God’s Role in Tragedy and Sorrow

One of the hardest things to grasp when reading the Bible are the times where God is shown as allowing bad things to happen or even sending trouble someone’s way. Many in our society today take great offense at these aspects of the Judeo-Christian God.

My daily reading in the Bible has recently taken me through 1 Samuel where it shares the stories of Saul and then later David becoming kings of Israel. Several times in this section there are statements that God has removed His Spirit from Saul and sent a harmful spirit instead to torment Saul.

For instance, 1 Samuel 16:14 reads:

Now the Spirit of the LORD departed from Saul, and a harmful spirit from the LORD tormented him. (1Sa 16:14 ESV)

Some translations use the words “an evil spirit from the LORD” instead.

Many ask how can a God be all good that allows or sends harmful or evil spirits to torment someone? If one takes 1 Samuel 16:14 without considering all that came prior to it and what follows afterward one can easily be perplexed at God’s action here. In other words, one must take into consideration the context of the action, not just the action itself.

Take a moment to look back at 1 Samuel 8:1-5.

The people of Israel ask Samuel, God’s prophet, to appoint for them a king so they can be like the nations around them. Did you catch the transition in their thinking? They no longer wanted God to rule over them. Instead, they preferred being ruled by a human king.

What was their reasoning for asking this? Initially they say it is because Samuel’s sons were taking bribes and perverting justice. If this was the reason why didn’t they simply ask for Samuel’s sons to be removed from their roles and request new appointees? The real reason comes at the end of their request. They wanted to emulate the nations around them by having a monarchy.

Did you catch that? They wanted to emulate who? The God of Israel had made a covenant with them to protect and lead them, demonstrating exactly this as He rescued them from Egypt and settled them in a land that wasn’t theirs. And now they want to emulate the nations around them instead of following the God who had brought them to this point in time!

What is Samuel’s response? (see 1 Samuel 8:6)

Samuel was not grieved simply because his sons had failed in their appointed role. A literal translation of the Hebrew in this verse is “the thing was evil in Samuel’s eyes”. Thus, he immediately took the people’s request for a king to the Lord.

What is the Lord’s response? (see 1 Samuel 8:7-9)

Unexpectedly, the Lord tells Samuel to grant the people’s request to put a king over them! But He also tells Samuel to explain how an earthly king will treat them.

Compare 1 Samuel 8:11-13 with Exodus 13:1-2.

An earthly king will “take your sons” and “your daughters”. God required that the firstborn be consecrated to the Lord. Both “kings” required a giving of people to themselves. The king will take both sons and daughters without any set limit. God only required the firstborn be consecrated to him. Consecration involves a setting apart and declaring someone or something sacred for the service of a deity.

Compare 1 Samuel 8:14-17 with Exodus 34:18-26

The earthly king will take the best of all fields, vineyards, and orchards. He will also take a 10th of all grain and grapes produced. Not just from the fields, vineyards, and orchards he claims for himself, but every crop. The earthly king will also take male and female servants, the best of the young men, donkeys, and flocks. Lastly, the earthly king will ultimately enslave the people.

God states again in Exodus 34:19 that all firstborn, whether human or animal, belong to Him. But verse 20 talks about how one redeems donkeys and firstborn sons with a sacrificial lamb. He appoints specific feasts, a work/rest cycle based on His own example in Genesis 1-2, and the first fruits of all produce that is harvested. He also promises how He will bless the nation and give them land if they abide by these regulations.

Which king is ultimately best for the Israelites? God or a human?

Why can God be more generous toward the Israelites than an earthly king?

Back to why God sent a spirit to torment Saul. Look at 1 Sam 16:14-23. In these verses we learn that David is called in to play harp music to soothe Saul when he is being spiritually troubled.

Look at 1 Samuel 16:11-13

Prior to David’s assignment as a musical therapist to King Saul, the Spirit of the Lord rushed upon David after Samuel anointed him as the next king of Israel. I find it fascinating that although the Lord leaves Saul personally in verse 14 he then places David who is now empowered by the Lord’s Spirit in Saul’s presence as Saul’s servant in verse 21.

Neither Saul nor David sought to be the king of Israel. In fact, Saul tried to hide among the baggage in order to avoid becoming Israel’s king. But once he became king and had received victories and blessings with the help of the Lord, Saul began to think more of himself than of God. David was anointed king by Samuel but humbly served as Saul’s music therapist and armor bearer while refusing to usurp Saul as king of Israel until after Saul was killed in battle.

1 Chronicles 10:13-14 provides a summary of the reasons for the Lord’s actions with Saul.

Saul died because he was unfaithful to the LORD; he did not keep the word of the LORD and even consulted a medium for guidance and did not inquire of the LORD. So, the LORD put him to death and turned the kingdom over to David son of Jesse.

Bottom line, God is God and we are not. We may not always understand why God has allowed or even sent tragedy in our lives or the lives of others. But as we study His word, we see this is something that’s occurred in Scripture for distinct purposes.  I’m reminded of the illustration of a tapestry. When we look at the backside of the tapestry it is impossible to see what the tapestry is designed to reveal. But when we look at the other side a clear picture of master craftsmanship is visible.

May you be encouraged today to reconsider the Judeo-Christian God’s role in your life or others struggling with tragedy and sorrow. May the Lord reveal to you a glimpse beyond the tragedy and sorrow towards His master craftsmanship of redemption for you.

I’d love to hear back some reader’s thoughts on this topic. Leave a comment on the blog or email me back at barbaralynn@barbaralynnseibel.com.

More to come!

A Branch of Hope

Read Genesis 7:4-8:10

Noah had built the ark, gathered his wife, sons and daughters-in-law as well as pairs of all animals including additional ones for sacrificial offerings while in the ark. Once sealed in the ark by God’s own hand it began to rain. How long did it rain? (Genesis 7:4)

Then after the rain stops, how many days passed? (Genesis 7:24)

Once the ark ceases to move, how many days did Noah wait before he opens a window of the ark to send out first a raven and then a dove? (Genesis 8:6-8)

The dove returns because it had no place to set her foot. Scripture tells us this means the earth was still covered in water.

How many days does Noah wait before sending out the dove again? (Genesis 8:10)

What does the dove return with? (Genesis 8:11)

And the dove came back to him in the evening, and behold, in her mouth was a freshly plucked olive leaf. So, Noah knew that the waters had subsided from the earth. (Gen 8:11 ESV)

The first evidence of foliage post flood is a leaf from an olive tree. The ESV translation retains the word “behold” from the original Hebrew manuscript. “Behold” is a word meant as an exclamatory expression to draw focus and emphasis to what comes after it. In this case, hope is what is being emphasized. The rain has stopped. The ark has ceased floating around. The mountain tops have appeared. And now, an olive leaf is brought back to the ark by the dove.  Can you imagine the emotions that Noah and his family experienced that day?

Noah’s family had been in the ark tending to all the various animals for at least 244 days at this point. Bear in mind they had no TV, no cell phones, and no internet. They couldn’t go outside to warm themselves in the sun or walk barefoot in the grass for a “break” from the space and scenery of the ark. But now they finally have a sign that a food bearing tree is starting to leaf out!

What is the longest you’ve had to wait for a sign of hope from God? Or perhaps you’re still waiting for one? Write or share your experience with a friend today.

It strikes me that spending time considering the hope that God provides us, at just the right moment we need it, is something we may occasionally fail to recognize or acknowledge in our lives. We must be looking for these signs of hope with anticipation and expectation while continuing to work at what God has called us to do for Him. Even if it means days and days of routine. That’s the tricky part for most of us.  We must watch for and share with others the “behold” moments of hope we experience from our God.

May you have an expectant heart and fervent hope just as Noah did while continuing to be faithful in the routines your life currently entails.

An Unknown Word

Why would God leave a word in the Bible that we can only identify as a noun due to its construction but have no other example available to us either in the Bible or other literature?

What purpose does something like this have in instructing us about God and His ways? How do we make sense of this for how we live out our faith?

The word I’m referring to is found in Genesis 6:14. It is sometimes left out of Biblical translations, simply transliterated, or a “best guess” is used in its place. Scholars debate what “gopher” is. Some think it is a type of tree that was wiped out because of the flood. Others think it may be a scribal error since the Hebrew “g” closely resembles the Hebrew “k”. If the word is supposed to be “kopher” then it would be describing a wood that has been treated to resist water. This latter argument makes a great deal of sense to my logical mind since Noah was building an ark meant to survive a flood. But the bottom line is we don’t know for certain.

How does this information impact you? Does it strengthen your faith or make you skeptical about the Bible’s accuracy?

As you continue to read the remainder of Genesis 6 do you notice that God gives Noah specific instructions on how the ark should be built and what is to be collected for this mission?

Did Noah understand the Lord’s instructions to him? (see Genesis 6:22)

God spoke clearly and precisely to Noah to save a remnant of all flesh. Noah listened to God and was obedient to the instructions.

Is it important that we know the meaning of “gopher”? (see Genesis 9:8-17)

Considering God has promised that He will never again destroy all flesh again via a flood, there will never again be a need for an ark made of gopher wood to be constructed.

So why write a post then about this unknown word?

In today’s world we have so many sources of information barraging our senses that it is often difficult to discern what we should listen to, let alone be obedient toward. Knowing that God spoke with specificity to Noah encourages me to believe that God will also speak to us today with the same clarity through His word so that we may navigate the waters of our own day and age.

But are we listening to Him and are we willing to do as He instructs us just like Noah did?

Are you willing to live out your faith in such a way that you make a difference for God’s mission to humanity?

What does this look like in your life today?

It may not be as epic as building an ark to save all flesh from a flood, but the mission will be specific to who God created you to be to point others to a different structure made of wood that served an even greater epic saving purpose, the cross of salvation. (see Matthew 27:32 to 28:20.)

We all have a specific role to play today. Are you listening and obeying? (See Romans 12:1-2)

Make yourself an ark of gopher wood. Make rooms in the ark and cover it inside and out with pitch. (Gen 6:14 ESV)

What’s Your bloodline?

Sometimes life doesn’t take the route we expect. The past several months for myself have been full of unexpected responsibilities, illness, or injuries that made getting to my personal writing goals simply not feasible. Now that I’m able to return to my writing it struck me that sometimes in God’s word there appear to be gaps in the story line as well. But this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Yes, some details are left out, but we can trust that what is provided is exactly what we need to know.

Genesis 4-5

Based on the face value of the years of life mentioned in the list of Adam’s descendants at the start of Genesis 5, about 1056 years pass from the time Adam and Eve birthed their first son before we come to the story of Noah and the great flood. We’re not given all the details of what transpires during these 1056 years but the details we are told prepare us for this flood story.

Looking back at Genesis 4 we receive these details of Cain’s bloodline:

  1. Adam and Eve have two sons: Cain and Abel.
  2. Cain murders Abel. (See Genesis 4:1-16)
  3. Cain’s genealogical line develops toward a great-great-great grandson Lamech who was the first man to take two wives.
  4. This Lamech brags about killing a man in response to having been only wounded by that man.
  5. Lamech’s offspring tend to livestock, create musical instruments, and develop the forging of bronze and iron.
  6. Lamech’s son, Tubal-cain has a sister named Naamah. (See Genesis 4: 17-24)

The details that are shared about Seth’s descendants in Genesis 4:25 thru chapter 5 are:

  1. Adam and Eve have a third son: Seth.
  2. Seth has a son: Enosh.
  3. At this time the people began to call upon the name of the Lord.
  4. Enoch, the great-great-great grandson of Seth, “walked with God after he fathered Methuselah…Enoch walked with God, and he was not, for God took him.”
  5. Methuselah fathers Lamech.
  6. This Lamech fathers Noah and said about Noah, “Out of the ground that the Lord has cursed this one shall bring us relief from our work and from the painful toil of our hands”. (See Genesis 5:28-29)

Genesis 5 opens with a summary of the fact that God created mankind then details the genealogical line from Adam through his third son Seth to Noah.

Why do you think this recap of creation is given at the start of Genesis 5 given what we’ve learned thus far in Genesis 1-4?

What difference do you see in the great-great-great grandsons of Cain (Lamech) versus Seth’s(Enoch)?

What is the result of this difference found in Enoch?

Can you see the importance of our need to call on the name of the Lord for the hope of the generations to come?

May the Lord deepen your understanding of His patience and provision for His creation as you reflect on the differences between Cain’s and Seth’s family heritage. As you personalize these lessons to your own life may the Lord give you insight and wisdom as to how He has provided for you in your own family heritage.

Maybe your heritage has more examples along the line of Cain’s bloodline than Seth’s. If so, thank the Lord for this knowledge and seek His strength and mercy to be the catalyst for future generations in your family line toward loving and serving the Lord above all else.

Or does your heritage have more in common with Seth’s blood line than Cain’s? If so, thank the Lord for this knowledge and continue to seek His strength and mercy to continue in faithfulness for future generations in your family line as well.

I’d love to hear your thoughts about Genesis 4-5 if you feel so led to share. Either post a comment on the blog site if you’d like to share with all readers or email me your comments if it is for my eyes only.

Blessings,

Barbara Lynn

In the Midst

Genesis 2:9

And out of the ground the LORD God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

What does it mean to be “in the midst” of something?

Dictionary.com defines “in the midst” as the position of anything surrounded by other things or parts or occurring in the middle of a period of time.

Have you ever wondered why the tree of life is highlighted as being in the midst of the garden God created? What is the significance of this detail that is shared with us?

A synonym for “midst” is “middle”. Being in the middle of something means the object or person is equally distant from everything else within a specified area. In Genesis 2:9 this could mean the tree of life was at the very center of the garden God created. Or it could mean the tree of life was simply among the other trees of the garden.

Regardless of its precise physical placement within the garden design, scripture is making a point to highlight the tree of life as being present and available to mankind at the start of God’s design. However, God restricted our access to the tree of life as the consequence for disobedience to his first command after Eve and Adam ate fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. (See Genesis 3:22-23)

Right now, we are “in the midst” of His plan of restoration for mankind. But guess what? We will one day have access to the tree of life again!

Revelation 22:1-2

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.

Revelation 22:14

Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life and that they may enter the city by the gates.

What does it mean to “wash their robes”?

Revelation 7:14

I said to him, “Sir, you know.” And he said to me, “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.

Restoration is God’s plan for those who acknowledge Him as Lord and Savior. All who “wash their robes” in accepting Christ’s sacrifice (on a tree by the way) as the penalty for their sins will be granted access to the tree of life and its twelve fruits that yield a harvest every month!

In the meantime, we’ve been promised that the Helper, the Holy Spirit, is with us to teach and comfort us while we await the final restoration. (See John 14:26)

May you be encouraged knowing the Holy Spirit is “in the midst” of your daily experience until the time of the final restoration.

Blessings, Barbara Lynn