Genesis 21:10 | Bad Behavior

The influence of money can make seemingly otherwise normal and nice people lose their minds. Atlanta recently made the news when an armored truck with the back doors open lost more than one hundred thousand dollars fluttering away onto the interstate like a scene from a Hollywood movie. I have driven that stretch of interstate. I can’t imagine stopping or getting out of my car on that busy section of road but the amount of cash freely blowing around and pilling up on the shoulder would make even the most passive person do something rash. People stopped to take what was not theirs with the intent to keep not return. I heard many commentators speak the childish refrain “finders’ keepers” and many more agreeing.

When it comes to an inheritance from a rich relative people can be even less rational. The desire to control an inheritance from the person passing away to the those who are waiting for a windfall is also something Hollywood loves to tell stories about. One of my personal favorites is Richard Pryor in a movie called Brewster’s Millions. Brewster is an unaccomplished average guy who happens to be the only remaining relative of some multi-millionaire. The multi-millionaire leaves instructions that Brewster will inherit 30 million with the catch that he must spend every dime in 30 days and have no assets to show for it. If he succeeds then Brewster will inherit the full fortune of 300 million. The premise is that Brewster will learn to appreciate the fortune he is about to inherit. All kinds of bad behavior and bad people then set up the plot in the fight to control the fortune.

We see an inheritance cause issues for Abraham in Genesis and it is a plot that shows even those God chooses to use are still sinners and people like the rest of humanity. Abraham is a wealthy man who commands a household that is strong and wealthy enough to compete with the surrounding kings and kingdoms. Yet Abraham has a problem. He does not have any children with his wife Sarah. This means that there is a line of people who are plotting and trying to determine how they might inherit all of this wealth and power one day. The person most likely in line to take over would be Abraham’s son Ishmael who was born to Sarah’s servant. (Yes, it is messed up and yes it was Sarah’s idea to help Abraham have an heir). Then something happens for the 100-year-old Abraham. Sarah becomes pregnant and has a son in her old age. This son now would be the true blood heir to the promise of God and to the kingdom Abraham has built.

After giving birth to this son Sarah asks something of Abraham that would not be acceptable in the polite society of today.

10 and she said to Abraham, “Get rid of that slave woman and her son, for that woman’s son will never share in the inheritance with my son Isaac.” Genesis 21:10 ESV

Sarah has a problem. Abraham has two sons and one of them is not hers. There will be a future competition. There will be bad blood between these two especially since the older son is not hers all because of money and power. She must have seen a glimpse of the future and moved to consolidate power.

Before I go any further, I need speak to the elephant in the room. The matriarch of the Jewish and Christian faiths owned slaves? Yes, is the answer and yes the Bible allows slavery to have a place even though slavery is a corrosive evil. Slavery is a loaded word in contemporary culture and I have written in the past on exactly how and by what means God permitted slavery in a sin filled world. Slavery in the context of Abraham is not the same racist slavery one immediately imagines from America’s own sinful past. My previous post on this topic is found here.

What strikes me in this scripture is a picture of Sarah realizing that these two sons will compete for the promise of God and that she wanted to give her son the best possible chance. Her motivation is purely selfish and displays a major character flaw in her personality. Every person who has ever lived has at least one sinful flaw or hang up that haunts them and weighs on their soul. Some are more obvious then others but God sees them all.

9 What shall we conclude then? Do we have any advantage? Not at all! For we have already made the charge that Jews and Gentiles alike are all under the power of sin. 10 As it is written: “There is no one righteous, not even one; 11 there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. Romans 3:9-10 ESV

When Paul tells the church in Rome that they are not any better than the godless around them it is a shock to the reader. Everyone including Abraham and Sarah are imperfect sinful people who sometimes fail to live up to their own standards and could never live up to God’s standards.

Think of the godliest person you know. Would they have pulled over to pick up cash blowing around on the side of the road? Maybe. Do you think they would have though about it? Absolutely. I am a sinner. Anyone reading this is a sinner. Never be shocked by bad behavior because it is our nature. It is only the restraint of God, earthly law and order, and a lack of opportunity that prevents people from treating others in hateful ways all the time. And yes, taking that money from the owner of the armored car is hateful toward that owner. Sarah feared for her child and set a plan in motion to force out Abraham’s other son. Can we really blame her for these thoughts? Have we not wished ill on others also?

36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” 37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” Matthew 22:36-40 ESV

We know what is right but we will never faithfully do what is right every time. Some will rush to do wrong and revel in it at any chance. God knows we are sinners. He knew Sarah’s heart and still blessed her with a son. God knows we can’t live to his perfect standards and obey the two greatest commandments. So, he did something about it.

15 Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. 16 But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life. 1 Timothy 1:15-16 ESV

Paul the author of most of the New Testament admits he is the worst of sinners. Sarah was a sinner. The author of this post is a sinner. You dear reader are a sinner. When compared to God we are not righteous. That is why I need Jesus. That is why Paul needs Jesus. That is why Sarah needs Jesus. That is why you dear reader need Jesus. Because he came to save those who are sinners and reconcile them to God. God shows his mercy to sinners through Christ. If you have not already done so thank Jesus, who is God in the flesh, and thank him. Give him the sin and ask him for forgiveness. He is quick to save those who recognize their sin.

The Bible Allows Slavery?

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Slavery is not a new condition and it is not just a historical institution. Current estimates are that 30 to more than 40 million people are enslaved today worldwide. In America sex slavery is thriving and active. So what does the Bible say about slavery? Obviously God is against slavery right? Well maybe not and that is a criticism that Atheist groups level at the Bible by citing verses like these…

22 Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything you do. Colossians 3:22 NLT

44 “However, you may purchase male and female slaves from among the nations around you. Leviticus 25:44 NLT

So is slavery acceptable to God? Can Christians participate in such activity? The short answer is absolutely “no” slavery is not acceptable. How can I unequivocally say that for the contemporary reader that slavery is not acceptable but then find in the Bible ground rules permitting this institution?

In order to answer that question there is something that needs to be untangled to resolve the conflict. That primary entanglement is racism and abuse. Slavery as most commonly understood in the North American context was practiced based on racism that only black people could be enslaved. People of color were erroneously viewed as less human than their white owners. This form of slavery rooted in racism is evil, wrong, and in no way ever condoned in the Biblical narrative or acceptable to the character of God. Racism is wrong because there is only one race, all peoples are directly descendant from Adam and Eve, and all people are made in the image of God. Treating anyone regardless of status as less than fully made in the image of God is unbiblical and pure evil.

27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. Genesis 1:27 ESV

The declaration of independence states the Biblical view perfectly… “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights” All people are equal because they are created in the image of God himself. Sex slavery of modern times and racist slavery of the not so distant past are evil not because of slavery (although slavery as a practice quickly leads to this path) but because they demean and degrade the equality of humanity. The equality that is true is that all people regardless circumstance, wealth, or privilege are equal before God since all people are created in His image.

Not all slavery historically had anything to do with racism it had to do with power, commerce, and imperialism. When North America was first discovered slavery became big business because there was a shortage of workers. People would be sold or kidnapped to provide that workforce. Slavery or indentured servitude was the price of getting to the new country. Only later on did the practice migrate to the even more evil racist version that America still holds the scars of its practice. Robert Louis Stevenson based one of his adventure novels on kidnapping for slavery of a non-person of color. The story starts out with a young man from a wealthy home in England being sold unknowingly by his greedy uncle to a life of slavery in North America.

“And so he ran on, until it came in on me what he meant by twenty-pounders where those unhappy criminals who were sent over-seas to slavery in North America, or the still more unhappy innocents who were kidnapped or trepanned (as the word went) for private interest or vengeance.” (Stevenson, 43)

So how does the practice of slavery in Biblical days differ from the modern versions that are not acceptable? The answer to this resides in the fact that not all people are equal in opportunity. All men are equal in rights before God but the Bible does not proclaim a Gospel of earthly “fairness” and equal prosperity. (Fairness and Justice are not the same in this case. Goes does expect the privileged to be just to those without privilege) Paul highlights this in that verse Atheist love to quote but I will add the full context this time.

22 Bondservants, obey in everything those who are your earthly masters, not by way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord. 23 Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, 24 knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ. 25 For the wrongdoer will be paid back for the wrong he has done, and there is no partiality. Colossians 3:22-25 ESV

Whatever lot in life one has that person is to live that life with sincerity working for God as Paul says “serving the Lord Christ” not an earthly master. Even if the earthy master is evil or unjust. Paul reminds us that God will judge those who have been unjust toward their fellow humans. In Paul’s day when this letter was written slavery was a common institution based on class and circumstance. Some people were slaves, some were free, and some were citizens. The lot often fell based on the family one was born into. Paul was a citizen of Rome because of this family circumstance. Paul is telling the Church that none of these earthy circumstances have any weight in the body of Christ. Those who are saved now work and serve God and God alone no matter the current circumstances.

10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. 11 Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all. Colossians 3:10-11 ESV

To the modern reader I would challenge to not label oneself as free, slave, gay, rich, poor, black, white, privileged, transgendered, or abused. If you are in Christ then no modifier is needed. Serve Christ and Christ alone. Do not add any other label or identity to the name you have been given as a child of God.

In the Old Testament there are rules of governance on what is permissible for the Nation State of Israel. Those rules are not applicable to contemporary society because the Nation state of the Old Testament Israel does not exist. (I have written on this in the past)  However if one reads those laws in Exodus and Leviticus within context of that society then always the slave was to be treated as a fellow human with natural rights before God. A need for this kind of slavery may have existed at that time of tribal governance however it is not needed or acceptable in the contemporary world of today. The modern Christian has no reason to promote, encourage, or in any way participate in this institution. We also demand that the Atheist apply legitimate context to the Biblical text they want to blindly skewer Christians with.

Christ came and died for all men of any earthly status. Regardless of standing in society all who are saved through Christ are adopted as sons of the one true King and will live with the inheritance of that Kingdom in the age to come. Therefore treat your neighbors justly and with respect regardless of their current situation.

For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” Romans 8:15 ESV

* Stevenson, Robert Lewis. Kidnapped. USA, Scribner, 1982.