Monday, September 16, 2013

Telling the Future: Why God Usually Doesn't

There was a time when I didn't know if my house would ever be filled with the chaos and high pitched laughter of little ones.  In fact, several years were fraught with the stress and shame of infertility treatments, the loss of two babies, and the feelings of incredible guilt and inadequacy, all which culminated in one particularly gut-wrenching day when a new series of tests came in and the nurse answered my "So this is it?" question with a sad grimace and a nod.

We had reached the end of the road.  There would be no children.

Until that day, I was positive we would get pregnant, that God would work a miracle as he had with Hannah, Sarah, Rachel, and Elizabeth.  I read my Bible, listened to sermons, and went about my day to day life with my ears and eyes hyper sensitive to any word from the Lord about our struggles, any direction He might give, any tiny hint of hope.

I wanted a baby so badly that many times, I read what I wanted to read, I heard what I wanted to hear.  In short, I saw God's answer everywhere, in everything...but it wasn't God at all. It was my own longing to make my own future.  But, it wasn't until I gave up and accepted whatever He chose for us that He worked His miracles...on His timeline.

Without this experience, I might still believe that knowing the future is a good thing.  Perhaps I might still be convinced that if I just knew why God allowed this or that trial in my life or if He just showed me where this was all headed or how long I had to endure that difficulty, then going through the storm would be easier.

Yet, I know the real truth--if God were to give us a hint at our future, we would feel the need to "help" Him along the way.  And the results would be catastrophic.

Such was the case with Abraham and Sarah.

God had told Abraham the future, that "You will have a son of your own who will inherit what you have" (Gen. 15:4).  Both Abraham and Sarah believed God.  They had faith.  Yet, after so many years passed, Sarah decided to help bring God's prophecy to pass.  

Scripture records that "Sarai, Abram’s wife, had no children, but she had a slave girl from Egypt named Hagar.  Sarai said to Abram, 'Look, the Lord has not allowed me to have children, so have sexual relations with my slave girl. If she has a child, maybe I can have my own family through her'" (Gen. 16:1-2).

Sarah nor Abraham consulted God in this.  They attempted to bring about God's vision of the future through human means.  The result from this meddling was a boy named Ishmael.  Yet, he was not the son of promise.  God confirmed this later when He said, "[Sarah] will be the mother of many nations. Kings of nations will come from her.'...Then Abraham said to God, 'Please let Ishmael be the son you promised.'   God said, 'No, Sarah your wife will have a son, and you will name him Isaac. I will make my agreement with him to be an agreement that continues forever with all his descendants'" (Gen. 17:15-19). 

Abraham and Sarah's attempt to force God's hand is still playing out centuries later in the Middle East as the Islamic descendants of Ishmael fight against the Jews.  

This same type of "taking over for God" happened later in Israel's history with Rebekah and her son, Jacob.

When Isaac was old and ready to die, he called in his older son, Esau to give him the blessing and inheritance typically given the older son.  Scripture records that "Rebekah was listening as Isaac said this to his son Esau. She said to her son Jacob, 'Listen, I heard your father saying to your brother Esau, ‘Kill an animal and prepare some tasty food for me to eat. Then I will bless you in the presence of the Lord before I die.’ So obey me, my son, and do what I tell you.Go out to our goats and bring me two of the best young ones. I will prepare them just the way your father likes them.Then you will take the food to your father, and he will bless you before he dies” (Gen. 27:5-10).

Why would Rebekah interfere and trick her nearly blind husband into giving her favorite son, Jacob, the blessing and not her older son, Esau, as was tradition? What was she thinking!?

In all honesty, I think she was trying to "help" God just as did Sarah.  Years earlier when the two boys were still struggling in her womb, "The Lord said to her, 'Two nations are in your body, and two groups of people will be taken from you.  One group will be stronger than the other, and the older will serve the younger'" (Gen. 25:23).

Could God have accomplished this future without Rebekah's help?  Certainly.  Yet, knowing the future led Rebekah to connive to bring it about, to force God's will to come to pass on her timeline and not His.  And due to her interference, the resulting animosity between two brothers exploded into enmity between two warring nations--Israel (Jacob) and Esau (Edom).

From Genesis to Malachi, the descendants of Jacob and Esau would be constant enemies.  From Esau came the Edomites from the land of Edom, and because of the hatred set in motion by Rebekah's meddling, several generations later, the Edomites refused to allow Moses and the ex-slave children of Israel to cross through their land on their way from Egypt to Canaan.

Even later, Esau's descendants helped destroy the temple in Israel.  The prophet Obadiah exclaims of Edom: "You did violence to your relatives, the Israelites, so you will be covered with shame and destroyed forever. You stood aside without helping while strangers carried Israel’s treasures away. When foreigners entered Israel’s city gate and threw lots to decide what part of Jerusalem they would take, you were like one of them" (Ob. 10-11).  King David even speaks of Edom's role in the destruction of Jerusalem, saying, "Lord, remember what the Edomites did on the day Jerusalem fell. They said, 'Tear it down! Tear it down to its foundations!'"

It makes me wonder if this animosity, this blood-revenge hatred would have been passed down from generation to generation had Rebekah not interfered, had she allowed God to bring His prophecy to pass without her help. Or would God have accomplished the same outcome but without all the animosity.

Sarah and Rebekah show us why God does not often reveal the future to us.  If you know what's coming down the road, you're hyper alert, looking everywhere for the turn-off that you know will take you to your destination.  The problem is, when you're watching and waiting, every exit looks like the right one.

The next time you or I wish we knew what our future held, we should remember God's graciousness in not giving us what we ask for.  

In our humanity, we'd probably just screw it up. 

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