, wife of Abraham, or Rebekah, wife of Isaac, or Rachel and Leah, wives of Jacob, or Bathsheba, one of the many wives of David.

But the Bible tells us very little about Zipporah, wife of Moses.
Even her ancestry is somewhat clouded in mystery. Zipporah was a Midianite, and the Midianites were not included among the People of God in ancient times. Yet her father, Jethro, is said to have been a priest, and he eventually came to serve the same God that Moses worshiped.

Zipporah didn’t even know who her future husband was at first. Although he was an Israelite, she mistakenly thought he was an Egyptian — probably because of the way he dressed, and the way he spoke when he defended her and her sisters against bullying shepherds (Exodus 2:17-19).

Later on, how much did Moses explain to Zipporah about his experience at the burning bush? How much could he have told her in a way that she would understand? How much of it did he understand himself?

Another part of Zipporah’s story also remains clouded in the mists of time: Exodus 4:20 tells us that Moses seated his wife and their two little boys on a donkey and started back with them from Midian to Egypt. But after the enigmatic encounter described (but not explained) in Exodus 4:24-26, it turns out that Moses didn’t take his family along with him after all.

Zipporah and her sons never witnessed the Lord’s mighty acts through Moses that set God’s People free from bondage. Only later was the family reunited, as stated in the verses quoted above.

The following Bible-based poetic meditation tries to suggest some of the mysteries in Zipporah’s life story. She may not have known very much about Moses or about the God Moses worshiped. Yet she became a loyal, faithful wife.

Out of the desert he came to me.
Where had he been? Who could tell?
Strong like a prince of Egypt he stood,
guarding my rights at the well.

Father said, “Where is the man you met?”
Bring him to lodge in our tent!”
Soon he and Father spoke privately.
Me, I could guess what that meant.

If you had seven unmarried girls,
wouldn’t you welcome that man?
Soon I was wed, yet still lived at home:
Moses had joined with our clan.

+ + +

Out of the desert he came to me.
Where had he been? Who could say?
Back to Egypt he said he must go;
that’s when he sent me away.

Long was my waiting in Midian’s land;
little the news that I heard.
Praise be to God, my two sons were there,
guarding their grandfather’s herd.

The news came, . . . but who could believe it?
Slaves that escaped through the sea?
Their leader and master . . . my husband?
My husband had set them all free?

+ + +

Out of the desert I came to him.
Where had he been? Did I ask?
Enough. I’m again with my husband,
helping him finish his task.

O Lord, guard me against the conventional wisdom of today that
always demands full disclosure, . . . either from You or from others
among the family of faith. Amen.

Copyright © 2015 by Perry Thomas

WEEK 44 — November 4, 2015



week 44


A Prophecy from Potiphar’s Wife


Potiphar’s wife kept Joseph’s coat until her husband came home. Then she said, “That Hebrew slave of yours tried to rape me! But when I screamed for help, he left his coat and ran out of the house.” Potiphar became very angry. Genesis 39:16-19, CEV

A participant in a workshop for Indonesian Christian writers once asked for my evaluation of a feature article that had a one-word title in her native language: “Lari!” (“Run!”)

In that article she briefly retold the story of Joseph, a handsome teenage slave whom his Egyptian mistress tried repeatedly to seduce. When the climax came one day, Joseph escaped her wiles by simply running away.

My writer friend used apt commentary and contemporary examples to show that in some cases, the best way – or perhaps the only way — to escape temptation is the one stated in the title of her excellent feature article: “Run!”

In the days and weeks and months following this sordid episode, Joseph himself might have disagreed with that writer’s assessment of the situation. Yes, he had escaped temptation, all right; but what had he gotten in return? The devious woman whose advances he had spurned made maximum use of a suspicious piece of evidence: Joseph had shucked off his outer garment in his struggle to escape her clutches. Cleverly she twisted that half-truth into a damning accusation. Joseph was lucky to get off with imprisonment rather than execution.

None of us as human beings can foresee our own future. Certainly Joseph couldn’t. Yet his faith remained strong; he served God as faithfully in prison as he had in the house of Potiphar. After a long period of unjust punishment, he was rewarded with a sudden promotion to prime minister of Egypt.

Joseph was one of God’s People, a person who knew how to turn to God for guidance; note his famous interpretation of dreams. If even a person like Joseph could not foresee his own future, then how could a person like Potiphar’s wife expect to do so?

Yet . . . perhaps she thought she could. In the brief imaginatively-constructed poetic meditation that follows, she gives voice to her bitter disappointment, her malice, her certainty that she had determined Joseph’s dismal future for all time to come.

But – as Joseph himself observed many years later – “God intended it for good” (Genesis 50:20).

                     I noticed his face and his form,
                               that good-looking Israelite boy.
                     I waited till we were alone;
                               I practiced my prettiest ploy.

                    Can you believe it? I couldn’t:
                               That fool ran away from my touch!
                     I’ll blacken his name forever:
                               He’ll never amount to much.

Hold me back, O Lord, from haste or prejudice in my evaluation of other people — especially other people in the family of faith. Amen.

Copyright © 2015 by Perry Thomas