Category Archives: Bible Study

Grief through the eyes of Rachel

October is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month. So in honor of that, I want to highlight some of the women in the Bible who experienced grief and loss, particularly surrounding children or family.

Last week, I talked about Leah, so I thought it was only fair to talk about Rachel’s grief this week. I don’t know what kind of relationship the two sisters had before being married to Jacob, but it turns into a bit of a train wreck afterwards.

Rachel’s relationship with Jacob started in a much more romantic, much less problematic way. She meets Jacob at a well, he cries and kisses her when meets her. After a month, he bargains for her in exchange for seven years of labor for her father. And then things take a solid turn for the worse.

We all know where Leah was that first night of the wedding party, but I wonder where Rachel was. For seven years, Jacob was wooing her and then Leah takes her place when the wedding day finally comes. As with Leah, I think Rachel was grieving the seemingly lost chance at love. That is, until Jacob signs up for another seven years of labor to ensure that she is his.

But still, even though marrying more than one wife was pretty common at the time, I doubt Rachel had in mind to share her husband with her older sister. Then, when Leah starts having children, she doesn’t. And her grief is recorded. Even though she is loved more, she blames Jacob for her infertility.

When Rachel saw that she was not bearing Jacob any children, she became jealous of her sister. So she said to Jacob, “Give me children, or I’ll die!”

Genesis 30:1

She becomes obsessed with finding her place in this family. She uses her maidservant to produce two sons, both of which are named to reflect the competition she feels with her sister. Then, when she hears that Leah’s oldest son has found a mandrake root (which was supposed to help with conception), she bargains with the one card she has, Jacob. Eventually, she gives birth to Joseph and immediately asks for another son.

But there is more to the story of Rachel than just her ability to have sons. After she gives birth to Joseph, Jacob packs up her family and leaves after an altercation with Laban. Both Leah and Rachel agree that it is time to go, but it still must have been hard to leave. In fact, Rachel takes her father’s household idols (which was more than just a religious artifact in that culture, whoever had the idols would inherit the family’s fortune). She is crafty and quick on her feet when Laban pursues them and investigates. She hides the idols underneath her seat and claims she cannot get up because she is on her period. He never finds them.

They leave on good terms with her father, and when Jacob reaches his brother, they reconcile as well. Jacob continues on to settle in a place called Ephrath (which is called Bethlehem), but on the way Rachel dies giving birth to Benjamin. She doesn’t get to see her sons grow up. She is buried on the way to Bethlehem, not with Jacob in the family tomb, but her tomb is honored as a place in 1 Samuel 10.

Rachel was an incredibile woman, beautiful and smart and honored by her husband. She competed with her sister, left her homeland, and died giving life to a son that would represent a tribe that includes people like King Saul and the Apostle Paul. She was loved by God. And she is a great reminder that while our life might not look the way we think it should, God is working in the details to bring about his great legacy.

Grief through the eyes of Leah

October is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month. So in honor of that, I want to highlight some of the women in the Bible who experienced grief and loss, particularly surrounding children or family.

When I think about the women of infertility, I am drawn to Leah and her sister Rachel (don’t worry, Rachel will be later this month). Growing up, I thought Rachel got the short end of the stick. Now as an adult who has experienced my own griefs and now sees the world is a little more complicated, I see how much Leah was hurting.

When Jacob shows up in Paddan Aram, he is running from his brother who wants to kill him, but also so that he will find a wife. He meets Rachel first at the well and it is love at first sight. After a month of highly probable googly eyes, he makes the proposition to Laban that he will work for seven years in return for Rachel.

And here is where Leah enters the story. She isn’t just the older sister who probably had to endure the puppy love Jacob had for Rachel, but she is mentioned to have weak eyes, or delicate eyes. Maybe she was nearsighted, maybe she had a lazy eye, not really sure, but the main fact remains that Rachel was more beautiful.

Seven years pass and Laban throws Jacob a party to honor the union of Jacob and his daughter. But not the daughter Jacob had in mind.

But when evening came, he took his daughter Leah and brought her to Jacob, and Jacob made love to her.

Genesis 29:23

I thought it was Leah that had the weak eyes. After seven years, Jacob couldn’t tell the difference between the two sisters? How dark was it, and how drunk was he? Also, you have to admit, it kind of feels like he had it coming considering this is a very familiar to the trick Jacob played on his father.

When Jacob wakes up in the morning, and sees Leah there and not Rachel, he confronts Laban. Laban explains a loophole that the older daughter has to be married first. But if Jacob agrees to another seven years, then after this bridal week for Leah, Jacob can have Rachel as well.

This brings up three things. First, Leah has been on the sidelines with no prospects for seven years. Second, Jacob finished the bridal week, which means he continued to consummate this loveless marriage with Leah for a full week. And third, Leah was only married to Jacob for one week before Rachel entered the picture. I don’t know if Leah had a say in this trick, but I do know that she was unwanted and unloved, a pawn used and thrown away by her own father.

But now she was married, and God seeing that unloved status, decides to give her honor among her society. While Rachel wasn’t able to conceive, Leah has four sons. And as she names those sons, she reveals her internal struggle. With Reuben, “The Lord has seen my misery.  Surely my husband will love me now.”  With Simeon, “Because the Lord heard that I am not loved, he gave me this one too.”  With Levi, “Now, at last, my husband will become attached to me because I have borne him three sons.  And with Judah, she stops hoping and says, “This time I will praise the Lord.”

And right there, right when her focus returns to the Lord, she enters a time of infertility. There is a false belief that if we just do everything the Lord asks of us, turn our face to him, that we will get everything we desire. For Leah, that is not the case. But that doesn’t meant that God wasn’t working in her life, walking with her in this new grief of infertility on top of the grief of be unwanted and unloved.

Rachel and Leah then use maidservants (much like Sarah did, but this time it doesn’t seem as controversial to God’s plan since these sons are also added to the tribes of Israel). But then there is this whole conversation about a mandrake root. Reuben finds it and gives it to his mother which brings me to another thought. Everyone knows. The only reason Reuben would have sought out and gotten this particular plant for his mother seems to be for the aphrodisiac qualities and conception qualities. Even her own son knew her infertility troubles, possibly even the love troubles.

But Rachel gets the root and Leah gets pregnant with two more sons and a daughter. The final two sons reflect an acknowledgement of God’s glory. Leah doesn’t stray in her walk with God, even through being unloved, infertile, and watched by those in her community. Her life never quite reached the level of her own expectation, but her legacy would go on to King David and Jesus Christ.

Maybe you grieve the life you thought you would have some day, but didn’t turn out how you thought it would. Maybe you feel like your grief is in a fishbowl, being watched by your community (maybe with a little added unsolicited advice or judgement). But like Leah, God sees you. He sees what you are going through. He sees all of the injustice and is willing to redeem you. But in all the distractions, all the missteps, all the changes to your path, the truth remains and can never be taken away. You are wanted. You are loved. You are worthy.

Beloved

This year has been heavy. But even before the isolation and uncertainty that this era of the pandemic was brought into our lives, life wasn’t perfect. Throughout my life, I chased after things I thought would bring me comfort or significance or worth. Having a busy lifestyle, or connections in person or online, or accomplishing goals. I was in constant pursuit.

This year has forced me to slow down, like many other people, and reflect and reevaluate what is really important. To level risks and priorities against both mental and physical health. It has me craving the Word, the reminders of who God is, and what my relationship to him is, and I came across this beautiful blessing given to the tribe of Benjamin in Deuteronomy.

“Let the beloved of the LORD rest secure in him, for he shields him all day long, and the one the LORD loves rests between his shoulders.”

Deuteronomy 33:12

Beloved. One who is much loved. A beloved person is one who is being actively pursued. Which means that God is actively pursuing us.

Even when we are chasing other things to fill the void like what is described in Nehemiah.

They refused to listen and failed to remember the miracles you performed among them. They became stiff-necked and in their rebellion appointed a leader in order to return to their slavery. But you are a forgiving God, gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love. Therefore you did not desert them

Nehemiah 9:17

He never deserted us. Even when I feel isolated and overwhelmed, God is still standing beside me, longing for me to be still enough to hear his whispers of comfort.

And why does he love us? More than the fact that we are each created in his image to rule together in his Kingdom. It is the simple fact that God is love.

And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.

1 John 4:16

So remember, you aren’t just loved, you are beloved. God is pursuing your heart and longs to be with you, to face the giants together and overcome the world. It is an intimacy I can rely on when feeling lost and facing the unknown. In that truth, I can find rest and peace no matter what tomorrow brings.

I hope you enjoyed this reminder that we are the beloved of God. If you know someone who needs this encouragement, please share this post with them today.

Generosity (2 Corinthians 9)

This year is hard. It’s affected pretty much every aspect of our lives. We have lost loved ones, our rhythms are completely interrupted, and social media feels like a powder keg on most days.

But one of the things that has kept me upright is acknowledging the blessings of God. I’m thankful for the health our family does have. I’m thankful for the roof over our heads and food on our table. I’m thankful for the many growth moments in my relationships. And I’m really grateful to get to be a mom to my kid, watching him adjust to a new normal and new experiences with excitement and curiosity.

In response to these blessings, we are called as Christians to express gratitude through generosity. I know that there are people who financially struggling in a lot of ways, but in the verse below, I feel like Paul is talking about more than just money.

You will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God. This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of the Lord’s people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God.

2 Corinthains 9:11-12

“You will be enriched.” God is going to give you the things that you can share. Whether that is time, or skill, or even presence in someone’s life, God is providing the margins for you to give to others in different ways.

“Your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.” Everything will point back to God, not to our own abilities or resources. This is paramount in our generosity. We give because it has been given to us.

“Not only supplying the needs of the Lord’s people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God.” The really cool thing is that even if what we have to give is small, God can do amazing things with it. He will multiply our generosity over and over again. We may never know the complete effect of our giving.

These verses have encouraged me this week to look for ways to be generous. Maybe it’s being generous with my time with my toddler – turning off the screens and playing games with him. Maybe it’s being generous with my love for reading by helping others find books they might enjoy. Maybe it’s being generous with my writing, by encouraging others with handwritten notes or texts or comments on their posts.

I am so grateful to God for all that He has done for me. I want to be a person who is generous to others so that my actions and words point back to God. Because that is what I want my life to be about.

Forgiveness

There is this popular saying, for lack of a better phrase, among the Christian community that God calls us to Love God and Love Others. It’s based on a conversation that Jesus had with Pharisees and teachers of the law over what was the most important of God’s commandments and he responds,

 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Matthew 22:37-39

The “Love your neighbor as yourself” actually comes from a verse in Leviticus.

Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.

Leviticus 19:18

In this verse, loving your neighbor has to do with forgiveness. We extend grace to others because we also extend grace to ourselves. Now, I know on a very personal level that I don’t always extend grace to myself, which is a whole other conversation. But one of the ways we show ourselves love is by extending grace to ourselves. In the same way, that is how we love others.

Forgiveness is hard. I don’t think it’s natural for humans because we are limited in how we see others and how we see situations, whether in the past, present, or future. There are hurts I have received that I can’t possibly see how they could be redeemed, how that person could grow or change.

Not saying that consequences should be ignored or avoided. God uses natural and legal consequences to helps people grow closer to him. In the story of the Prodigal Son, the son still ended up in a pig sty before coming home. Boundaries are still a thing, but forgiveness allows the heart to be freed up from the focus of retribution in order to refocus on the love of God.

But I believe that God is the reason I can forgive others. Not just because he calls me to forgive, but because forgiveness is giving my hurt to God. Only he has the ability to move within the relationship or situation to redeem it in the best way it can be done. He knows how to forgive better than we ever will.

And God’s forgiveness is pretty vast. In Psalms it is described as this.

as far as the east is from the west,
    so far has he removed our transgressions from us.

Psalm 103:12

This is what he calls us to do in Colossians 3.

Bear with each other and forgive any complaint you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.

Colossians 3:13

To forgive in the same way God forgives us.

To remove the transgressions from us, not suppress them, but not let that pain and hurt dwell in our hearts where God’s love should reside. Allowing God to work in the nooks and crannies to release us from our anger and our bitterness.

Ultimately, we do not have the capacity to love or forgive the way God does. Not on our own. Not without the strength and direction of the Spirit. Just like everything else, I don’t have to forgive alone. Forgiveness gives the control of your hurt to the safe hands of God. Only he knows the true path to redemption and healing.

Clouds

There’s this quote, “Behind the clouds is the sun still shining.” I’ve heard it used in the church to explain where God is during a tragedy. That he’s still shining, present, even though all we see are the dark clouds around us. But I want to challenge that.

What if God isn’t just the sun shining behind the clouds? What if God is in the clouds themselves?

I’m not saying that God creates tragedy in our lives, but he definitely works in those tragedies for our good. When my daughters each passed away, God was preparing communities, relationships, and even my own heart to enter into that tragedy. He worked in those moments, days, and weeks to show his power and presence in my life. He never left my side.

In a recent devotional, it showed how God’s presence in clouds is depicted in both the Old and New Testament. In Exodus, the Israelites were led by a cloud when they left Egypt, and once the tabernacle was built, the cloud remained.

So the cloud of the Lord was over the tabernacle by day, and fire was in the cloud by night, in the sight of all the Israelites during all their travels.

Exodus 40:38

In the New Testament, Peter, James and John, along with Jesus, go up the Mount to witness the Transfiguration, and God makes himself known again from a cloud.

Then a cloud appeared and covered them, and a voice came from the cloud: “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!”

Mark 9:7

Clouds, like tragedy, can be uncertain. Anyone who has driven through thick fog can attest to that. We don’t know exactly when things will become clearer, but knowing that God is within that uncertainty, working in ways too great for me to understand, can bring me a sense of peace and hope. One day, the clouds will part, the fog will lift, and we will see everything as clear as a bright sunny day.

Known (Psalm 139)

I don’t know about you, but I’m feeling a bit lonely lately, a bit invisible. Fall is approaching, schools are starting back, but nothing is the same. Nothing is normal. And this is the first entire season that I’m feeling it.

At the beginning of the year, we had a few months of mom bible studies and kid activities before everything shut down. The summer was a little isolating, but a lot of groups that meet during the year usually take summer off. So this will be the first full season that groups aren’t coming back to meet again.

And it feels isolating. So, I thought I would share some encouraging thoughts from King David in Psalms 139 to remind us that we aren’t invisible or alone.

You have searched me, Lord

and you know me.

You know when I sit and when I rise;

You perceive my thoughts from afar.

You discern my going out and my lying down;

You are familiar with all my ways.

Before a word is on my tongue

You, Lord, know it completely.

Psalm 139:1-4

The word “search” in versus one means to penetrate like in a mining operation, to examine intimately. God isn’t giving a cursory glance at who we are or what we are going through. He searches the dark recesses of our hearts, the nooks and crannies of our anxieties. Only he has the ability to search and know this deeply into who we are.

The phrase “from afar” in verse two means that God isn’t constrained by time or distance. God moves outside of those limits which allows him to be with us at all times. Even though we are social distancing right now, God isn’t. He is there beside you, holding your hand, catching your tears, wrapping you up in a hug, right here and right now, no matter where you are or what you are doing.

In verse three, David uses the two phrases – “my going out” and “my lying down.” Maybe “going out” isn’t quite applicable to us right now, but these phrases cover both our activity and our rest. He is with us in all the things we do, whether we are achieving our goals or we feel stagnate in them. Sometimes I feel like I need to be doing, need to be accomplishing, in order to feel the eye or favor of God. But even when we are sick or sleeping or feeling unmotivated, He is still with us, . He knows exactly what we are going through and doesn’t stop loving us.

And that final verse just rounds out his knowledge of who we are. We are so well known by the Creator God, that he knows what our reactions will be before we even make them. He doesn’t wince or walk away from them. He chooses to walk through those experiences with us, never giving up his love for us.

We have a God who is with us. But he isn’t just with us, isn’t just sitting in the room reading a magazine, or playing on a smart phone, as we go about our lives. He is actively engaged. He is loving us. He is seeing us. We are not alone, because in truth, we are known by a Creator God who wants to be in relationship with us.

Support (Exodus 17)

Between the stories of the Red Sea and the Ten Commandments, the Amalekites attack the Israelites in the desert in a place called Rephidim.  A little cool history about the Amalekites.  They descended from Amalek, the grandson of Esau (Jacob’s brother).  Also, the grandson of Adah, Esau’s wife, who was the daughter of Elon the Hittite, one of the Canaanite women that Esau married that “grieved” his parents (Genesis 26:35).

On Moses’s direction, Joshua (the one who will eventually lead the people into the actual promised land) takes some men and fights the Amalekites.  Moses goes to the top of a hill and raises his hands to the Lord.  Whenever they were raised, Israel was winning.  And when he lowered them, the Amalekites were winning.

But Moses wasn’t on this hill alone.  The text says that Aaron and Hur were with him.  I did some brief digging, and according to Jewish tradition, Hur was Miriam’s husband, so basically Moses’s closest family was with him on this hill.  When they noticed he was tiring, they provided a stone for him to sit on and held his hands up for him, one on each side, so that he could have a little respite.  And with their help, the Israelites defeated the Amalekites.

Have you ever held your hands up for a long period of time?  As time goes on, the arms feel heavier and heavier.  Moses was an old man at this point.  Aaron was his older brother, and Hur had to also be around their ages as well. So no one on this hill had immense youth or vigor, but together, they managed to keep Moses’s arms up until sunset.

I don’t know about you, but friends, I’m getting tired.  This year has been crushing for so many reasons.  So many of us have lost loved ones, been pushed into unknown and uncertain terrains, and we all long for a sense of normalcy in our lives.

Sometimes just making it to the end of my day with my family fed and the house still standing is considered a win.  And that’s okay. But I’m also called to love my neighbor, stand up for what is right, speak truth in love. And my arms are getting tired.

But I also realize that I’m not meant to do any of that alone.  We need the encouragement, the propping up of others.  No one gets through this life without others.  All through our life, we depend on caretakers, mentors, teachers, and our community as a whole to do the things we are meant to do.

What Aaron and Hur did for Moses wasn’t some great feat.  They did what they were able to do to help win the war against the Amalekites.  It inspires me. I don’t have to be the Moses, the achiever all the time. I can be the support, and it doesn’t have to be a great big showy thing. What small thing can I do to help prop up another?  Maybe it’s prayer.  Maybe it’s saying good morning to a neighbor. Maybe it’s sharing a post of another writer or liking a comment of a friend. 

So, I leave you with this.  Keep your hands raised toward heaven.  Help lift up others who are doing the same.  Because sunset is almost here, and we will win this war together.

Participate (Genesis 18)

There’s a story in Genesis about Abraham pleading with God over Sodom and Gomorrah, and this verse popped out at me.  Right before God lets Abraham in on his plan for these two cities, he says:

Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do?  Abraham will surely become a great and powerful nation, and all nations on earth will be blessed through him. For I have chosen him, so that he will direct his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing what is right and just, so that the Lord will bring about for Abraham what he has promised him.”

Gen 18:17-19

So, God tells Abraham that the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah was so grievous that he was going destroy the cities.  Abraham asks God if he would save the city if God could find 50 righteous people.  God agrees, then Abraham goes down to 45, 40, 30, 20, even just 10 people that God would avoid destroying these cities.  God agrees and then leaves.

God brings Abraham alongside him in this plan.  He doesn’t just let him in on the plan, but actually lets him participate in the conversation.  So, what does that mean for us now?

Understand, then, that those who have faith are children of Abraham. Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: “All nations will be blessed through you.” So those who rely on faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.

Galatians 3:7-9

Just like Abraham, we are chosen by God.  And just like Abraham, God wants us to know the plan, and he wants us to be an active participant in that plan, even if that means we ask questions and plead for specific outcomes or knowledge.  We can ask these things in faith because even though God sees the bigger picture and plan, he also hears our whispered prayers and proclamations of longing. 

Abraham knew that the cities were corrupted (as evidenced in Genesis 14 and his conversation with the King of Sodom).  And he knew that God’s plan was bigger and better than he would ever understand.   Today we know our world is broken and full of death and destruction, and we can plead with God all of our struggles and worries.  He not only hears, but he listens and considers and patiently walks through it with us.  How good it is to have a God who is not only in control and knows where this is all going but wants to stand beside us, walking through it with us, every step of the way!

Humanity – Romans 12

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position.  Do not be conceited.

Romans 12: 14-16

I know that all we want is normal. And this year is far from normal on so many fronts. It’s easy to slip into the fear, to grasp onto the entitlement that we think or hope to deserve. Making ourselves the underdog hero of our story makes that triumph feel within our reach. And when it doesn’t happen, when chaos whips around us, it is really easy to lash out at the other side, make them the villain.

In movies, the villain used to be all bad. It was the thing or person that the hero conquered. But in more recent years, movies have presented the villains as misunderstood or misguided, even capable of being good or changing course. It gives more depth to the characters, more understanding in their own humanity. In Romans 12:14, this idea of blessing people who are persecuting you gives that same chance to keep other people’s humanity intact.

Removing their humanity requires us to remove a piece of our own humanity, to forget our flaws in the face of outrage.  To forget the grace we need when we are learning and growing.  We forget how long it sometimes takes for our hearts to soften, or how much pain or fear can blind us to what is going on around us. But in addition to keeping the humanity intact, or maybe in order to do so, there is also this thread through these verses to keep our entitlement in check as well. 

Rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn requires a healthy dose of empathy.  The empathy removes entitlement.  I rejoice because I connect with those who are rejoicing.  I see their humanity, their need to rejoice because things are so hard.  Same with mourning.  I see their humanity, their need for space to mourn how they need to, not how I think they should.  I won’t push their pain or their joy under the rug when it is convenient to me.

I am willing to associate with people in a lower position. Or maybe even a different position. People who are not like me, who don’t think like me or read the same news outlets and articles that I do, who don’t have the same priorities that I do. It’s really easy to disassociate myself from others and make judgment calls and create labels to write off their humanity from my own echo chamber.

When we see each other as humans, as creations of God, it doesn’t matter what labels are given to the people around us. We are called to have the sober understanding that under God, we are all the same. These verses are really challenging me to put down the desire to be right and superior in that rightness.  Instead, we are called to love wholly with the love we receive from our holy God.

I don’t know when the chaos will stop. But judging from my past experiences with loss and disruption, I know that the day will come. I have real concern about the divisions in our country, our church, and our community. But I also know that God is in control, that he loves us completely in our own humanity. So, I can trust in God, and that frees me to humbly embrace others in their humanity and love as God first loved us.