Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Prayers of the Bible, Part Two--The Patriarchs

For part two of this series, I've decided to start at the beginning, so this post will take us through Genesis, from Adam to the Patriarchs. Again, I'm still not sure where this study will go or even how it will flow (or even if it will flow!) but I'll try to out into pixels some of the things that I've noticed that I believe to be noteworthy.

In my last post, it was noted that Job held nothing back in telling his Creator just how he felt about his situation. There is still an abundance of that going on in the first book of the Old Testament, as we see plenty more people expressing their feelings to God. More than anything, I notice people sharing their fears. This begins with Adam, who admits to God that they were afraid, so they hid. Jacob also expresses his fear of going to be reunited with his brother. As it turned out, Jacob had nothing to fear, because Esau readily accepted him and forgave him.

But for as much expressing of emotions/fear to God, there is also plenty of recognition of who God is, and who we are in comparison. Oddly enough, one of the first people I found that we have a record of praising God directly is Hagar, who, after having run away from Sarai, encounters the angel of the Lord in the desert, and she praises God as being "the God who sees me." Also, Abraham's servant praises God after being shown Rebekah, whom he should take back as a wife for Isaac. He praises God as being One who "has not abandoned his kindness and faithfulness...He has guided me..." Jacob, after seeing the Lord in a dream, realizes, "How awesome is this place!" He sets up a pillar there to be the house of God. As Jacob is preparing to return to the land of his fathers, he realizes how the Lord has blessed him and admits that he is not worthy.

Another important interaction found in the prayers of the Genesis is that of petitioning God. I love looking at these examples because we are able to see that God does not become angry or irritated with His children asking things of Him. I think it's important to keep in mind that God knows the heart. I believe that God grants our requests when it is in our best interests for Him to do so. One of the first examples I see of this is when Abraham asks God to bless Ishmael. God hears him and promises that Ishmael will be a great nation as well, but He affirms that Isaac is the child of the Promise. Another example, mentioned above, was when Abraham's servant was sent to find a wife for Isaac. He asked for God to, "Grant me success". He also asked for God to show His will, the woman He desired for Isaac to marry.

Taking this idea of petitioning God one step further, things get even more interesting when we see people bargaining with Almighty God. And still, He seems to honor their requests. Of course there's Abraham who negotiates with God over the righteous souls (or lack thereof) in the city of Sodom. However, another I noticed this time around was Jacob. How convenient for him, seems to kind-of fit his personality, knowing about his dealings with his brother and with Laban. But before Jacob goes to Laban, he has a dream of a ladder reaching to the heavens with angels ascending and descending. When he awakens, he declares the place to be the house of God and he says that basically "If God will be with me and provide for me and keep me safe, then He will be my God." IF??? I just found that interesting. Also, Jacob is the one who, after spending all night wrestling with God, refused to let Him go until He blessed Him. I think it's interesting that Jacob so desperately wanted the Lord to bless him.

I also find it interesting that Jacob also so desperately wanted to know who He was. That's a theme that I've noticed through the book of Genesis: a desire to know the Lord and do His will. The first time Jacob is at Bethel, when he has the dream of the ladder, he says that he will give the Lord a tenth of all he has. The next time, when Jacob was wrestling with the Lord, earning his name of Israel, he actually said, "Please tell me your name." Also, a common response from both Abraham and Israel, when being spoken to by the Lord, is "Here I am." "Here I am." Three simple words. Three words that desperately need to find their way into my prayer vocabulary.

Another aspect of the prayers I noticed in Genesis is that of dealing with sin. We see people laying blame, confessing sin, and we even hear a little bit from God about handling sin. In the garden, when the Lord asks Adam if he has eaten from the tree, Adam, in one fell swoop, single-handedly passes the blame along to both Eve, and perhaps even God Himself, when he replies, "The woman you put here with me--she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it." Later, we hear some of God's instruction to Cain when he is angry about the fact that the Lord did not accept his offering. I realize that this is not necessarily a prayer, not a person speaking to the Lord, but in this case, it is rather the Lord's "pep talk" to Cain about overcoming sin. I figure when the Lord is giving out advice about how to handle sin, it's wise to listen. He says, "If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it." Unfortunately, Cain does not listen to the Lord's advice, and after he kills his brother, we see him speaking to God, asking for God's mercy, as he says, "My punishment is more than I can bear." The astonishing thing about this? God listens to him and shows mercy to him in ensuring that he will be protected.

Something else we see a little bit of is something we saw quite a bit of in the book of Job--that is, questioning God's actions. This seems most vivid to me when God has promised Abraham that his descendants will be a great nation. However, as Abraham gets older, I can't help but imagine that he has trouble understanding how God will accomplish this. He asks the Lord, "What will you give me since I remain childless?" and asks "How can I know?" He wants some way to know that the Lord's words are true. Then one of the most beautiful scenes in all of the old testament takes place, as the Lord proceeds to make a blood covenant with Abraham. God wants Abraham to know that His words are, in fact, true. God keeps His promises.

Finally, one more observation from my Genesis reading. There is example after example in scripture of people appealing to God's own nature, His own mercy and justice. It seems to me that when they do so, they always get a favorable response from Him. God is merciful to Cain, even in his punishment, simply because he asks. A common phrase used by Abraham is, "If I've found favor in your eyes..." before he asks the Lord for something. When Abraham is bargaining with God for the city of Sodom, he asks, "Will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked?...Will you really sweep it away and not spare the place for the sake of the...righteous people in it? Far be it from you to do such a thing--to kill the righteous with the wicked, treating the righteous and the wicked alike. Far be it from you! Will not the judge of all the earth do right?" Even Abimelech, when talking to the Lord after realizing that Abraham's wife was, in fact, his wife and not just his sister, defends himself to the Lord by saying that, "In the integrity of my heart I have done this," and he asks, "Will you slay a nation even though blameless?" Of course, the Lord understands Abimelech's heart in this matter.

I know there's a lot here, just from this one book, but so many things spoke to me as I read through these people's conversations with God Almighty. However, this last aspect, the idea of appealing to the nature of who God is, really struck a cord with me. I believe it's a key aspect in understanding who He is and how He relates to us as His creation.

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