Liars’ club

A cool breeze swept through the camp, causing the tent walls to clap against their ropes. Job wanted to stand and receive some of the sudden movement of air over his burning body, but he couldn’t summon the energy. Instead, he remained flat on his back and gazed into the light-speckled sky, away from the glow and heat and ungodly company of the firepit.

His eyes were drawn at first to the brilliant cluster of Pleiades, but, perhaps because in life he preferred the open spaces of a more sparse community, his eyes rested on the unbounded orbs in Orion’s Belt.

“You’re all liars,” he said, unconcerned whether they heard him. “You’re worthless physicians. Take a lesson from the stars, and choose silence as your greatest wisdom. By accusing me of sin, you’ve become false witnesses of God’s character. He doesn’t just afflict the wicked, as you say, or you’re also calling me a hypocrite. What do you suppose God will do to you for twisting the nature of his way? He doesn’t need you to lie for him.

“Now, let me pray in peace. Even if he kills me, he’s going to hear what I have to say.”

Job took in a deep breath, and the sores over his torso ripped open like the fissures of an old wine skin. He roared in agony.

“God,” he groaned, “two things I pray. Don’t abandon me, and don’t terrorize me.

“What have I done to offend you? Help me understand. Point out my sin so that I may turn away from it. Why instead do you turn away from me? Do you also chase a leaf in the wind only to chastise it for doing so?

“You have bound my hands and feet, and like a rotting tree, I wither away.”

Inspiration: Job 13

Ephraim’s blessing

Israel was getting old, so he called for Joseph. Placing his son’s hand underneath his own thigh, he said, “Testify now, that you’ll not bury me here in Egypt. Lie me down with my ancestors. You know the place.”

Joseph vowed to carry out his father’s desire. Realizing time was short, Joseph left Goshen and returned with his two sons. He wanted them to meet the man of God before he passed from the earth.

“Joseph has returned,” a servant told Israel, leading Joseph and his sons into the tent. “He has brought his sons with him.”

Israel summoned energy enough to sit up at the side of his bed. He squinted his eyes and remembered long ago when his own father was almost blind and couldn’t discern who stood before him.

“God showed Himself to me at Luz in Canaan,” Israel intonated, his voice weak and trembling. “God blessed me and said, ‘I’m making nations from you, and they will inherit this land forever.’ For this reason, and because my beloved Rachel died in childbirth, your sons will be my sons, just as Reuben and Simeon are my sons. Their children will be yours, but as far as the inheritance of Ephraim and Manasseh, they will be equal to Reuben and Simeon.”

Israel rubbed his eyes and blinked a few times. “Come closer. Bring your sons near to me so I may bless them.”

Joseph led his sons to his father’s bedside, and Israel gathered them up, one on each knee. He embraced them affectionately and kissed them.

“I didn’t expect to see you ever again,” he said to his son, “and yet God has allowed me to see your sons as well.”

Joseph knelt low and bowed his head to the earth, then removed his sons from their grandfather’s lap. He positioned Ephraim to stand at Israel’s left side and Manasseh to stand at his right.

Israel lifted his right hand and put it on Ephraim’s head, the younger brother. Then, crossing his arms, he placed his left hand upon Manasseh, the firstborn. Closing his eyes, he said, “God, You walked with Abraham and Isaac, You’ve been–”

Joseph interrupted. “This one is my firstborn,” he said, taking his father’s hand from Ephraim and placing it onto Manasseh’s head.

Israel put his right hand back onto Ephraim’s head. “I know, son. Manasseh will also become a great nation. But Ephraim will be greater still. His family tree will become nations upon nations.” Then he added, “Your people will invoke blessings by saying, ‘May God make you like Ephraim and Manasseh.’”

Joseph stepped back and let his father continue.

Isaac closed his eyes again. “God of Abraham and Isaac, You have been my shepherd all the days of my life, and Your angels have guarded me against injury. Bless these young men. Preserve my name and my family’s name through them, and let them grow into a mighty family on earth.”

The boys returned to their father’s side, and Joseph bowed once again.

“I’m dying,” Israel said, “but God is with you, and he’ll return you to the land of your fathers. I now grant you an extra portion beyond your inheritance, the spoils of my earthly conquests.”

Inspiration: Genesis 48 

Brothers’ revelation

Zaphenath couldn’t keep his secret any longer. He ordered everyone but the brothers to exit the hall. The servants and officers and the steward left the mighty lord with the eleven men who had come from Canaan.

“I am your brother, Joseph,” he said, and tears streamed from his face.

Joseph cried so loudly that the household of Pharaoh heard it. The brothers were dumbstruck.

After he composed himself, he asked, “Is Father still alive?”

The brothers could say nothing. They just stared in disbelief at the man they had betrayed so many years ago. They fell on their faces and bowed to him.

“Come close,” Joseph said, his arms outstretched to receive them.

The brothers stood and approached their brother.

“I am Joseph, the brother you sold to traders from Midian. But don’t beat yourselves up about it. God did this. The famine that has ravaged the land will last another five years. I’m here to keep you alive because you’re a part of God’s greatest promise.”

The brothers stood in awe of their brother, the high lord and ruler of all the land, unsure of what his words meant.

“Now, go to my father and tell him his son is alive and in a position of great power. Bring him, all of his house, herds, and possessions to me. You’ll settle in Goshen nearby, the lushest in all the land. I’ll provide for you during these lean years, and you’ll prosper.”

Joseph embraced his brother Benjamin and wept. He kissed every brother, his tears drenching each face.

When word reached Pharaoh that his governor’s brothers were with him, he smiled. “Have your brothers take our wagons with them to bring back their wives and children,” he instructed Joseph. “Tell them not to bother collecting their possessions, because they’ll have the best of all Egypt when they settle here.”

Inspiration: Genesis 45

Peace train

When Jacob had moved to Haran twenty years earlier, Esau had also moved away from his father’s house. He had taken his wives, children, livestock, and possessions, and settled in the hill country of Seir. Now, as Jacob and his entourage drew closer to his brother, he decided to dispatch couriers ahead of them to seek peace with Esau.

When Jacob’s messengers arrived, they said to Esau, “Your servant Jacob has been living with your Uncle Laban until recently. He now has oxen, donkeys, sheep, and slaves, and he sent us in hopes that you’ll receive him on friendly terms.”

“Tell Jacob,” Esau answered, “that I’m coming to meet him with an army of four hundred.”

When they returned and told Jacob what Esau had said, Jacob was terrified. He split his camp into two companies and divided his livestock equally so that half of his estate could still survive the wrath of Esau.

Then he prayed. “O God, O Master, you told me to go back home, and you said you’d be with me. I went to Haran with a shepherd’s crook and a father’s blessing, and now I’m a wealthy man. I’m not worthy of your love and faithfulness, but I ask that you save my family and me from my brother’s anger. You said you’d make my offspring like the countless sands of the shore.”

Jacob continued to pray into the night until he fell asleep. The next morning, he brought out two hundred female goats and twenty male goats, gave them to a servant and said, “Deliver these goats to my brother and say, ‘These are a peace offering from your servant Jacob, and he is coming behind us.’”

Then he took two hundred ewes and twenty rams from his flock. He gave them to another servant and told him the same thing he told the first servant, adding, “Keep space between you and my servant ahead of you.”

Next, he took thirty milking camels and their young, forty cows and ten bulls, twenty female donkeys, and ten male donkeys. Again he gave each species of animal to a servant and had him form the next drove in a long line of gifts for his brother. “Tell him your servant Jacob comes behind us,” he told each one, “but keep a distance between the drove ahead of you.”

Jacob hoped that by the time he met his brother Esau, his anger would have subsided. In the meantime, he waited for each drove to take its turn toward Esau, and he continued to sleep unsettled for another night.

Inspiration: Genesis 32, 36

Jacob’s ladder

Jacob traveled from Beersheba toward Haran, and as evening approached one night, he settled in a clearing near the city of Luz. Using a stone for a pillow, he slept like a rock.

He dreamed that a ladder rose up from the ground and into the sky, and angels moved up and down its rungs. God stood next to him and said, “I’m the God of Abraham and Isaac. This land will be yours, and your descendants will spread to the north, south, east, and west, like dust on the wind. Every family on earth will be blessed by you and your descendants. I’m with you wherever you go and won’t leave you until I’ve fully paved the way of my promise, bringing you back to this land.”

Jacob woke suddenly, saying, “God is here, and I didn’t even know it.” Then, a surge of fear came over him. “I’m in awe here in God’s house, facing heaven’s gate itself.”

In the morning, Jacob got up early, fashioned a marker from the stone he had slept on, and he poured wine and oil on it. He named that place “Bethel,” House of God.

“If God stays with me, feeds and clothes me, and protects me against my angry brother until I return to my father’s house,” he said, raising his hands to the heavens, “then God will be my Master, this stone will mark the place of his residence, and I will give back to him one-tenth of all I own.”

Inspiration: Genesis 28

Selecting wives

Esau hated Jacob for the wholesale robbery of their father’s blessing, and he was often heard mumbling his plan of revenge.

“After Father dies and I’ve mourned his death, I’ll snuff out that thief in the night and take back what’s mine by right.”

Rebekah heard Esau’s venomous pronouncements, so she called for Jacob. “Run to your uncle Laban’s house in Haran,” she said, “and stay there until Esau’s anger has subsided. When your offense is no more than a distant memory, I’ll send a messenger for you. Don’t make me mourn the loss of my husband and my beloved son at the same time.”

Then Rebekah insisted that Isaac have a heart to heart with Jacob about a wife.

“These Hittite women make me want to puke,” she complained. “If Jacob marries one, I see no reason to live.”

So Isaac sat his younger son down and said, “Look, don’t marry a Canaanite. Instead, go to Grandpa Bethuel’s house and find a wife among Laban’s daughters. God’ll give you the family blessing, numberless descendants and all the real estate you could ever want.”

After hearing from both of his parents, and seeing they were in agreement for once, Jacob left for Haran to find his uncle, Laban.

In the meantime, after having overheard the part of the conversation about not marrying a Canaanite, and realizing his wives disgraced his parents, Esau went to visit his uncle, Ishmael. While there, he took Ishmael’s daughter Mahalath, also called Basemath, as a wife in addition to his foreign wives, Judith, Adah, and Oholibamah.

Inspiration: Genesis 27-28

Twice bitten

No sooner had Isaac finished blessing his son Jacob, that Esau returned from hunting game for his father. Jacob slipped out the back way while his older brother prepared a hearty meal of roasted ibex and bread, just the way his father liked it.

Bringing the hot dish to his father’s side table, Esau said, “Sit up, Father, and eat. Afterward, you can give me your blessing.”

Isaac, already sitting up, suddenly had a perplexed look on his face. “Who are you?” he asked.

I’m your firstborn, Esau.”

Isaac began to shake. “To whom did I just give my blessing?” he asked. “To whom offered me a meal of meat, fresh from the field? Who watched me as I ate every bite?”

Isaac bowed his head and sighed. His son stood in confusion. “Whoever he was, he’ll be blessed indeed.”

Esau grabbed his father’s lapel violently and wailed, “Bless me too, Father!”

Isaac’s head remained bowed, unflinching. His words were calm and evenly paced. “Your brother deceived me and has taken away your blessing.”

Esau slowly released his grip from his father’s bedclothes. “My brother is aptly named ‘Jacob’… Supplanter.” Esau grimaced and backed away from the bed. “Twice he has nipped at my heel, taking what is mine. First, my birthright, and now my blessing.”

A lamp flickered in the corner of the room, and Esau could see that his father was just as distressed by Jacob’s betrayal as he was. For a few minutes, neither said a word.

Then Esau asked, “Have you not reserved any blessing for your other son?”

Isaac lifted his head, his eyes in a dead stare at whoever was facing him. “I’ve already given Jacob lordship over you, and all his brothers will be his servants. My granaries, herds, flocks, and vineyard are now his. There’s nothing left.”

“Are you telling me you can only bless one of us?” Esau asked. “Bless me, too!” he said. “Please, Father!” Then Esau began to cry.

Isaac raised a hand and said, “Your existence will be desolate and barren. You’ll live in perpetual conflict, a servant to Jacob. But you’ll eventually break free, destroying the bonds that hold you to your brother.”

Esau left his father and wandered into the dark night.

Inspiration: Genesis 27

Esau’s birthright

Isaac prayed for his wife Rebekah, and she conceived twins. The pregnancy was excruciatingly painful, and in agony, she begged, “If it’s going to be this way, I’d rather die.”

“Two nations grow inside of you,” God told her. “Enemies. The older will be stronger, but he will serve the younger.

Isaac was sixty years old when his sons were born. The first came out with red hair all over his body, so they named him “Esau,” Rough. He was also nicknamed “Edom,” Red. His twin grabbed Esau by the heel during birth, so they named him “Jacob,” He Supplants.

As they developed into young men, Esau became a rugged outdoorsman while Jacob was gentle and domestic. Isaac favored Esau, because they both relished a good hunt. Rebekah favored Jacob.

One day, Jacob was busy cooking stew on the hearth when Esau came in, famished from hunting in the wilds of Beerlahairoi.

“Give me some of that stew!” Esau said, throwing his bow and quiver on the table.

Jacob answered, “Give me your birthright.”

Esau seemed annoyed. “I’m dying of hunger,” he said. “What good is a birthright to a dead man?”

“Promise me,” Jacob said.

“I promise,” Esau grunted. Then he traded his birthright for bread and lentils.

After a swig of wine, he left the tent in a huff. “The price of that soup was inflated.” From that moment on, Esau loathed his birthright.

Inspiration: Genesis 25

Suitable bride

God blessed Abraham and everything he touched, but as he approached death in his old age, something weighed heavily on his mind.

He called for his most trusted servant and said, “Promise me in the presence of God that you’ll not choose a wife for my son here in Canaan. Instead, find her from among my kinsmen in my country.”

“What if she refuses to come back with me,” the servant said. “Will I have to bring Isaac to her?”

“No,” Abraham said. “It’s important he never goes back to my old country. God himself led me out of my father’s house, out from my birthplace, and he promised that the land of Canaan would belong to my family.”

He continued, “An angel from God will prepare the way for you and make your mission a success. If the maiden isn’t willing to come back with you, I release you from your promise. Whatever happens, don’t take my son back to my old country.”

Abraham’s servant promised to do what his master said. He prepared ten camels, packed up an assortment of excellent gifts from his master’s store, and set out for the city of Nahor.

As evening approached, Abraham’s servant had the camels kneel by a well on the outskirts of town. “O God of Abraham,” he said, “give me success today and bestow favor upon my master. As the daughters of the city come to draw water, I’ll say, ‘Please offer me a drink from your vessel.’ If one says, ‘Have a drink, and I’ll give your camels a drink, too,’ let her be the appointed one for Isaac.”

Before he had finished praying, Rebekah, granddaughter of Abraham’s brother, Nahor, approached with a water pot mounted on her shoulder. She was a beautiful virgin.

After she filled her pot, the servant said, “Please let me take a sip from your vessel.”

“Drink, master,” she replied and lowered the pot for him to drink. Then she said, “I’ll water your camels as well.” She made quick work of the watering troughs, pouring water into each for the camels.

The servant stood in stunned silence, assessing whether or not God had so quickly made way for the promise he had made to his master.

Inspiration: Genesis 24

God provides

One day, God dealt Abraham an untenable command. “Take Isaac, whom you love, and offer him as a human sacrifice on a mountain I’ll show you in Moriah.”

Abraham got up early from a restless night’s sleep and woke his son. He saddled a donkey and cut up some wood for a burnt offering. Taking a couple of servants with him, Abraham and his son headed north for Moriah. After three days of travel, he looked out and saw the place God had designated for the altar.

“Stay here with the donkey and supplies,” Abraham told his servants. “Isaac and I will go up, worship, and then return.” Abraham gave the wood to his son, while he carried the lighted firepot and the knife. They walked together up the steep hill to the place of worship.

“Father,” Isaac called out as they walked along. “We have fire and wood, but where is the lamb for our offering?”

“God himself will bring the lamb, son,” Abraham said, a lump welling in his throat. They continued to walk on together. “God always provides for the faithful.”

When they reached the right spot, Abraham built an altar and arranged the wood accordingly. Next, he bound his son and lifted him up onto the platform.

Abraham brought the sharp knife close to the boy’s throat for a quick, clean cut, and with tears searing his face, an angel from God called out from the sky. “Abraham!”

Abraham halted, the knife tremoring in his hand. “Here I am,” he ejaculated.

“Don’t harm the boy in any way,” he answered. “I know now that you fear God since you’ve withheld nothing you treasure.”

Abraham cut the cords that bound his son and wiped the tears from his bloodshot eyes. He looked up and spotted a ram, its horns tangled in a thicket. Taking the animal, he put it onto the woodpile in place of his son and offered it up as a sacrifice to God.

For the remainder of the time they worshiped on the mountain, and neither Abraham nor Isaac spoke. Amidst the smoke and silence, the angel called out. “God promises by his own name that because you’ve been obedient and not withheld your treasure from me, I will absolutely bless you and make your family as numerous as the stars in the sky. They will conquer their enemies, and by them, all nations will be blessed.”

Abraham and his beloved son returned to the servants who were camping below, unaware of the profound experience both men of God received. In the morning they got up and traveled down to Beersheba.

Abraham settled there, and word reached him that his brother Nahor became the father of eight sons, of whom, Bethuel became the father of a little girl named Rebekah.

Inspiration: Genesis 22