[靈修筆記] Reflections on Genesis 20 and Matthew 7

Hagar and Ishmael Banished by Abraham (1781 pa...
Hagar and Ishmael Banished by Abraham

1.

TNIV  Genesis 20:8 Early the next morning Abimelek summoned all his officials, and when he told them all that had happened, they were very much afraid. 9 Then Abimelek called Abraham in and said, « What have you done to us? How have I wronged you that you have brought such great guilt upon me and my kingdom? You have done things to me that should never be done.a » 10 And Abimelek asked Abraham, « What was your reason for doing this? » 11 Abraham replied, « I said to myself, ‘There is surely no fear of Goda in this place, and they will kill me because of my wife.’b 12 Besides, she really is my sister,a the daughter of my father though not of my mother; and she became my wife. 13 And when God had me wander from my father’s household,b I said to her, ‘This is how you can show your love to me: Everywhere we go, say of me, « He is my brother. » ‘  »

Contrary to what people commonly suppose, Abraham and Sarah’s marriage is a tough one, in spite that one is characterized by his wealth and the other one is known for her beauty.

The difficulty is both external and internal. Abraham and Sarah grew up in the same family.They are half brother and sister (Gen 20:12; cf. 11:29, 30), so they must have known each other pretty well and have been attracted to each other.But since they got together, they were called to move a lot like a nomad and had to live without the security provided by land. All they could rely on is God’s word.

The misfortune starts when the Bible says that « Sarai was barren and had no child » (Gen 11:30). Infertility could be the biggest shame an ancient woman could have next to immorality. We learn that Sarah was extremely beautiful- something she can take pride of, and she must have had a high self-esteem growing up like a princess of her clan. But barrenness then became like a speck of shame on the white cloth of her glorious life. Just pure barrenness is stressful enough for her.But it is likely and not hard to imagine that people gossip behind her, making things up such as that « infertility » could be an excuse to cover some of her deeper « unknown issues » and the fact that Abraham did not want to touch her .Her maidservants talked behind her and secretly looked down on her (cf. Gen 21:9).

Even though they were still together and loved each other, the marriage is like funambulism- walking on a tightrope, as later on it is evidenced in Abraham’s dubious actions.

Twice when Abraham wandered to a foreign land, he claimed that Sarah is his sister and let people of honor to take her as wife in exchange of his survival and prosperity. It must be doubly sad for Sarah (and might have deepened her mental trauma), since  it was exactly due to her childless status that people could reasonably think that she was available and that she and Abraham were not in a marital relationship. Her beauty in this case turned out to give her no advantage. Far from bringing her a sound and happy family (we could say it’s some women’s ultimate purpose in life), her good looking became a cause that corresponds to these foreign men’s lust and almost put her into disgrace; her amazing figure only remaining « utility » became a cause for her husband’s betrayal (for its alleged potential harm of sword against him)!

Suppose that it was not God, who during both of these times had intervened by warning the Pharoah and Abimelech to return Sarah to Abraham, their marriage would have been broken already. If it were so, there would have been no son and no promised nation that is called “the faithful », and the « cloud of witness » would have vanished in the first place before it can shine throughout the history.

Afterwards, Sarah gave her maidservant Hagar to Abraham, so through her Ishmael was born to succeed Abraham. But that was not God’s will, and it was not acted out of Sarah’s true kindness, either. So when the promised son Isaac finally came, Sarah became jealous and cannot bear seeing Hagar and Ishmael. Paul in Gal 4:29 says that Ishmael persecuted Isaac, but here we only see Sarah mistreating this mother and son and driving out from the household of Abraham.(But the Lord saved and raised them in the wilderness no matter what.)

What does this tell us? I think there are abundant messages to be heard by those who struggle in relationships. Neither Abraham nor Sarah is a perfect spouse, but they first made the right decision to obey God and entered His covenantal relationship. To be faithful to His own covenant, God has kept and held their feet throughout their weaknesses and failures.

2.
TNIV  Matthew 7:28 When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, 29 because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law.
After delivering the sermon on the mount, people were amazed not because of the content (locution) of the message, but at the authority with which Jesus spoke (illocution). He is not like the scribes at all (Mat 7:29). I suddenly can feel what this authority is like as I am also a speaker of God’s Word. I can clearly distinguish when I speak God’s word with authority and when I do not. That people can tell that Jesus speaks with authority is such a revelation for me as too often I have privileged locution over illocution. I was wrong just like the scribes. The scribes know that God’s Word so well, but their life is not spiritually connected with it, and as a result, people are not impressed with what they have to tell and this puts God’s word to disgrace. Recently I have listened online to different young men and old men speaking, and a particularly one young man has impressed me by his authenticity and integrity. Indeed, from a rhetoric perspective, he has a lot to work on, and his testimony lacks the kind of drama and climax that are worth retelling. But he IS a testimony. As far as I can tell, he was not afraid of how people think of his story. He did little to embellish it. Yet his tears just flowed out as his story flowed. Using the weeping voice, he kept speaking, totally irrespective of how that weeping and sneezing sound might annoy the audience. And it is in this voice and attitude that I sensed the illocutionary force of God’s Word.
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