Advent Week 1: Hope; The Patriarchs (Old Testament)

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#1Joseph or Abraham (Fatherhood and responsibility)

Matthew 1:18 – 25

Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph , but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: “Look, the Virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means, “God is with us.” When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he name him Jesus.”

Genesis 15:1-21

After these things the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision, “Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield; you reward shall be very great.” But Abram said, “O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue to be childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” And Abram said, “You have given me no offspring, and so a slave born in my house is to be my heir.” But the word of the LORD came to him, “This man shall not be your heir; no one but your very own issue shall be your heir.” He brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your descendants be.” And he believed the LORD; and the LORD reckoned it to him as righteousness.

Abram (later known as Abraham) believed the Lord and was noted as a righteous man. This sounds great, but unfortunately the story takes a terrible turn for the worst.

Sarai (later to be known as Sarah) grows impatient in her desire to have a child to call her own. She pressures Abram into having a child with their African slave-girl named Hagar. It becomes disastrous for both Sarah and Hagar. Abram returns Hagar to Sarah’s ownership and from then on Sarai “dealt harshly with her”.  The story can be read at Genesis 16: 1- 16.

Abram doesn’t respond to fatherhood in the same manner as Joseph. Despite knowing that his wife is not pregnant with his own child, Joseph defies the religious rules and instead follows the instructions of the Lord and takes Mary as his wife. Joseph takes in Jesus as if this son was his very own flesh and blood. These are the actions of a righteous man.

Abram on the other hand does not act with righteousness. There isn’t even a hint of care for his pregnant concubine wife and his unborn child. When faced with public embarrassment and marital pressure, Abram chooses to put the life of his now former wife into the hands of his angry wife and washes his hands of his responsibilities to his concubine wife and unborn child. Hagar is treated so badly that she chooses to escape into the wilderness and possibly face death.

God is powerful and He is good. He takes the most unlikely persons and gives them amazing promises. Hagar is saved by the Lord as He tells her to return to her mistress as a slave. On the surface this sounds awful. As we read the story we want God to save her by guiding her out of the dessert to safety and freedom, but God doesn’t do that. Instead he sends her back to oppression and harm. For the longest time this part of the story always had me upset. It didn’t sound like something that a God who commands that his people practice justice and put an end to oppression would do. I later realized that in order to save Hagar and her unborn child He had to send back to her life of oppression and slavery; this was how Hagar was going to live and have her divine promise fulfilled.

Hagar receives this mixed message with praise and becomes the first woman in the bible to name God. “You are El-roi, for she said, “Have I really seen God and remained alive after seeing him? … Hagar bore Abram a son; and Abram named his son, whom Hagar bore, Ishmael.”  Hagar listened to the Lord and did as He had asked her to do and she was rewarded by the fulfillment of His promise to her.

QUESTION: After reading the stories of Joseph, and Sarai and Abram, do you consider yourself to be a person who responds like Joseph or like that of Abram and Sarai when faced with possibility or reality of public humiliation while waiting on God as he fulfills his promises to you?

QUESTION 2: How can we learn to face and deal with public humiliation that is caused by following God’s commands?

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