WEEK 73 — May 25, 2016

MIDWEEK MEDITATIONS:
SISTERS

 

week 73

 

Dinah, Sister of the Patriarchs

 

Now Dinah the daughter of Leah, whom she had borne to Jacob, went out to see the daughters of the land. And when Shechem the son of Hamor the Hivite, the prince of the land, saw her, he took her and lay with her and humbled her. And his soul clung to Dinah the daughter of Jacob, and he loved the girl and spoke to the heart of the girl. So Shechem spoke to his father Hamor, saying,”Get me this young girl for a wife.” Genesis 34:1-4, New American Standard Bible (marginal readings). [Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977 by The Lockman Foundation; quoted by permission.]

Most of us harbor a special sense of protectiveness toward our sisters. We may feel that a brother can generally fend for himself, but that a sister needs to be sheltered. Yet this natural feeling can go too far. It came to a horrifying climax in the story of Dinah, sister of the twelve sons of Jacob.

The trouble may have started simply because young Dinah was missing out on girl-talk. She may have had sisters, but the Bible doesn’t mention any. With so many brothers (six) and half-brothers (eventually six more) in her parents’ traveling household, Dinah may have been yearning for female companionship.

Old Jacob had brought his vast, quarrelsome clan through the desert and encamped them near the walls of a Canaanite city in the central highlands of Palestine. Perhaps young Dinah had never before been so close to an urban center. She wanted to see what life was like in town — especially, life for a girl in town.

But Dinah’s innocent visit with “the daughters of the land” ended badly. Prince Shechem saw her, was immediately attracted to her, and . . . did he then rape or ravish or violate her? Some Bible translations say that he did. Others, like the one quoted above (which stays close to the original Hebrew), only say that “he humbled her” in the course of their having sexual relations.

As a matter of fact the Scriptural record speaks well of the overly eager young Canaanite prince. He was the most respected man in the city, he truly loved Dinah, he spoke tenderly to her, he sought to marry her. Did Dinah object to any of this? Perhaps it is telling that after an unplanned sexual encounter, she stayed on in the house of Prince Shechem rather than going back home.

After that . . . watch out! The overprotective impulses of two of Dinah’s older brothers came into play. I have known personally the sad case of a young sister who was no doubt wronged, yet whose brother’s retribution toward the wrongdoer was so far out of proportion that it did everybody more harm than good. This was what happened with Simeon and Levi.

Dinah’s two brothers had learned all too well from their father Jacob that deception can be a useful tool. Under cover of seeking cultural and racial purity for their sister’s intended, they cruelly attacked his city when it was most vulnerable, killing or enslaving everybody in it. (You can read the sordid details for yourself in Genesis 34:7-29 — but don’t share them with the children!)

To Father Jacob’s eternal credit, he distanced himself from the reckless deeds of his sons. Even many years later on his deathbed, he still condemned Simeon and Levi for their pitiless actions (Genesis 49:5-7).

In the meantime, what happened to Dinah? The Bible only says that she was brought back home to her parents’ encampment outside the city walls. In Middle Eastern society, long ago as now, she would have been considered “damaged goods.” Her sad story stands in Scripture as a stark warning to all of those young people of today who truly care about each other, yet somehow can’t seem to wait for the proper time.

We came in from the desert
and camped outside the gate.
I yearned to learn of town life,
but mother said to wait.

I went to see new neighbors,
the women of this place.
I never dreamed Prince Shechem
would note a fresh new face.

He noticed me, spoke kindly,
and took me to his room.
One thing led to another:
That’s how I lost my bloom.

We wished to stay together,
although we’d started wrong.
Prince Shechem was so handsome,
his love for me so strong.

Alas! My headstrong brothers
heard what had passed in town.
They came with swords and hatred,
and mowed that household down.

So now my home is once more
my mother’s tent. My life
seems like a widow’s, although
I’ve never been a wife.

O Father God, help all of us to model responsible sexual behavior for the coming generations. At the same time, help us to show mercy rather than vengeance toward those who go astray. Amen.

Copyright © 2015 by Perry Thomas

WEEK 72 — May 18, 2016

MIDWEEK MEDITATIONS:
SISTERS

 

week 72

 

Leah Is My Name

 

Leah had weak eyes, but Rachel was lovely in form, and beautiful. . . . When the Lord saw that Leah was not loved, he opened her womb, but Rachel was barren. Genesis 29:17, 31

An old friend of mine experienced heartbreak in middle life when her husband left her for a much younger woman. She and her children were devastated.

Time passed, . . . as it always does. The children are now adults with children of their own. The much-younger second wife has now reached middle age. And the less-than-faithful husband? He’s now an old man with a severe case of Alzheimer’s.

Nowadays the two families have muddled their way through to a fairly amicable relationship. Out of common concern for their husband, former husband, and father, they work together as necessary to care for his needs.

Somehow this sad but interesting little family story reminds me of Leah. She, too, was not the wife her husband preferred. She and her father, the wily Laban, connived to make sure that their young clan cousin married both Leah and her beautiful sister Rachel; yet Leah knew that she was not the one Jacob really wanted.

That must have hurt.

Our loving Lord knows all about our hurts – all of our hurts. God took pity on Leah. The Bible says it was nothing less than divine compassion and compensation that made Leah more fruitful than her more attractive sister. Son after sturdy son she bore to Jacob: Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, and Zebulun. She also bore him Dinah, the only daughter of Jacob who is mentioned by name in the Scriptures.

In later centuries both kings and priests of God’s People would come from Leah’s line, not from Rachel’s. And Leah would even be included in the genealogy of Jesus.

How would you describe the twisted relationships of Leah, Jacob, and Rachel?

The two sisters must have maintained some sort of civility, even though the Bible clearly records that they vied for their husband’s favor. (Read Genesis 30:14-21!) Did Leah sometimes gloat a little because she had so many children? Did Rachel sometimes retort that her Joseph was obviously his father’s favorite?

God cares about families . . . even families that make a mess of things. Think about your own family and the families of your kinfolks and neighbors as you read the following Bible-based poetic meditation.

Leah is my name.
Rachel, she’s the pretty one.
You could ask ‘most anyone,
they’ll all say the same.

When our cousin came –
clever features, long of limb –
Rachel fell in love with him.
(I too felt the same.)

On their wedding night,
Father helped me play a joke:
It was me inside that cloak!
(I’d put out the light.)

Jacob knew next day.
We’d been sisters all our lives;
now we both became his wives.
(That’s the Eastern way.)

Yet . . . he loved her best.
That was why I prayed for sons.
God gave six big handsome ones –
finer than the rest.

Weak-eyed though I be,
plain-faced sister, unloved wife,
yet I’ve lived a useful life.
God’s been good to me.

O God who cares about all of our hurts, in your mercy please bless all broken and struggling families today. Amen.

Copyright © 2015 by Perry Thomas

WEEK 71 — May 11, 2016

MIDWEEK MEDITATIONS:
SONS

 

week 71

 

Me and My Uncle : Paul’s Nephew

 

When the son of Paul’s sister heard of this plot, he went into the barracks and told Paul. Then Paul called one of the centurions and said, “Take this young man to the commander; he has something to tell him.” Acts 23:16-18a

There’s something special about the friendship between a boy and a man.

Oh, of course such relationships can become twisted, as recent years have so sadly revealed. Yet the fact remains that a boy is growing toward manhood, and who else but a man can show him what true manhood is like?

Ideally, such a relationship should be strongest between father and son. Yet many sons never receive enough attention from their fathers, . . . or have no fathers at all. This is why it’s so important for Sunday School teachers, Scoutmasters, coaches, and other men to become the kind of positive role models that young boys need.

The Bible tells us very little about the relationship between the Apostle Paul and his nephew. The boy’s mother, who was Paul’s sister, apparently lived in Jerusalem. Does it not seem logical that Paul would have stayed with them when he was in town?

The following Bible-based poetic meditation is built on the assumption that Uncle Paul might have become a sort of hero to the boy. Certainly it seems likely that Paul would have regaled his young nephew with stories of the strange places he had traveled, the perilous adventures he had survived.

In the imagined lines that follow, the nephew thinks his uncle has traveled to Gaul, or modern-day France. Neither Scripture nor tradition includes any such place on the itinerary of Paul’s journeys.

Yet . . . is it not likely that a hero-worshiping boy might have misremembered, or might even have embroidered a bit, the exotic tales he had heard from his globe-trotting uncle?

Chapters 21 through 23 in the Book of Acts tell about one of the most dangerous periods in Paul’s life. Nearly lynched by a mob, he was thrown into prison. Not content with that, forty of his bitterest enemies hatched a plot to assassinate him on his way from jail cell to courtroom. (Did we think that terrorism caused by religious fanatics was a modern phenomenon?)

Then Paul’s nephew suddenly appeared upon the scene. Somehow he got wind of the plot. The boy was bold enough to seek out Paul in prison and warn him. When Paul called in a guard, the boy was brave enough to repeat his strange story in the presence of a Roman officer. As a result, the Romans assigned extra guards and delivered Paul safely to the next stage in his long imprisonment.

The following Bible-based poetic meditation has been written in a rollicking ballad style that might appeal to boyish imagination. As you read it, thank the Lord for every man who has ever been willing to help or teach or encourage a young boy, whether or not that boy was his own son.

I listen in the Temple to the priests who preach and pray;
I listen in the barracks, hearing words I mustn’t say.
I listen everywhere I go. That’s how it came to be
I overheard a plot to murder someone close to me.

There hasn’t been a lot of time I’ve spent with Uncle Paul;
he’s usually traveling off somewhere, in Crete or Greece or Gaul.
But when he’s in Jerusalem, he always stays with us —
although he always tells my mother not to make a fuss.

You ought to hear the stories Uncle Paul keeps telling me!
Of mountain bandits, city mobs, of shipwrecks out at sea.
I know he travels everywhere to teach the Jesus Way.
I didn’t know how much folks hated him — until that day.

He’d spent the last few nights in jail for something not his fault.
They might have killed him if the soldiers hadn’t called a halt.
That day outside the Temple, where the lambs are bought and sold,
I overheard a hurried word that made my blood run cold.

Full forty men had all agreed to kill my Uncle Paul;
I heard them plan their plot from where I crouched behind the wall.
They’d got the Council on their side, to haul him into court,
but they’d be sure to stab him, once he left the soldiers’ fort.

I hurried to the barracks, where I had a friend or two.
The sentry nodded when I told him what I had to do.
My uncle listened calmly; then he called the guard again:
“This youngster brings important news.”  The sentry turned and then:

He took me in to see the captain! “What’s this all about?”
the captain growled. I stammered, but I got the message out.
“Don’t breathe a word outside this room!”  The captain’s face was grim. “Don’t worry for the prisoner; we’ll take good care of him.”

I said goodbye to Uncle Paul; his whiskered face was bright.
The soldiers took him off somewhere to safety that same night.
Goodbyes are hard. I’ve never seen my uncle since that day.
I know he’s out there somewhere, teaching folks the Jesus Way.

O Father, I remember being challenged once with the words, “You may be the best Christian somebody knows.” Help me always to keep that sobering thought in mind, especially when I am with those who are younger or more impressionable. Amen.

Copyright © 2015 by Perry Thomas

WEEK 70 — May 4, 2016

MIDWEEK MEDITATIONS:
SONS

 

week 70

 

You, Eutychus!

 

There were many lamps in the upstairs room where we were meeting. Seated in a window was a young man named Eutychus, who was sinking into a deep sleep as Paul talked on and on.
Acts 20:8-9a

My dad was a good father. He was older than most of my classmates’ fathers, and he worked long hours — on Saturdays as well as weekdays. Because of this we didn’t share some of the usual father-son experiences. He was not the sort of man to teach me about fishing or baseball or carpentry, nor was I the sort of boy to profit from such teaching.

Still, we had a good relationship. He loved me deeply, and I loved him. Some of my fondest memories of shared experiences have to do with the Lord’s Day and the Lord’s People:

• I remember when Daddy and I would get up early on a summer Sunday morning to churn a freezer of homemade ice cream on the back steps.
• I remember walking to church together in winter, when snow and ice made driving a questionable option and when others stayed at home.
• I credit much of my lifelong love for hymns to my father’s hearty singing and amateur song-leading.

Yet, one of the experiences I shared with my father has caused me lifelong embarrassment: Daddy had an unfortunate tendency to go to sleep in church. He didn’t miss much; when we would try to trip him up during Sunday dinner with questions based on the sermon, it often seemed that even while nodding he had caught more of it than we had.

Apparently I have inherited my father’s weakness; so has one of my sons. A preacher once asked me not to sit so near the front, since (as he expressed it) “It’s hard to hammer on dead wood.”

The New Testament tells us about a young man who had that same annoying tendency. Perhaps Eutychus had a better excuse than I usually do: He was trying to stay awake through an all-night sermon!

The higher up I perch, of course, the better I can see.
I still can hear my mother’s voice come floating up to me:
“You, Eutychus! You heard me, now! Come down, sir, from that tree!”

So that’s why I was perching on a window-sill that night,
to see the great celebrity. The lamps were all alight;
that upper room felt stuffy, though the smoky air was bright.

He wasn’t much to look at, though, this famous man named Paul.
My head kept getting heavy in that overheated hall,
so this was how it happened that I took a fatal fall.

He preached till well past midnight; then my lids began to close –
I couldn’t seem to focus past the pimple on my nose.
My muscles all relaxed as I leaned back into a doze.

Watch out! You’re falling! That was all I had a chance to think
before the world turned black . . . and then my eyes began to blink.
I saw the preacher leaning down to offer me a drink.

They say that I was dead when they got down there to the street.
They say Paul worked a miracle to put me on my feet.
I know my mother cried for joy to see me drink and eat.

I think I’ve learned my lesson since that night I took a lurch:
I’ve learned it’s safer if you take a seat and not a perch.
I’ve learned it can be dangerous to go to sleep in church!

Thank you, O Holy Spirit, for including such a homely little story in the inspired Word of God. Look down with mercy on all of us who sometimes nod in church. Amen.

Copyright © 2015 by Perry Thomas