Devotions – February 6 – 12, 2011
By, JoAnne Barrix
Sunday, February 6
"Now the Lord was gracious to Sarah as he had said, and the Lord did for Sarah what he had promised. Sarah became pregnant and bore a son to Abraham in his old age, at the very time God had promised him. Abraham gave the name Isaac to the son Sarah bore him." Genesis 21:1-3
Sarah was unique – She is the first historical woman of the Hebrews and their first mother. She is one of the most important female figures in the Bible and she was known as a strong woman of faith. God changed her name from Sarai, which means princess, to Sarah which means chieftainess or queen – a source of nations and kings…the line that would eventually lead to Jesus Christ.
Motherhood was the heart of a woman's identity, in Sarah's time, because it preserved the ancestral line. Sarah had one great grief – no child. Despite the fact that she had been given God's promise that from her a great nation would be born, she lost hope of ever becoming a mother and persuaded her maidservant Hagar to have a child with Abraham.
Although Sarah was a strong woman of faith, even her faith waivered at times. She was almost 90 years old. Logic told her that giving birth to a child now was just not possible. She tried to take matters into her own hands and start a family through Hagar. This produced Ishmael, a father of nations that would rise up against the Israelites. Later when she overhears God promise Abraham a son with her, she laughs. This laughter was not with joy, but with doubt.
Sarah is a strong woman of faith and we can learn from her. First, even those with a strong faith can have times of doubt. Those times of questioning and doubt serve to make faith even stronger. Second, learn how to be patient and wait for God to act in our lives. God keeps his promises. And third, laugh with joy as God is constantly creating a world that is full of surprises.
We Pray: Dear God, thank you for giving me Sarah as an example of having great faith. As my faith waivers, I can know that you will not give up on me. I can be sure that you will keep your promises. And I can find joy in your surprises. In the name of your Son, Jesus Christ, I pray. Amen.
Monday, February 7
"When the water in the skin was gone, she put the boy under one of the bushes. Then she went off and sat down nearby, about a bowshot away, for she thought, 'I cannot watch the boy die.' And as she sat there nearby, she began to sob."
This is from Hagar's story. Hagar had met Sarah and Abraham when they were in Egypt to escape a famine in Canaan. Hagar may actually have been a daughter of Pharaoh who decided to go with Sarah when they left Egypt because they had become very close. Sarah had taught Hagar to have faith in God and Hagar did not want to stay in a home that worshipped idols. However, even as a close friend, Hagar was still considered to be a slave.
The name Hagar, closely resembles the root of the Arabic flight. It may have been taken as an adaptation of her original name to her life circumstances, and understood to mean, fugitive or immigrant, which Hagar became.
Sarah must have had great confidence in Hagar that she chose her to become the surrogate mother of her son. However, after Hagar became pregnant, their friendship became filled with jealousy. Sarah mistreated Hagar so much that Hagar ran away into the desert. This was forbidden for a slave. The angel of the Lord found her and convinced her to return to her mistress. Had she stayed in the desert, she might have died.
Hagar gave birth to a son, Ishmael, which means "God hears". After 14 years, Sarah gave birth to Isaac. After Isaac was born, Hagar and Ishmael began to show their jealousy, and Ishmael began to mistreat Isaac. Abraham casts out Hagar and Ishmael and once again Hagar finds herself in the desert. As their food and water run out, Hagar again tries to escape when she puts her son under the bushes and walks away.
There are times when it seems that escape is the only answer to a problem. Hagar escaped to the desert twice and then tried to escape the dying cries of her son. Isn't it true that we often experience God's help most clearly in conflicts and difficulties? God was patient with Hagar. As God spoke to Hagar so, too, God will speak words of hope to all those that are hurting.
We Pray: Dear Lord, sometimes I feel abandoned, as though no one understands or cares about me. Please show me that you really are near, and that you see and hear everything that happens. Refresh me with your presence even when I am walking through a desert experience. Remind me of your promises. And help me to comfort others when they feel hopeless and alone. Amen.
Tuesday, February 8
"The Lord said to her,
'Two nations are in your womb,
and two peoples from within you
will be separated;
one people will be stronger than the
and the older will serve the
younger.'" Genesis 25:23
When it came time for Isaac to marry, Abraham did not want his son to take a wife from the Canaanites. A son's wife in that time was usually chosen by the parents. It was common for the woman to be in her early teens, although Rebekah was probably about 20. Even though it would have been easier to send Isaac back to Abraham's homeland, God's promise was that they stay in the land of the Canaanites, so he sent his trusted servant Eliezer to bring back a wife.
Eliezer prayed for God to help him find the right woman for Isaac. When Rebekah came to the well and offered Eliezer a drink and also offered to water his animals, Eliezer knew that God had answered his prayers and he thanked God for his goodness. Rebekah showed him the inner beauty of a kind heart. She had a servant spirit and showed patience, kindness and joy.
Rebekah is a name that means "tie rope for animals". Applied to a female, it suggests snared or bound or captivating.
Isaac, about 40, fell immediately in love with Rebekah and she remained his only love. Although she was childless for about 20 years, Isaac and Rebekah trusted the promise of God. Isaac did not take a servant or concubine or a second wife, and Rebekah did not suggest it.
When Rebekah did conceive, she bore twin boys. Esau was the first born and grew to be a rough outdoorsman who was a skillful hunter. Jacob grew to be a quiet, gentle man. Isaac loved in Esau the strong practical nature and energetic character that was like Rebekah, and Rebekah loved in Jacob the gentle meditative nature that was like Isaac. When it came time for Esau to receive his birthright and blessing from Isaac, Rebekah schemed with Jacob so that he received the blessing.
Rebekah started out with a childlike simplicity. She was modest and meek, frank and open, had ready kindness, great energy and faith. She had graciousness that matched her physical beauty. However, when she became a mother, she revealed how clever and deceitful she could be in deceiving Isaac, who seemed more simple and trusting. Rebekah's ambition for her son caused her to sacrifice the love of her husband, the respect of her son Esau and when Jacob fled for his life, she never saw him again.
We can learn from Rebekah that nothing succeeds when it does not follow the way of truth and honesty. Our actions will not spoil God's plans. Although she and Isaac believed in God's promise that she would have a child and waited 20 years for it to happen, she did not wait to see God's plan for Jacob. She took matters into her own hands and consequently lost her entire family.
We Pray: Promise us O God of Rebekah, That you will give us hearts for service, that you will remind us to keep our actions true and right, that you will give us strength while we wait, and that you will use even our mistakes to carry out your plan. In Jesus' name we pray. Amen.
Wednesday, February 9
"Jacob was in love with Rachel and said, 'I'll work for you seven years in return for your younger daughter Rachel.' Laban said, 'It's better that I give her to you than to some other man. Stay here with me." So Jacob served seven years to get Rachel, but they seemed like only a few days to him because of his love for her." Genesis 29:18-20
Rachel is beautiful. Her sister Leah has some form of eye problem that makes her less attractive. The meeting between Jacob and Rachel was of God, and it was His providence that provided the first meeting of the two of them at the well. Sometimes ordinary events are an important part of God's plan.
The meaning of the name Rachel is "ewe". She is the first person in the Bible whose name is derived from a name for an animal. Laban, Rachel's father, who was used to tenderly caring for the weak ewes thought it to be a fitting name for his daughter.
When the time comes for the marriage to Rachel, Laban makes a switch and Jacob is married to Leah. Jacob is angry that this trick was played on him…does he remember the trick that he played on his father against his brother Esau? Even though Jacob loves Rachel, it does not say that Rachel loves Jacob. Even though Laban arranges the switch, Leah and Rachel must have had some part in the plan. Leah must have known that Jacob did not want to marry her, and Rachel could have protested when she saw that Leah was being given to Jacob.
When God saw that Jacob did not love Leah, he gave her children. To Rachel, he did not. Rachel and Leah began competing and gave their maidservants to have children with Jacob. Finally, Rachel conceived and named her son Joseph, which means "the Lord shall add to me another son".
Jacob eventually becomes unhappy with the unfair ways that Laban has treated him and takes all that is his and leaves. Sadly, Rachel is secretly unable to leave behind the household idols. She believed that having them would insure a safe journey and good fortune. Even though she was the wife of Jacob, the heir to God's promises, she was apparently a secret believer in old heathen superstitions.
Rachel's death is the first recorded instance in the Bible of death in childbirth. After her death, Jacob spoke sorrowfully of the early loss of his beloved Rachel and how much of her life was filled with sorrow and unhappiness. He had loved her at first and ever afterward. Even though Rachel felt that there was competition, Jacob had always loved her the most.
We can learn from Rachel that God does hear and answer our prayers. Although she was like Sarah and Rebekah in her difficulty with having children, she did have two sons: Joseph and Benjamin. Her envy and competition ruined her relationship with her sister, but in the end, God loved her even with her faults. In Rachel's life, romance and tragedy were blended.
We Pray: Promise us O God of Rachel, that you will give us the strength to wait, that you will help us to see your plan, that you will keep us right in our relationship with you, that you will help us to accept the love of others and that our goodness of character will live on long after our deaths. In Jesus' name we pray. Amen.
Thursday, February 10
"Miriam and Aaron began to talk against Moses because of his Cushite wife, for he had married a Chushite. 'Has the Lord spoken only through Moses?' they asked. "Hasn't he also spoken through us?' And the Lord heard this."
Miriam was the oldest child of Amram and Jochebed and the sister of Aaron and Moses. At the age of just 12, she was instrumental in protecting her brother Moses from death, and it was her quick thinking that allowed her mother to care for Moses after Pharaoh's daughter found him in the basket. It is the actions of Miriam, her mother and Pharaoh's daughter that fulfill God's plan to allow Moses to lead the Hebrew nation out of Egypt.
The name Miriam is from the root word of Mary and it means "bitterness" as in trouble, sorrow, disobedience and rebellion. Miriam's fate, because of her jealousy, is one of extreme bitterness.
Miriam was a prophetess – she received revelations from God. She also had musical skills. Prophesy and musical skills were often closely related in the Bible. Along with Moses and Aaron, Miriam is a leader in the wilderness – she is a colleague of her brothers. Her words and work were full of the inspiration of God and she is a leader of the women of Israel. But now Miriam is ageing – she was 12 when Moses was born…Moses spent 40 years in Egypt…and now they have been in the wilderness for nearly 40 more years.
Now Miriam rebels against the mission of her life – to protect and labor in partnership with Moses. Jealousy causes Miriam to reject Moses' position of leadership because of the wife he has chosen. Her people hated the worship of the true God and Miriam feared that she would influence Moses. Miriam tried to break down the God-given authority of Moses and with that the unity and hope of the Israelites. That a sister could be so jealous of a brother is hard to believe.
Miriam was definitely a leader of the Israelites. Her interests were not matrimonial like most women of the time. Her interests were of her nation. Her mission was not domestic…it was patriotic. Miriam was a daring woman who took initiative, challenged oppression and acted wisely and resourcefully in dangerous situations.
However, jealousy brought judgment. We can learn from Miriam to avoid the temptation to gain power at the risk of losing the station that we have. And when you are in disagreement with someone, discern if you are arguing over the real issue or putting up a smoke screen. Miriam and Aaron complained about Moses' wife, but they were really jealous of Moses' position and power. When we are unhappy with what we have and desire a position that is held by someone else, our character suffers.
We Pray: Promise us, O God of Miriam, that you will show us opportunities to serve you. Help us to raise our voices to you in song. Guide us to be daring in the work that you have called us to do. And even when we make sinful mistakes, forgive us, heal us and bring us back to you. Amen.
Friday, February 11
"In bitterness of soul Hannah wept much and prayed to the Lord. And she made a vow, saying, 'O Lord Almighty, if you will only look upon your servant's misery and remember me, and not forget your servant but give her a son, then I will give him to the Lord for all the days of his life, and no razor will ever be used on his head.'"
1 Samuel 1:10-11
Hannah couldn't take it anymore and she made the decision to do something about her circumstances. Hannah was discouraged and bitter. She was unable to bear children, she shared her husband with a woman who ridiculed her, her husband loved her but could not solve her problems, and even the high priest misunderstood her. Hannah prayed and wept. She poured out her heart before God. She continued praying. She brought her problems honestly before God.
The meaning of the name Hannah in Hebrew is "gracious" or "graciousness" or "favor". Because we live in a world where evil surrounds us and is always threatening, we may not remember that God is in control. Hannah saw God as the one who knows what we do, Lord over all the affairs of the people and the supreme judge who administers perfect justice. Because of this attitude, Hannah was favored by God.
We talk a lot about prayer. Sometimes we need to feel things deeply to pray. Sometimes we need to weep for ourselves or on behalf of others. It touches God's heart as he witnesses the depths of our despair or our burdens. Do we turn to prayer when we experience barrenness? Do we turn to prayer when nothing seems to come from all the work that we do? It is sometimes difficult to pray.
Once Hannah prayed and unburdened herself and received a blessing from Eli, her whole attitude changed. She gave her problems to God. She was able to eat. She went to her house content because she believed. Something changed in Hannah's heart before the child came. She believed God before she saw the result.
What does Hannah teach us? God hears and answers prayers. It is not wrong to ask for something many times until an answer is given. We should give our best to the Lord. Our children are gifts from God. And God has a perfect timetable for the events of our lives.
We Pray: Promise us O God of Hannah, That you will bring us peace in our households, that you will be near when we are feeling alone and abandoned, that you will hear and answer our prayers, that you will fulfill your promises, that you will remind us of our vows, that you will bless us as we practice first fruits giving, and that as for Hannah, you will be our rock. Amen.
Saturday, February 12
"'I am the Lord's servant,' Mary answered. 'May it be to me as you have said.' Then the angel left her." Luke 1:38
Mary was a humble village woman who lived in the small town of Nazareth. Mary was from the tribe of Judah and the line of David. She became the wife of Joseph and the mother of Jesus her firstborn. Mary is poor yet comes to occupy the highest place among women. There is no mention of her physical beauty, but of her beauty of character. She is highly favored by the Lord.
The name Mary occurs in the New Testament 51 times. The root form means "bitterness" as in trouble, sorrow, disobedience and rebellion. Mary could not surround Jesus with wealth and with the exile in Egypt she couldn't even offer much education. What she did give him was life and nourishment. The home of Mary and Joseph was filled with trust, love and understanding. Also, Mary had a sense of the presence of God. To Mary, God was not a being afar off and uninterested in her life or in the world, but because of her Son, Mary was always in the divine presence and must have realized it.
Mary's deepest sorrow came when she stood beneath the cross and witnessed the death of her Son. Although she was blessed among women, Mary learned that she did not have control over what happens to her Son.
What can we learn from Mary? God's best servants are often ordinary people. God's plans involve extraordinary events in ordinary people's lives. And often a person's character is shown by their response to the unexpected. When you hear God calling you, how do you respond? Do you feel that you lack the spiritual gifts needed to respond to God's call? Does the call seem to be impossible? Or do you respond as Mary did? "May it be to me as you have said."
We Pray: Promise us O God of Mary, That you will give us the strength to follow your call, that you will answer our prayers, that you will surprise us with the unexpected and that you will walk with us in our pain and sorrows. In the name of your Son, Jesus Christ, I pray. Amen.