Sabbath was equal rest.

Sabbath was equal rest.

We often think that Christianity ushered in a new era of equality for races, genders and cultural roles with Paul’s declaration that in Christ, there is no Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female (Gal. 3:28). But God emphasized equality of persons thousands of years earlier when He gave Moses the Ten Commandments.

Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.  Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns.  For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. Exodus 20:8-11 NIV

Setting aside the seventh day each week was how God desired to be worshiped. God wanted people to connect with Him in rest. The Sabbath commandment leveled the social constructs that humans feel compelled to enforce around the worship of God. On the six days of work, society was split along gender, race, age lines and roles; but on Sabbath, all human distinctions ceased.

Children rested along with parents. Slaves had recess from all their duties. The immigrant must stop their work as well. Women and girls relaxed. Servants had the day off. Ox, horses and donkeys were set to graze.  It had to be rest for all. Sabbath was not for Jewish men only.

The holy day was a day of equality. Week after week, God emphasized His impartiality to gender, race, age, and even species! In this idle space of Sabbath, the One Creator God was worshiped in unity. In Christ and in Sabbath rest, we are all one.

Who’s your mother?

Who’s your mother?

The most-loved title that Jesus uses for God is “Father.” God, who is not male, chose this designation to describe the protective care that is provided to all God’s children. It was an apt symbol for a patriarchal society that confirmed all relational, legal and public authority on the male head of households. But does the use of the title of “Father” negate the metaphor of God as “Mother?” Throughout the Old and New Testaments, we find motherly metaphors of God. This article looks at the role of Mother in the life and teaching of Jesus.

Jesus was born of a woman.

In Genesis 3:15, God prophesies that Eve and Eve’s descendant will defeat the serpent with whom she is at war. The promised one is the seed of Woman. Thousands of years later, we learn the fulfillment is found in the birth of Jesus, son of Mary.

“Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus.  He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High”

“How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”

The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.” (Luke 1 NIV)

It was Mary, recognizing the promise to Eve, who said, “May your promise be fulfilled to me.” And it was. Mary’s virginity meant that Jesus was not fathered by a man, but was supernaturally the Son of God. Jesus’s birth has its roots in God’s promise to Eve. The one born to woman would defeat the enemy. In Galatians 4 , Paul cements this fulfillment further.

But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman… (Gal. 4:4 NIV)

Because Jesus was born from a woman, he is human. Because Jesus was born of a woman, he uniquely fulfills the ancient prophecy that the seed of Woman would destroy the evil one. Jesus’s mother was as important as his Father in providing an atoning sacrifice for humanity. Without the humanity he inherited from Mary, Jesus would have no kinship with us to save us.

Jesus teaches that Supernal Parents are critical.

Father

As a son born under illicit circumstances – by an unwed teen mother – Jesus was particularly enamored with paternity. “Father” was Jesus’s favorite title for God. He used the Aramaic term “Abba” to reveal his close relationship with God as “Dad.”

Jesus famously argued with the Pharisees over paternal descent, (which was their way of subtly discrediting him as a bastard) accusing them of devilish origins. “But our father is Abraham!” they protested. Jesus agreed that they were literal descendants of Abraham, as he was, but he points them beyond the physical heritage to their spiritual heritage. Jesus teaches that the proof of heavenly patronage is belief. Those who believe Jesus’s  words, have God as “heavenly” Father (John 8). Those who do not believe his teaching are “fathered” by The Liar.

God becomes Our Father when we believe the words of Jesus.

Mother

But, maternal origins are as important as paternal descent throughout the Bible. And, we find our Supernal Mother is just as important as our Supernal Father in the gospel.

12 Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— 13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. 14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. (John 1:12-14a)

Katherine Bushnell points out in God’s Word to Women, that in these verses, the children of God are not born of three things:

  • natural descent (genetics)
  • human decision – (sexual desire)
  • a husband’s “will” (ditto)

In this discussion on Godly birth, one thing is left out of the options involved in a birth… The mother. The mother’s birth-role is not excluded.  This is because we are birthed from God as our Heavenly Mother, like Jesus became flesh through Mary as her earthly son: without the aid of a husband’s “will” or carnal passion. This motherly metaphor ties our spiritual birth with Jesus’ fleshly birth -The Word became flesh- to illustrate how through Jesus, we become children of God.

The seed of Woman is Jesus, but it is also those who have received Jesus and believed in his name. We are born of God, like Jesus was born of a woman.

You must be BORN…again.

Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. John 3:5-6

Who gives spiritual birth to us? The Spirit, our Mother. We are the fruit of Her womb. Unless we change and become like little children, we will never enter the kingdom of heaven (Mat 18:3). Unless we are born of our Heavenly “Mother,” we have no right to call God our “Father.”

Who’s your mother?

Women in the Text: Hagar Names God

Women in the Text: Hagar Names God

Hagar’s remarkable experience of God is comparable to any of the Patriarch’s, yet it is often overlooked.

Hagar’s History

Hagar was Egyptian. She was most likely given to Sarah by Pharaoh as redress for his bride-napping. She was a stranger in Canaan, different from  the others, marginalized, living in an alien and backward land compared to the grand courts of Egypt. Her accent was different. Her looks set her apart. She most likely faced racial and class prejudice. She was a slave.

Her master  was Sarah. It was Sarah who determined the course of Hagar’s life when she offered her – as a possession – to her husband Abraham. In today’s terms, we call this sex trafficking. In ancient terms, it was an acceptable legal transaction. The Code of Hammurabi gives us some insight into the everyday ethics that determined family life in this era. An infertile wife could offer her slave to her husband. If a child was born as a result, it was against the law (or custom) for the husband to remarry. This saved a barren woman from sharing her husband with another wife, yet still provided an heir.

144. If a man take a wife and this woman give her husband a maid-servant, and she bear him children, but this man wishes to take another wife, this shall not be permitted to him; he shall not take a second wife.

http://www.sacred-texts.com/ane/ham/ham06.htm

Sarah, acting in accordance with the customs of her time, says to Abraham: “The Lord has kept me from having children. Go, sleep with my slave; perhaps I can build a family through her. (Genesis 16:2) ” Sarah gives Hagar to Abraham, not as wife or concubine but as a womb. If Hagar conceived and bore a child, Sarah’s position as the sole wife of Abraham was secure.

Hagar’s grasp for honor

But Hagar had different ideas. And, who can blame her? Her status changed from slave to the mother of the new heir of Abraham. It is easy to empathize with her desire to take any advantage she could! There was also the dynamic of motherhood at play. Hagar, feeling the overwhelming protection of maternity, felt the need to establish a place of honor for her child. Yet, any behavior on her part that was not fitting as a slave, was actually considered unlawful. See Hammurabi again.

146. If a man take a wife and she give this man a maid-servant as wife and she bear him children, and then this maid assume equality with the wife: because she has borne him children her master shall not sell her for money, but he may keep her as a slave, reckoning her among the maid-servants.

Hagar claimed an honor that did not belong to her, perhaps as a wife or mistress of Abraham, and in the process shamed her owner, Sarah. Genesis 16:4 says, “her mistress was dishonorable in her eyes.” Hagar made a power-play to take advantage of her circumstance and reverse her fortunes and confirm the status of her child, but she was out of line. Sarah’s reaction was more than jealousy, it was justice. Hagar had no right to shame Sarah and claim any worth, for her or her child, above that of slave.

Our modern sense of Western justice has a hard time accepting the clout of this honor/shame dynamic that dominated the Eastern world. Even though Hagar was the one behaving badly, we sympathize with her suffering. When Sarah disciplined her harshly, as just punishment for Hagar’s transgressions, we sense a deeper injustice that was ignored. Hagar never asked to be put in this position! She was forced into sexual relations, and required to birth a baby at great personal risk (childbirth has always been a dangerous enterprise). Surely, her arrogance could be overlooked? Right? Give her a break, Sarah!

When Sarah applied harsh judgement on her, Hagar had few choices. Stay in an abusive situation where she had no voice and little value, or attempt escape. She chose to run away; a courageous, if not foolhardy, option.

Hagar runs away…

…most likely headed back to Egypt (Genesis 16:7). Her flight indicates how desperate and alone she must have felt in Sarah’s house. The journey from Canaan to Egypt is like walking from Seattle to Spokane. Pregnant.

Hagar had serious problems. She was a runaway slave, carrying the property of her mistress. She was a fugitive. She was breaking the law. But, she was an abused and terrified woman.

In the middle of this terror of flight, God came to Hagar.

God visited Hagar! An Egyptian. A woman. A slave. An abuse survivor. At that point in recorded history, God had only come to Noah and Abraham. Hagar’s experience with God is thought provoking. When we consider the times God intervened in Person, what was required of the recipient was usually terrifying. Noah had to build an ark for decades to survive a holocaust. Abraham had to mutilate his very private flesh, and the flesh of 300+ of his men. And, God’s visit to Hagar followed suit. God required Hagar to return to her life as the slave of Sarah. Gulp. That is hard to accept, isn’t it? God was sending Hagar back to slavery, back into the toxic situation with Sarah. We could speculate that there were few options for Hagar, and that was the most merciful one, but I find it hard to swallow, regardless. Experiencing a visit from God was alarming and the task was never easy.

God requires hard things. But, God is full of promise.

God gave Hagar a fertile hope.

“I will increase your descendants so much that they will be too numerous to count.” (Genesis 16:10) Sound familiar? God promised this woman great fertility, just as God promised Abraham (Genesis 15:5). God gave Hagar a prophesy of hope concerning her child that spoke to a mother’s greatest fear.

  • Her son would be born, alive and healthy.
  • She should name him God Hears: Ishmael, because of her personal experience with God.
  • He would be free, not a slave. He would be a warrior. He would have brothers and family and would not be alone as she was.
  • God promised Hagar a future for her son.

Hagar named God.

“You are El Roi, for I have now seen the One who sees me.” (Genesis 16:13-14) Inspired by her personal encounter with God and her own experience of being marginalized, Hagar teaches others about God’s perception. Perhaps this was comforting to her, because she knew God was aware of all things done to her hidden from the sight of others. As Jesus confirmed thousands of years later, “God who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. (Matthew 6:4)”

Because Hagar knew God saw her and promised her son’s future was secure, Hagar had the courage to return to her unfortunate situation. Once at home, she instructs Abraham to name their son Ishmael, and her extraordinary talk with God was immortalized as a place-name in the ancient world. Beer Lahai Roi: the well of the Living One who sees me.

Hagar’s story continues.

Gender bending in Proverbs 5: A warning for daughters

Gender bending in Proverbs 5: A warning for daughters

Proverbs 5 was written to warn a son about the dangers of an adulterous woman. Daughters needed no warnings about topics like this in the ancient world because their autonomy was determined by the men in their family. I suppose they might be warned away from becoming an adulterous woman, but I bet this chapter worked double-duty on that account.

As I read through the chapter this morning, I wondered if our  modern daughters, who are now self-determining, could benefit from a contrasted warning? How many women have been trapped in abusive relationships because they were never given warning signs? Let us consider how to prepare our children to resist the allure of evil men (and women) by educating them that such evil, like abusive relationships, exist. Teach them how to spot one and how to resist.

I changed a few words in bold, but the passage is from NIV. Proverbs 5:

My daughter, pay attention to my wisdom,
    turn your ear to my words of insight,
that you may maintain discretion
    and your lips may preserve knowledge.
For the lips of the abusive man drip honey,
    and his speech is smoother than oil;
but in the end he is bitter as gall,
    sharp as a double-edged sword.
His feet go down to death;
    his steps lead straight to the grave.
He gives no thought to the way of life;
    his paths wander aimlessly, but he does not know it.

Now then, my daughters, listen to me;
    do not turn aside from what I say.
Keep to a path far from him,
    do not go near the door of his house,
lest you lose your honor to others
    and your dignity to one who is cruel,
10 lest strangers feast on your wealth
    and your toil enrich the house of another.
11 At the end of your life you will groan,
    when your flesh and body are spent.

Women in the Text: Sarah’s Shame

Women in the Text: Sarah’s Shame

Mother Sarah had many sons. And I am one of them. And so are you. So let’s just praise the Lord! 

Sarah birthed a baby at the age of 90 after being barren her entire life. It was no accident, but the miraculous plan of God, who brings honor to the shamed.

If you have ever struggled with infertility or walked alongside of someone who has, I’m sure you understand the enormity of Sarah’s decades of struggle as a barren woman. In an ancient setting, she not only dealt with her personal desire for children, but also with the community’s judgement on her as a barren wife. The ancient world blamed the woman for marriages with no children. Also, the woman herself carried the guilt of impotence.  I wonder if Sarah felt the reproach and shame intensify with each new promise of God to her husband? We know her story in entirety, but she made her decisions with limited information, and as each of God’s promises were revealed, she must have felt the stress of her shame increase.

Father Abraham

Imagine her humiliation as Abraham told her about God’s initial promise to him to make him a great nation (Genesis 12:2). A great nation requires a child. She was unable to bear a child. I wonder if she felt she had no part in God’s plan? Did she feel in the way? Useless?

Perhaps she and Abraham speculated together the role Eliezer, Abraham’s right hand man, would play as heir to Abraham’s legacy. Abraham could adopt him! He could be a surrogate son! No. God clarified the first promise. Abraham’s own son would inherit (Genesis 15:4). Sarah must have felt confused again as she contemplated her exclusion from the plan. What was in this for her? Was God mocking her humiliation by exaggerating the hope of her husband? Count the stars, indeed. She had counted. Cycle after monthly cycle until her flows stopped. Her dishonor increased with every fertile promise God made to Abraham.

A Surrogate

The scenario of using a surrogate mother must have been in Sarah’s mind for years, but it wasn’t until God promised a son (Genesis 15:4) to Abraham that she felt the pressure to act. Many Bible expositors like to speculate she suggested Hagar, her personal servant, because she was impatient or because she doubted God, but I firmly believe she did it out of shame. I think Sarah thought that she was the problem. Her old and dried up body was a handicap to God’s great promises. Sarah’s suggestion of Hagar was not a second-rate plan. It was not a work-around to help God out. It was a heart-breaking act of desperation by a woman who was mortified. It was Sarah’s attempt to regain some honor by getting her broken body out of the way.

It was also legal.

In today’s world of liberation and social justice, we call what Sarah did to Hagar-sex trafficking. But in ancient terms, it was an acceptable legal transaction. The Code of Hammurabi gives us some insight into the everyday ethics that determined family life in the era of the Patriarchs. An infertile woman in that ancient time was vulnerable to divorce and a  refund (Law # 138). The husband could also choose to take a second wife, with the first wife claiming rank (Law #145). But, if the infertile wife did not wish to live with a harem of wives, she could offer her handmaid to her husband. If a child was born as a result, it was against the law (or custom) for the husband to remarry. Read for yourself:

144. If a man take a wife and this woman give her husband a maid-servant, and she bear him children, but this man wishes to take another wife, this shall not be permitted to him; he shall not take a second wife.

http://www.sacred-texts.com/ane/ham/ham06.htm

Acting in accordance with the customs of her time, Sarah to Abraham: “The Lord has kept me from having children. Go, sleep with my slave; perhaps I can build a family through her. (Genesis 16:2) ” Sarah gives Hagar to Abraham, not as wife or concubine but as a womb. If Hagar conceived and bore a child, Sarah’s position as the sole wife of Abraham was secure, and she would have a child to raise as her own. Sarah’s disgrace would be lifted.

But it didn’t work out that way, did it?

More dishonor

Hagar, belly growing with Abraham’s child, violates the social customs of the day by flouting a status that did not belong to her. She condemned Sarah, her master. Genesis 16:4 says, “her mistress was dishonorable in her eyes.” It is hard to understand the vulgarity of Hagar’s behavior in today’s society of social equality and respect earned through merit. Hagar was assaulting the positional honor of Sarah, “a grave cultural faux pas on Hagar’s part” writes Marvin Newell, author of   Crossing Cultures in Scriptures: Biblical Principles For Mission Practice. “Sarah was rightfully offended, even dishonored, by her servant Hagar. Hagar’s attacks were a direct assault on her worth, value and personhood in the eyes of the community. Her position and her reputation were at stake. If she permitted Hagar to persist in her actions, her own worth of belonging would be compromised—even to the extent of a possible disconnect with her husband, Abraham. Hagar put Sarah in quite a vulnerable position.” (http://honorshame.com/sarah-hagar-a-struggle-for-honor/)

Not only did Hagar transgress the cultural values of honor and shame, her actions required a legal response. Consider Hammurabi once more:

146. If a man take a wife and she give this man a maid-servant as wife and she bear him children, and then this maid assume equality with the wife: because she has borne him children her master shall not sell her for money, but he may keep her as a slave, reckoning her among the maid-servants.

http://www.sacred-texts.com/ane/ham/ham06.htm

Sarah had a case not only against Hagar, but against Abraham who was allowing Hagar to dishonor his wife. “May the wrong done to me be on you!” Sarah declares (Genesis 16:5). She calls on the Lord as witness that she had been wronged. Abraham agrees. “She is your servant. Do whatever you wish with her,” he says. 

Sarah punishes Hagar harshly to regain the honor she lost through Hagar’s abuse. In this ancient setting, Sarah’s reprisal was just punishment intended to re-establish the household hierarchy. Sarah was “chief.” Hagar, though carrying an heir, was still a slave.

Abraham had his son. But what about Sarah?

Sarah is honored-finally.

Thirteen years later, God reveals that the promise of family, home and royal lineage was not just for Abraham, but for Sarah as well. What a wait?! Sarah was not in the way of God’s plan. She was not incidental. The shame she bore in the eyes of the community for almost a century was about to become her greatest honor. She was chosen -old, infertile and cynical- to birth the promised son.

In the cardinal chapter of Judaism (Genesis 17), God ultimately completes the Great Promise and seals it with an ancient male ritual signifying fertility: circumcision. It is easy to stop at this significant detail cut into the male flesh of Abraham’s family and overlook the distinction given to Sarah – and to the women of her house. (Paul, God bless him, saw it! Galatians 4)

  • God adds a vowel to both names, changing husband and wife into the people of God. (Read more.)
  • God promises to bless her.
  • She will bear a son.
  • She will birth a royal nation.
  • Her offspring is the miracle son of promise.

Who mothers is equally as important as who fathers.

The ancient stories of the Hebrew Scriptures are male-dominated. I believe this androcentrism is a result of the way the world works, not the way God works. Woman has always been a pivotal part of God’s plan. Sarah’s faith in submissive action continued the war against the age-old enemy that her mother Eve began in the garden. Eve’s, and now Sarah’s descendants will defeat the serpent with whom she is at war. The promised one is the seed of Woman.

VIDEO Theology Bits: Circumcision

VIDEO Theology Bits: Circumcision

What’s been mulling around in my head lately? Circumcision. Why did God put foreskins on if they were meant to come off? What about women? Are women excluded from something because they aren’t included in the cutting of parts? How does this effect Christians? I have some answers, but I’m not really satisfied with them. Do you have anything to add?

(Posting a video was a huge accomplishment for me. I’ve been wanting to start posting short videos for a while, but am fighting vanity and fear of getting information wrong. That’s why I love writing. I can edit, and edit to my heart’s content. I probably sound and look ridiculous, but oh well. I need more humility.)

Sources:

Rochel Holzkenner: Why Women Don’t Need Circumcision

Pini Dunner: Why Circumcision Is an Essential Part of Jewish identity

Note after the fact: Found a book written on this topic. Ordered it. Will let you know how my thoughts progress!