Day 017: Guys, We Need to Talk About Genesis 17:23

Artwork by Alex Levin.

“This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your offspring after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised. You shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you.”
‭‭Genesis‬ ‭17:10-11‬ ‭ESV‬‬

Then Abraham took Ishmael his son and all those born in his house or bought with his money, every male among the men of Abraham’s house, and he circumcised the flesh of their foreskins that very day, as God had said to him.”
‭‭Genesis‬ ‭17:23‬ ‭ESV‬‬

Since this blog grew out of the Bible reading plan The Bible Recap With Tara-Leigh Cobble, I’m aware that most of the readers of this blog are women.

But I want to talk to the guys. The Bible “He-cappers,” if you will. Ladies, you can listen in, but you have been warned.

Let’s talk about circumcision.

I remember when my sons were circumcised. I remember thinking, “Thank God they won’t remember this. Thank God they won’t remember that it was their dad who helped hold them down while this was done.”

I remember tightening up all my muscles, you know… down there. Flinching and cringing as the deed was done. And I remember my boys wailing, like I prayed they never would again.

They really won’t remember this, right? I wanted to ask.

In today’s Scripture passage, Abraham, at about 98 years old, is commanded by God to be circumcised, along with his 12 year old son Ishmael, and all the male members of his household. And he obeys, that very day.

There’s that tightening up feeling again. Because Ishmael would remember. So would Abraham, and all the other adult males.

I don’t know if there was any precedent anywhere in the culture of the day for circumcision. So I’m trying to imagine Abraham having to explain what circumcision was the way Noah had to explain what an ark was. Or rain, for that matter.

And because I don’t think Abraham necessarily had much knowledge of anatomy and reproductive biology, I have to wonder what his thought process was:

God, You’ve just told me I’m going to father a child with Sarah. And now, You want me to cut off part of what it takes for that to happen? I don’t understand, Lord.

If I was editing the Bible, I think I would have put the verse about “Abraham believing God, and it was credited to him as righteousness” (Genesis 15:6) right after this command was given.

Because it’s one thing to look up at the stars and count them and believe that’s how many offspring you will have. It’s another to hand a knife to a servant and say, “Now let me explain what I need you to do…”

I can’t think of a more visceral, gut-level (literally!) sign of trust and obedience than circumcision. This was Abraham trusting God for his future and his promised family in a way that was contrary to every common-sense, self-preservation instinct Abraham possessed.

But what about us? We aren’t obligated to circumcision. Those of us who are circumcised, it was a choice our parents made for any number of non-religious reasons. Nevertheless, God wants us to trust Him with our most personal, vulnerable, hidden, private self. He says to us, I will protect that. I’ll guard it. But first, I require you to put it in My hands.

You see, God won’t guard what He’s not trusted with. But as Paul teaches us, God is able to keep that which we commit to Him (2 Timothy 1:12). He calls us to give Him our circumcised hearts (Romans 2:29). Today, will you trust Him at the core of who you truly, truly are? Will you risk the exposure? Will you bear the pain of being that open and vulnerable?

God won’t guard what He’s not trusted with. But He will keep that which you commit to Him.

What will it look like in your life to offer God a circumcised heart?

Day 017: Seeking After The God Who Sees (Genesis 16-18)

13 So she called the name of the Lord who spoke to her, “You are a God of seeing, for she said, “Truly here I have seen him who looks after me.” Genesis 16:13

Originally written January 17, 2021

Update, January 17, 2022: In the year since we buried her husband, this woman I wrote about in this post has remained a vital part of our church family. One of the ways she redeemed her grief was to sell a vacation property she couldn’t bear to use without him, and then gift part of the money to one of our missions partners.

Her generosity with her late husband’s estate has allowed us to set up a legacy fund which will one day fund the seminary educations of young men and women God calls into ministry from our church. She is one of my favorite people to pray with on Wednesday nights. She still seeks after the God who Sees, and I am so blessed to be her pastor.

Another week, another Covid widow. But also another day in which God demonstrates His kindness to me through this reading plan.

Yesterday, I spent an hour on the phone with a woman from our church whose husband was diagnosed with Covid on Christmas Day. He’s been on a ventilator since December 30. Through tears she tells me that she’s made the decision to discontinue life support for her precious soulmate, in accordance with his living will. And through tears I listened, because this godly woman was needing reassurance that she was making the right decision and that her decision wasn’t from lack of faith.

When I asked her if she wanted me with her when they disconnected the ventilator, the tears came again, and she said, “Pastor, I can’t go to the hospital. The morning the ambulance came for my husband, he had been normal, joking, kind, and “there.” But he has been unresponsive ever since. I want my last memory of him to be how he was then, and not how he is now.” And for the second or third time in the conversation, she asked the same pleading question: “Is that wrong?”

Here’s where our daily reading in God’s word has been such a lifeline. Today, we read about Hagar, Sarah’s maidservant, calling God “El-Roi:” the God Who Sees, saying “Truly here I have seen Him who looks after me” (Gen. 16:13). In tomorrow’s reading, we will see that Hagar had the same heart cry as this woman from our church. When Hagar and Ishmael were cast out of Abraham’s house and she thought they would die in the desert, she cried out to the God Who Sees: “Let me not look on the death of the child” (Gen. 21:16)

By the way, because so many of you who are reading this are women, don’t miss the fact that the only person who is allowed to name God is a woman. And not even a Jewish woman–an Egyptian slave. All the other names of God were either given by God or were altars to God that became accepted as names of God. But Hagar–Egyptian, slave, outcast, single mother–this woman dares to give a name to God. And God accepts her naming.

And the God Who Sees becomes the God who Hears. He hears the sound of her weeping, and He says, “Fear not, for God has heard the voice of the boy where he is” (Gen. 21:17).

I have wept with too many widows over these past few months. I’m weary and overwhelmed. I’m worried about my own mother, who was taken to the hospital with Covid on Friday. But the God who sees, still sees.

The God who hears, still hears.

And through His Word, we can say with Hagar, “Truly I have seen Him who looks after me.”

Day 016: Abraham the Hebrew (Genesis 14:13)

“Then one who had escaped came and told Abram the Hebrew, who was living by the oaks of Mamre the Amorite, brother of Eshcol and of Aner. These were allies of Abram.”
‭‭Genesis‬ ‭14:13‬ ‭ESV‬‬

As you are reading through the Bible, it’s always important to take note of the first mention of things. And this one is a biggie. Genesis 14:13 is the first time the word “Hebrew” is used.

Scholars aren’t in agreement about what it means. The NIV Biblical Theology study Bible suggests it may be associated with the name Eber, first mentioned in 10:21, from whom the Israelites are descended.

The online Encyclopedia Britannica puts a different spin on this. They don’t associate it with the proper name Eber, but with the word for “other side”:

… the term Hebrew almost always occurs in the Hebrew Bible as a name given to the Israelites by other peoples, rather than one used by themselves. For that matter, the origins of the term Hebrew itself are uncertain. It could be derived from the word eber, or ever, a Hebrew word meaning the “other side” and conceivably referring again to Abraham, who crossed into the land of Canaan from the “other side” of the Euphrates or Jordan River.

“The Hebrew People” in

The NIV Cultural Backgrounds study Bible suggests that it’s a social status designation, similar to a refugee:

The designation of Abram as a “Hebrew” may reflect a social status more than an ethnic identity. The term is usually used in the Bible to identify Israelites to foreigners (39:14 – 17; Ex 2:11; 1Sa 4:6; Jnh 1:9). As a social status it seems to have referred to dispossessed or disenfranchised peoples. This is the usage of a similar-sounding term throughout a wide range of ancient texts (often transliterated habiru, more accurately, Apiru, referring to various people groups throughout the second millennium BC). At times the label implies an “outsider” status and that the people are unsettled or even lawless renegades. Other times they are refugees or political opponents. In the Amarna texts they sometimes serve as mercenaries. The term cannot be considered as a reference to ethnic Israelites, but it is possible that ethnic Israelites (and here, Abram) are being classified socially as Apiru.

The Britannica article goes on to suggest that the name could be associated with the people referred to as habiru/hapiru in the el-Amarna tablets of the fourteenth century bc. However, from looking at various Biblical commentaries, it seems that conservative scholars disagree.

Day 016: When God Makes a Covenant (Genesis 12-15)

17 When the sun had gone down and it was dark, behold, a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces. 18 On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram… (Genesis 15:17-18a)

There is a strange (and fairly gruesome) ancient near east custom described in Genesis 15. When two parties made a covenant in ancient times, they would ratify the covenant by slaughtering an animal (or several animals) and split the carcasses in half. Then both parties would walk between the pieces. The symbolism has become obscure over the centuries, but essentially each party was saying, “May the gods make me as one of these carcasses if I break this covenant.” (Fun fact, there is a theory that this is where the idiom “cutting a deal” comes from).

So when the Lord makes a covenant with Abraham in Genesis, all the elements of the covenant ceremony are there. The animals are killed. The carcasses are divided. But there the similarity stops, because only one party to the covenant walks between the carcasses. Verse 17 tells us that “a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between the pieces.” But Abraham did not.

Here’s what I take away from this. Although verse 18 says that “the Lord made a covenant with Abram,” the truth is God is the one faithful party to this covenant. Human beings break their promises to God all the time. But God is the ever faithful, never failing, covenant keeping God. When God swears to keep a promise, He swears by Himself (see Isaiah 45:23; Genesis 22:16). If God was a witness in a courtroom, He would swear, “So help Me, Me.” Even when we are faithless, God remains faithful (2 Tim 2:13). We can trust God to always keep His promises.

Day 015: The Things We Know to be True (Job 40-42)

I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear,
    but now my eye sees you;
therefore I despise myself,
    and repent in dust and ashes.” Job 42:5

Originally posted January 15, 2021

Today I did my second funeral in five days. Terry was one of those precious senior adults that a church can’t function without. He was one of our main buildings and grounds volunteers. The hedges outside were his passion project, and they always looked like they had been trimmed with fingernail clippers. He was diagnosed with Covid on December 27, and passed away on January 9.

All we could do was a graveside service because of Covid restrictions. The wind was blowing so hard I literally could not hold my Bible open or have any notes. So I kind of had to speak whatever was off the top of my head.

So I talked about Job. I talked about living the kind of life that would make God brag about you to Satan (See Day 004, “Have you considered my servant?”). I talked about confidence that even when we return to dust, we will say, “I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in my flesh I will see God–Him, and not a stranger.” (See Day 008, “Standing on the Dust”19:25-26).

And I talked about how God never gave Job an answer for why he was experiencing the pain he was experiencing. How we don’t know why God would take away such a godly servant like my friend. How people are looking to their pastors for answers as to why there are so many empty chairs at empty tables right now, and we really don’t have any. Why would God give us reasons for all this that He withheld from such a godly man as Job?

But while Job never got an answer from God, he got something better. He got God’s presence: “My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you,” said Job (42:5).

One of my go-to Scriptures when I am facing questions I can’t answer is Psalm 62:11-12. It was the text I used for the first funeral I ever preached. The funeral was for the infant son of a drug addict, who rolled over on him when she was high. I was 26 years old and had been out of seminary for less than a year. I had absolutely no answers. Not for the family, not for myself. This level of senseless grief was so far beyond anything I had ever experienced. But this is what I found in God’s Word at that moment:

Once God has spoken;
    twice have I heard this:
that power belongs to God,
     and that to you, O Lord, belongs steadfast love.

(Side note: I found it in the 1984 New International Version, and that is still my favorite phrasing. You’ll need to find a physical copy of it, because the publisher has apparently purged the internet of any digital references to it. But here it is in the NIV ’84:

One thing God has spoken;
Two things have I heard:
That you, O God are strong,
And that you, O Lord, are loving. 

I am so thankful that this journey through Job is happening at this moment. For all of you that are going through dark times right now, please know that God is present with you, and that no purpose of His will be thwarted. And when we don’t know anything else, we know this. God is strong, and God is loving.

Day 014: The Lord Answers Job (Job 38-39)

“Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
    Tell me, if you have understanding.
Who determined its measurements—surely you know!
    Or who stretched the line upon it?
On what were its bases sunk,
    or who laid its cornerstone,
when the morning stars sang together
    and all the sons of God shouted for joy? (Job 38:4-7)

In my Bible, the chapter heading for Job 38 is “The Lord Answers Job.” This was probably the most excited I’ve ever gotten about a chapter heading. And if this is your first read-through, you may have felt the same sense of excitement. You may have thought, “Finally! Job’s going to get some answers. God’s going to give Job a peek behind the curtain, and he’s going to be let in on the wager between God and Satan that set all this in motion. Finally, Job’s going to get some satisfaction.”

And that last part is true. Job will get satisfaction. But not because he gets an explanation. Don’t miss that the chapter heading is “The Lord Answers Job,” not “the Lord Explains Himself to Job.”

Because God doesn’t explain Himself to Job. Instead, He says, “Brace yourself. You want answers, but I’ve got some questions for you.”

Side note: Is anyone else replaying the “You can’t handle the truth” scene from A Few Good Men right now? Just me? Ok. Let’s move on.

And for the next seventy-one verses, God grills Job. All God’s questions are variations on the theme of “Where were you when I made the world?” Not once does God offer any explanation. At the beginning of chapter 40, Job throws in the towel, like a fighter who’s ready to give up. And still God isn’t done. For two more chapters, God relentlessly questions Job.

And yet, Job is satisfied. It’s in tomorrow’s reading, so I won’t give too much away. But it comes down to this: God’s presence is better than God’s explanation. For 130 verses, Job has one-on-one time with the God who spoke stars into existence. Who upholds the Universe by the word of His power. Who tames the wild, chaotic forces of nature. Who knows when the mountain goats give birth.

Can you even imagine the privilege?

What kind of answer did God give?

All the answer Job needed.

Day 013: Really, Elihu? (Job 35-37)

36 And Elihu continued, and said: “Bear with me a little, and I will show you,
    for I have yet something to say on God’s behalf.
I will get my knowledge from afar
    and ascribe righteousness to my Maker.
For truly my words are not false;
    one who is perfect in knowledge is with you. (Job 36:1-4)

Be not wise in your own eyes;

    fear the Lord, and turn away from evil.

Proverbs 3:7

When Elihu says “one who is perfect in knowledge is with you” (verse 4), scholars are divided over whether Elihu is talking about himself or God. If he is talking about God, then he is claiming that he is one “perfect in knowledge” only because he is speaking “on God’s behalf” (v. 2).

This is probably the case, because in contrast to the three other friends, Elihu isn’t rebuked by God at the end of the book (see 42:7).

For Elihu’s sake, I really hope he’s talking about God. Because if he’s talking about himself as “one who is perfect in knowledge,” then wow. If he really does have that inflated a sense of the importance of his own words, then he comes across as an arrogant little cuss.

Honestly, were it not for the fact that God doesn’t rebuke Elihu, I would be firmly in the “arrogant little cuss” camp. From 32:6-22, Elihu goes on and on about how he didn’t want to say anything out of respect for his elders; but then he couldn’t hold back any longer because what they were saying was dumb, and blah, blah, blah.

Full disclosure, I did find other articles that give Elihu much more of the benefit of the doubt. This one: “Elihu, the Forgotten Prophet of Job” sees Elihu as a legitimate provider of truth and revelation, rebuking both Job and the three friends for what he calls their “Karmic folk theology.” And the author makes some great points.

Still, I said what I said.

In 33:1-5, Elihu talks about how awesome what he is about to say is going to be:

But now, hear my speech, O Job,
and listen to all my words.
2 Behold, I open my mouth;
the tongue in my mouth speaks.
3 My words declare the uprightness of my heart,
and what my lips know they speak sincerely.
4 The Spirit of God has made me,
and the breath of the Almighty gives me life.
5 Answer me, if you can;
set your words in order before me; take your stand.

And for the next four chapters he goes on and on. And on. And on.

When he finally takes a breath at the beginning of chapter 36, he seems to acknowledge that he’s already talked longer than the other three friends, yet he still isn’t done. And he sounds exactly like the kid in the youth group that schedules a meeting with the pastor to tell him everything that’s wrong with his theology.

Elihu may be my least favorite character in the Old Testament. I don’t know when he showed up in Job. He had listened to at least some of the words the other three friends had said (32:11-12). But significantly, he was not listed among the friends who sat in silence for seven days before venturing to say anything (see Job 2:11-13).

Elihu wasn’t listed among the friends who sat in silence with Job for seven days. Does he really have the right to say anything at all?

And for that reason, I feel like, even though what he said was “right,” Elihu hadn’t earned the right to say it. And that’s a lesson I take to heart as a pastor. I can be 100% right in what I say to my congregation. I can rebuke, correct, admonish, and reprimand all I want, because for thirty minutes every Sunday morning, I’ve got the microphone, and they are too polite to stop me.

But if I haven’t sat in silence with these people at a graveside or a hospital bedside, then it doesn’t matter how right I am. There are a hundred wrong ways to speak truth, but there is no wrong way to demonstrate love. At the end of the day, I don’t know why the Lord doesn’t rebuke Elihu. All I know is that I want to be very careful to avoid “being wise in my own eyes.”

Day 012: Why Isn’t Elihu Rebuked? (Job 32-34)

for the ear tests words
    as the palate tastes food.
Let us choose what is right;
    let us know among ourselves what is good. (Job 34:3-4)

Of Job’s friends, Elihu (who’s name, incidentally, means, “My God is He”) is the only one in the whole story with a Hebrew name. He is also the only one of Job’s friends who doesn’t accuse Job of a wicked life for which Job was being punished. So when God rebukes the other three friends (see Job 42:7), this may be why Elihu isn’t lumped in with them.

This doesn’t mean Elihu doesn’t sometimes come across like a sanctimonious young punk (Job 33:3: “My words declare the uprightness of my heart, and what my lips know, they speak sincerely”—really, Elihu?).

In contrast to Bildad, Zophar, and Eliphaz, Elihu takes issue with what Job has said, not with what he assumes Job has done to deserve the punishment he is getting. Here are some examples:

You say, ‘I am pure, without transgression;
I am clean, and there is no iniquity in me. (33:9)

Why do you contend against [God],
    saying, ‘He will answer none of man’s words’? (33:13)

For Job has said, ‘I am in the right,
    and God has taken away my right; (34:5)

For he has said, ‘It profits a man nothing
    that he should take delight in God.’ (34:9)

In counseling training, we called this “observing, not concluding.” You focus on what you see in front of you, without trying to interpret or draw conclusions from it. This is hard to do, and as Tara-Leigh points out in the podcast today, eventually Elihu draws the same conclusions that the other three do—that Job is being punished for sin.

Note: The Bible Project has a great podcast focused on Job and Elihu. They say Elihu’s argument is that the purpose of Job’s suffering to build character as a defense against future hardship. You can check this out for yourself here.

And this is where I’m challenged, both as a pastor and in general: When I meet someone, I’m not in a position to make judgments on what they have done before I met them. In counseling, I often hear stories from the people on both sides of a conflict, sometimes from years ago. I can’t know who’s right. I wasn’t there. But I can listen for how they are responding now to that conflict. And if they are responding in a way that doesn’t speak the truth about God and His character, and what it means to respond in a way that is consistent with who they are as believers in Christ, then that’s what I can speak to. Elihu may still be wrong, but he’s wrong about Job (Job never said “I am pure and without transgression,” as Elihu claims he did in 33:9). He’s not wrong about God.

Heavenly Father, when I counsel people, help me test words and responses, not past actions. Help me stay in my lane, so that I never fail to speak the truth about You.

Day 011: When We Don’t Feel as Close as We Used To (Job 29-31)

“Oh, that I were as in the months of old,
    as in the days when God watched over me,
when his lamp shone upon my head,
    and by his light I walked through darkness,
as I was in my prime,[
    when the friendship of God was upon my tent, (Job 29:2-4)

There is an old preacher’s joke about a senior adult couple riding down the road together in their late model sedan, with a bench seat so wide the driver and the passenger are in different zip codes. The wife looks at her husband behind the wheel and says, “Honey, do you remember when we first got this car, how close we used to sit on this bench seat? I would cuddle up next to you, and you would put your arm around me, and we would just go down the road together that way. What happened? How come we don’t sit so close anymore?”

Her husband said, “I don’t know. I never moved.”

In chapter 29, Job is expressing some of the same feelings. He misses the days when he felt the light of God’s love shining on him. When he felt “the friendship of God upon his tent.” He is wondering why they aren’t so close anymore. 

Ironically, Job seems to be judging the distance he feels from God by the way people are treating him. For the rest of the chapter, Job describes at length how people treated him with deference and respect. Even princes and nobles quit their small talk when Job showed up, because they wanted to hear what Job had to say (see verses 7-10).

“But now,” says Job in 30:1, “they laugh at me, men who are younger than I.”

So Job’s conclusion is that because he no longer commands the respect of those around him, that God must have withdrawn fellowship and blessing from him.

There are a lot of things going on behind the curtain that we, the readers of Job, are privy to that Job himself is not. We know about the wager God made with the adversary. We know that God has not pulled Himself away from Job. We know, as sure as we know that the old man behind the wheel of his Buick was not the one who moved; that God hasn’t moved either.

So we should also know that the praise of men should not be the gauge by which we measure the approval of God; any more than the absence of their praise indicates His disapproval. But so often, we make the same mistake.

God has not moved. He has not withdrawn His favor from us. He has not turned away from us. And whether we have the respect of our coworkers, our neighbors, or even our own family members or not, we can know for certain that God is still watching over us. His lamp still shines on our heads. We can still walk through the darkness by His light. His friendship is still upon our tent.

And He is still behind the wheel.

Day 010: Holding Fast to Your Righteousness? (Job 24-28)

I hold fast my righteousness and will not let it go;
    my heart does not reproach me for any of my days. Job 27:6

Job 27:6 could be taken as really arrogant. Who holds onto their own righteousness like this? Who would dare to say, with so much confidence, that their heart doesn’t reproach them for any of their days? “Any” of your days? What about that one time back in high school? What about that night when your parents were out of town? What about that one day you forgot to scan one of the items in your grocery cart?

How hard are you holding on to your righteousness now?

But Job’s confidence is in the character of God. Unlike the gods of the people around him, Job had confidence that his God could be known. That it was possible to know what it took to please God. That God did not punish or discipline for no reason. That He is not petty or capricious or whimsical or temperamental.

Remember, Job had been in the habit of offering sacrifices for each of his children the morning after a feast, just in case one of them had sinned the night before (Job 1:5). Job was more than willing to own his sin. He just wasn’t willing to admit that God would punish him without reason, or keep from him the knowledge of how to live a life pleasing to God.

This is why Job holds on to his integrity and doesn’t follow his wife’s advice to curse God and die. He is confident that God is absolutely righteous. He knows that God makes Himself known to His children. He trusts that if he had displeased God to the point that all this suffering had been heaped upon him as a punishment for sin, that he would at least know what the sin was, and that God would love him enough to show him his fault.

So even though he sounds like he is full of himself in verse 6, what he is actually full of is confidence that man can know what it takes to please God. And that brings him more solace than these “miserable comforters” (Job 16:2) ever could.

And one more thing: followers of Jesus have even more reason to hold fast to their righteousness. Why? Because it’s not our righteousness! Look what Paul says about righteousness in Philippians 3:

“Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—”
‭‭Philippians‬ ‭3:8-9‬ ‭ESV‬‬

Our righteousness is imputed to us. That means it is conferred or imparted to us by Jesus. We are declared righteous because of His righteousness. So in one sense, a believer who says he will hold on to his righteousness and not let go is saying that he will hold on to Jesus and not let go. Because the Lord will never let go of us.

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