Talk about an identity crisis.

The three-month old baby fished out of the reeds by one of Pharaoh’s daughter’s could never be mistaken for just another child member of the ruler’s household. His circumcision, prescribed by God as a permanent reminder to children of Abraham that  they were not like all the other nation-kids in the neighborhood, ensured that. His birth mother drafted to be his wet nurse, must have meant that the child was getting some sort of whispered tutorial on who he really was. For that matter, Pharaoh’s daughter had given him a name that reflected his story: Moses. [read more]

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When we lived in WI, my husband and I were foster parents for 2 years, licensed to do “cradle care” for Bethany Christian Services. According to state law, babies needed to be placed in a foster home after birth in order to give birth parents time to make sure they really, truly, absolutely wanted to go through with terminating their parental rights. That meant we were usually the ones who took the newborn home from the hospital. [Read more]

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We live as exiles. We’re called to be pilgrims.

I am journeying through Scripture chronologically in order to explore our exile experience. I’ll also offer some helpful thoughts about how Christ can reshape that identity and reorient our journey so we live as pilgrims. To read earlier posts in the series, go to the “Blog Categories” pull-down menu in the right column of this screen and click on “Pilgrim’s Road Trip”.

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Who doesn’t love the arc of Joseph’s story, found in Genesis 37-50, moving from unjust treatment to a final thrilling declaration that God had worked every bit of evil aimed at him for good. Joseph’s brutal exile from his home and family had turned him into a pilgrim.

On that way to that final thrilling declaration is another story that most of us zip past. It is the story of what happened after the entire family was reunited in Egypt.

Listen to Jacob’s Ecclesiastes-like words when he was introduced to Joseph’s “boss”:

Then Joseph brought his father Jacob in and presented him before Pharaoh. After Jacob blessed Pharaoh, Pharaoh asked him, “How old are you?”

And Jacob said to Pharaoh, “The years of my pilgrimage are a hundred and thirty. My years have been few and difficult, and they do not equal the years of the pilgrimage of my fathers.” Then Jacob blessed Pharaoh and went out from his presence.

So Joseph settled his father and his brothers in Egypt and gave them property in the best part of the land, the district of Rameses, as Pharaoh directed. Joseph also provided his father and his brothers and all his father’s household with food, according to the number of their children. –Gen 47:7-10

The word here for pilgrimage comes from the root “lodging”, and is used to mean sojourn, dwelling or lifetime. Though it sounds like Jacob was speaking of his lifespan here, what he did in the time following this conversation demonstrates his identity as a pilgrim in a very profound way.

Jacob was coming to the end of his life, and he knew it. Though the family settled into their new life in Egypt under Joseph’s provision and protection for a number of years, the place was never meant to be his family’s home.

When the time drew near for Israel to die, he called for his son Joseph and said to him, “If I have found favor in your eyes, put your hand under my thigh and promise that you will show me kindness and faithfulness. Do not bury me in Egypt, but when I rest with my fathers, carry me out of Egypt and bury me where they are buried.

“I will do as you say,” he said.

“Swear to me,” he said. Then Joseph swore to him, and Israel worshiped as he leaned on the top of his staff. – Gen 47:29-31

imgresHe did the work that dying people are invited to do by releasing his family into God’s care by blessing his children and Joseph’s two sons, who received the gift of Joseph’s blessing. But he asked Joseph, who probably hadn’t been in Canaan since he was sold into slavery at 17, to take his dead body back home. In these verses, it is significant that Jacob makes the request, and we see the name God gave him used in the text as he worshipped in response to his son’s sworn ‘yes’ to his request.*

Did Jacob/Israel’s request serve to implant a homing device into the entire family? After Jacob’s death, that homing device would sound in their DNA for 430 more years while his descendants lived and worked in Egypt. It beeped as they eventually lost their protected status and became slaves. And it would continue to call them homeward until Jacob’s descendants recognized its sound and cried out in harmony with it.

For me as a Jewish believer, the sudden rush of tears as the plane landed on the runway at Ben Gurion airport in Tel Aviv on our first trip to Israel a few years ago opened my ears to the sound of that beep, and I’ve not been able to silence it since. It’s been beeping all along, I realized, but I’d finally allowed myself to hear it.

What about you? Have you ever had a sense that your soul’s GPS was pinging as you’ve walked through a time of loss? Or found yourself overwhelmed with longing for a place you’ve never been, knowing that it was meant to be home?  

*There’s a whole interesting study in the use of Jacob/Israel’s name usage through Scripture, which one used where and why, but that is a super-highway-sized bunny trail here. :) 

 

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We live as exiles. We’re called to be pilgrims.

I am journeying through Scripture chronologically in order to explore our exile experience. I’ll also offer some helpful thoughts about how Christ can reshape that identity and reorient our journey so we live as pilgrims. To read earlier posts in the series, go to the “Blog Categories” pull-down menu in the right column of this screen and click on “Pilgrim’s Road Trip”.

* * * * * * *

This is where I’m coming from regarding the first act of Joseph’s story: my sympathies lie with Joseph’s brothers, these ten second-runner-up characters in the family popularity contest that had been won by their youngest brother, Joseph. I can not condone their drastic solution to their Joseph problem, but I can understand why the ten of them were fed up with the overdressed and obvious apple of their father’s eye. To the rest of them, Joseph was a tattler and a tactless raconteur of his narcissistic dreams. There was no small irony in the fact that their father, Jacob, who’d been his own father’s second-favorite son, rewarded his spoiled baby-of-the-family son Joseph for his arrogance.

imgresMy sympathies are with the ten all the way up to the part in the story where they all agreed that fratricide was the only way to solve the Joseph problem and force reapportionment of their father’s lopsided love:

But they saw him in the distance, and before he reached them, they plotted to kill him.

“Here comes that dreamer!” they said to each other. “Come now, let’s kill him and throw him into one of these cisterns and say that a ferocious animal devoured him. Then we’ll see what comes of his dreams.” – Gen. 37:18-20

They’d been pushed into their own exile years earlier, maybe the first time they noticed that their dad seemed to prefer baby Joseph to the rest of them. This place of emotional exile was a perfect launch pad for a murderous plan. Though oldest brother Reuben had a moment of compassion and hoped to rescue the bragger on the Q.T. at a later time, his half-baked plan stayed half-baked.

Murder turned to slave-trading as the other nine sold their youngest brother to some of Ishmael’s nomad children. They in turn brought the 17 year-old to Egypt and sold him into slavery. The ten concocted a CSI-worthy cover story to explain Joseph’s disappearance, but didn’t count on the fact that losing their brother would cost them their father, too.

Then Jacob tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and mourned for his son many days. All his sons and daughters came to comfort him, but he refused to be comforted. “No,” he said, “I will continue to mourn until I join my son in the grave.” So his father wept for him. – Gen. 27:34-35

A few years ago, I was pushed and manipulated out of a ministry position by a couple of people who had felt it their duty to put me in my place. Though I wasn’t walking around in a coat of many colors sharing prophetic dreams that sounded like bragging, I had visibility and influence that irritated the snot out of this pair. They wanted what they thought I had. Had I recognized that jealousy was cause of their gamesmanship, I might have responded differently to it.

Something tells me that Joseph didn’t understand that his brothers had been living in exile from him by their envy of him until about the time he became fluent in Egyptian. Clueless Joseph lived in the same house with a bunch of people who’d become so emotionally distant from him that selling him like he was a piece of livestock seemed reasonable to them. 

Despite the sin here – and there was plenty to go around! – God was still at work in the mess of this situation. Years would pass, but it took that much time for everyone in this dysfunctional and entirely Biblical family to come to the end of themselves, which would become the end of their exile from one another, too. (Stay tuned for part two of the story!)

Have you ever been the object of someone else’s jealousy? Did you recognize it at the time? What is the status of that relationship today? 

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We live as exiles. We’re called to be pilgrims.

I am journeying through Scripture chronologically in order to explore our exile experience. I’ll also offer some helpful thoughts about how Christ can reshape that identity and reorient our journey so we live as pilgrims. To read earlier posts in the series, go to the “Blog Categories” pull-down menu in the right column of this screen and click on “Pilgrim’s Road Trip”.

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When she was pregnant, the rock `em sock `em twins within Rebekah gave her no rest. When she asked the Lord what was happening to her, he told her, “Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you will be separated; one people will be stronger than the other, and the older will serve the younger.” (Gen. 25:23)

There would be no confusion about which twin was which. The older twin was a red, hirsute wild man of a baby given the name Esau, or “hairy”, by his parents Isaac and Rebekah. The younger twin was a milder, paler child who emerged from the womb holding the heel of his barely-older brother. They named number two Jacob, meaning “he grasps by the heel”, supplanter, deceiver.

I wonder if Isaac and Rebekah reflected on that word from God as they were raising these two polar opposites. Surely they must have, though the divide-and-conquer favoritism each parent showed toward a specific son seemed to have

more to do with personality and preference than it did prophecy. Isaac cherished man’s man Esau. Rebekah coddled the less-macho homeboy Jacob. A lifetime of being one parent’s favorite boiled over between the brothers when Esau devalued, then traded his legal rights as heir and executor to Jacob for a bowl of lentil stew. To seal the deal as Isaac was dying, Rebekah coached her younger son in an elaborate scheme that would gain him his father’s blessing. This blessing would be an empowering “yes” over his life he’d carry as a guarantee over his future as head of the family. Rebekah’s scheme makes her a candidate for the stage mother Hall of Fame. (And it isn’t exactly a glowing endorsement about the state of her relationship with her aging husband, either.) He who was named supplanter wasn’t the only heel-grabber here. Rebekah did a little heel-grabbing, too.

When Esau found out that he’d been played by his mother and brother, he breathed threats against Jacob. Though he hadn’t valued his role, and had eroded relationships in the family by marrying two contentious Hittite women, he was understandably hurt and angry. Rebekah, who’d always held her favorite son in clenched fists, realized that the only way to save her Jacob was to send him far, far away:

Now then, my son, do what I say: Flee at once to my brother Laban in Harran. Stay with him for a while until your brother’s fury subsides. When your brother is no longer angry with you and forgets what you did to him, I’ll send word for you to come back from there. Why should I lose both of you in one day?” (Gen. 27:43-45)

She then added a bit of additional commentary to these instructions when she told her frail husband, “I’m disgusted with living because of these Hittite women. If Jacob takes a wife from among the women of this land, from Hittite women like these, my life will not be worth living.” (Gen. 27:46) I’d like to think that just maybe there was an apology or expression of regret for her manipulation that preceded these words, but it is not recorded here.

What is recorded is that Jacob is sent away from his family from Beersheva to Haran, a distance of 500 or so miles (give or take) back to the family’s relatives nto a kind of exile in order to save his life and find a suitable wife. Isaac sent Jacob with a second blessing, which served to further enrage Esau. In response, Esau married a couple of more wives apart from his parents’ blessing as if to underscore his disgust with them both.

Rebekah lost what she’d worked so hard to keep. This would be another story of nothing-new-under-the-sun family dysfunction if it weren’t for the fact that there was a larger story at work in the family, even in the midst of all the conniving and favoritism. It was a story that began years earlier with God’s call to his grandfather Abram, a call that gave him – and all of his generations following him – the identity of pilgrims.

Even if it took exile to live into that truth, God was at work in the mess and manipulation in this family. In spite of who they were, and because of who he is. In the messes of my own life, this is a wonderfully encouraging reality.

Have you ever had to flee a relationship or situation because of favoritism or nepotism? When you reflect on that situation today, how might you see God at work on your behalf in spite of the mess and manipulation of others? 

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We live as exiles. We’re called to be pilgrims.

I am journeying through Scripture chronologically in order to explore our exile experience. I’ll also offer some helpful thoughts about how Christ can reshape that identity and reorient our journey so we live as pilgrims. To read earlier posts in the series, go to the “Blog Categories” pull-down menu in the right column of this screen and click on “Pilgrim’s Road Trip”.

* * * * * * *

It’s not like the twin cities had been such a great environment for her family. They’d lived there as outsiders, which was fine with her husband, Lot, but maybe it hadn’t been so fine for Mrs. Lot. Though Scripture doesn’t give her a name, some rabbis refer to her as Idit. The family had been on the move for a long, long time – first leaving Ur to settle in Harran, then on to Canaan before Lot separated from his Uncle Abram in order to better provide for his own. Though the grazing was good, the social climate in their new neighborhood was, to put it mildly, not very hospitable to the God-fearing family. Uncle Abram had interceded for Lot’s family, and for anyone else in Lot’s neighborhood who reverenced God, but the sad reality was that Sodom and Gormorrah were not interested in being saved from the destruction coming their way. While still in Sodom, before a single sulfurous spark was ignited, Lot pled for the lives of his family. These nomads were about to become exiles. In his mercy, God granted Lot and his family a place of refuge.

As soon as they had brought them out, one (of the angels) said, “Flee for your lives! Don’t look back, and don’t stop anywhere in the plain! Flee to the mountains or you will be swept away!” (Gen. 19:17)

One simple instruction that should have been a no-brainer for Mrs. Lot to follow became her undoing: “But Lot’s wife looked back, and she became a pillar of salt.” (Gen. 19:26)

Why did she do it? Why on earth did she look back when she was specifically instructed not to do so?

Was it curiosity? Longing for soon-to-be family who’d laughed off the words of warning and stayed behind in the doomed city? Unhappiness at being uprooted from a place that had come to feel like home after a lifetime of wandering? Disbelief?

Though Mrs. Lot can’t answer the question, each one of us probably can. When I’m on the road away from a bad place, situation or relationship in my life, I’ve looked back with regret, rehearsing what I could have done differently. I’ve looked back with sadness, grieving the finality of things that can never be redone. The ugliest versions of a backwards glance have come when I’ve looked back with anger at the wrong I’ve experienced, and my heart instantly becomes a Quentin Tarrantino flick, filled with thoughts of revenge.

Those backwards glances hijack my journey. Oh, unlike Mrs. Lot, I may have the liberty to keep moving, but my steps invariably follow this pattern:

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While there are important and productive ways to process the past (through prayer, through conversation with others, through journaling), there are also the kinds of backwards glances that turn us into a salt dough zombie. This “walking in circles” is exile gone stuck and stagnant.

Historians believe that the towns of Sodom and Gomorrah were on the Jordanian side of the Dead Sea, the lowest point on earth – a region today filled with eerie, bleak NaCl mineral beauty.

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An exile couldn’t survive in this harsh, vegetation-free climate for long. That’s the point, I think. Obedience to God forces our eyes forward (“What’s next?”) rather than allowing us to dwell in an unhealthy past. Looking forward will create a pilgrim out of an exile – even an exile who is walking in circles.

Have you ever gotten stuck in the past? What has helped you get “unstuck”?    

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We live as exiles. We’re called to be pilgrims.

I am journeying through Scripture chronologically in order to explore our exile experience. I’ll also offer some helpful thoughts about how Christ can reshape that identity and reorient our journey so we live as pilgrims. To read earlier posts in the series, go to the “Blog Categories” pull-down menu in the right column of this screen and click on “Pilgrim’s Road Trip”.

* * * * * * *

Being a sister wife would have been an upgrade for Hagar. But she was nothing more than an employee. A darn good employee at that. She did whatever her aging mistress, Sarai, asked of her. Right down to having intercourse with Sarai’s antique husband, Abram, at Sarai’s insistence. The old woman was determined to give her husband an heir one way or another. Abram and Sarai’s God had told the pair some pretty wild things, not the least of which was that these two, well past their freshness date, would make a baby. After a lifetime of infertility, and no quick miracle following the promise of God, Sarai applied some “God helps those who help themselves” theology to the promise and sent Hagar to her husband’s bed.

The dutiful Hagar did as her mistress asked and lay with the old man. One new moon came and went. Then another. No sign of menses meant that Hagar was pregnant with the old man’s child. As Hagar’s belly ripened, she became more and more unhappy. Her mistress would claim this child as her own. Hagar would be the slave of her own child.

No wonder Hagar’s attitude headed south. She may have once been Sarai’s “Employee Of The Week” every week, but now that she was pregnant, she’d become a sullen and decidedly unhelpful servant. Sarai complained to her husband, telling him that she’d become Hagar’s victim in the situation. Never mind that this whole arrangement was her idea.

Abram abdicated his voice in the matter to Sarai, telling her to handle Hagar in whatever way seemed best. (Note here that Abram doesn’t appear to be terribly concerned at all about how the outcome of Sarai’s decision might affect his unborn child, this clever fulfillment of God’s promise to Sarai and him.) Abram’s abdication was a green light for Sarai to pay back Hagar for all that back-talking and foot-dragging she’d been doing – as well as serving as a smack-down to Hagar’s ability to conceive, which was a sign to everyone that Sarai was the infertile one and always had been.

What happened next between the two women couldn’t have been pretty. The headlines of the relational breakdown are captured in Scripture’s sparse narrative:

Then Sarai mistreated Hagar; so she fled from her. (Gen 16:6)

NoahsShore-HagarHagar’s wilderness exile must have seemed far more hospitable to the pregnant Hagar than Chez Abram and Sarai was. Even though Abram didn’t seem to demonstrate much concern about the whereabouts of his future heir, God did. Enough so that he sent a messenger angel to Hagar. He instructed her to return to Sarai’s household, and included her in the promise given to Abram of descendants too numerous to count. He also gave her a heads’ up that this son would have, to put it mildly, an oppositional streak.

The wilderness visit changed everything for Hagar. Abram and Sarai’s God had met her in her exile, and the name by which she referred to him reflected this encounter: “You are the God who sees me”. The angel had given her a name for her baby, too: “God hears”.

As a result, she returned to Abram and Sarai’s household a pilgrim. And when the baby was born, Abram demonstrated that he’d heard Hagar, too, by giving the baby the name Sarai’s surrogate had brought back with her from her exile.

Ishmael. God hears.

Hagar’s story is my story, too. I’ve been driven into places of exile by the choices of those I perceive are abusing their positions of power. Long ago, I discovered I stink at organizational politics, another way to say that I don’t know what to do with the strife and chaos of relationships characterized by a lopsided balance of power in a workplace or organization. I’ve fled emotionally (and sometimes physically) into exile, preferring wilderness to gamesmanship by authority figures. The wilderness silences the din and lies of those abusive voices.

Exile has sometimes been the only place I can hear the truth. God sees me. God hears me. God knows me. That truth transforms exile into something else entirely, and empowers me to put one foot in front of another. Sometimes, like Hagar, I must head back to the places, people and circumstances that drove me away. But Hagar’s story reminds me that I do not travel as an exile, but as a pilgrim who never journeys alone.

Have you ever been driven from a relationship, job or organization by someone else’s agenda? Have you ever had to return to the situation? What made the experience most challenging for you? 

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We live as exiles. We’re called to be pilgrims.

I am journeying through Scripture chronologically in order to explore the themes of exile experience. I’ll also offer some helpful thoughts about how Christ can reshape that identity and reorient our journey so we live as pilgrims. To read earlier posts in the series, go to the “Blog Categories” pull-down menu in the right column of this screen and click on “Pilgrim’s Road Trip”.

J.R.R. Tolkien once wrote, “Not all who wander are lost”. Pilgrims wander with a purpose, an internal homing device that pulls them Homeward. Every exile account in the Bible contains an invitation to pilgrimage, for those with hearing eyes and seeing ears

* * * * * * *

OK. I admit it. In my early Genesis focus on exiles, I almost zipped past the very first example of a pilgrim. My bad.

Noah became the charter pilgrim when he first said no to what all the other kids in the neighborhood were doing. Scripture doesn’t record that no, but captures the effect of that and every subsequent no from Noah in these words:

The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time. The Lord regretted that he had made human beings on the earth, and his heart was deeply troubled. So the Lord said, “I will wipe from the face of the earth the human race I have created—and with them the animals, the birds and the creatures that move along the ground—for I regret that I have made them. But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord. – Genesis. 6:5-8

imgres-1Noah’s life of no was a yes to God.  The infinitely patient God could no longer brook the in his face disregard of both himself and the gifts he’d given to people who’d decided to live as if he was watching, impotently, from a distance. Out of just love, he chose to create a do-over, determining to sweep away most everything he himself had created from Day 3 onward, salvaging a man and his kin who’d maintained the sort of fellowship he’d had with Adam and Eve once upon a time in Eden.  This wiping of the slate would leave one group of people carrying the DNA of Adam and Eve – and seeds and roots of food-giving plant life, plus pairs of every creature who’d filled the earth with chirps, roars and hisses – to fill the earth and enjoy relationship with God once again. It could never be the purity of Eden unmarred by sin, but the flood promised a place made by God for flourishing and fellowship.

When God told Noah of his plans to destroy the world, he invited Noah to participate in the salvation he was offering to Noah, his family and pairs of each creature by giving him an unusual set of instructions. This was an unprecedented message. Noah had no context or experience for any of it. And yet…

By faith, Noah built a ship in the middle of dry land. He was warned about something he couldn’t see, and acted on what he was told. The result? His family was saved. His act of faith drew a sharp line between the evil of the unbelieving world and the rightness of the believing world. As a result, Noah became intimate with God.   –Hebrews 11:7 (The Message)

imgresNo one knows exactly how long it took Noah to build this massive boat. Scholarly guesstimates range from 20 years to 120 years. Noah was already a veteran in the art of saying no to those around him. After his sobering encounter with the Living God, he shifted from being Mr. Goodie Two-Sandals, the town exile, to become a righteousness-preaching whack job building an ocean liner miles from a body of water.

I believe he became a pilgrim the moment he picked up his hammer.

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When I was in high school, I first learned the difference between being an exile and being a pilgrim. After I came to faith in Christ, I would throw my Bible from my second-story bedroom into the bushes below, then run out the door, telling my parents I was going out with my friends. I’d snag my Bible from the bushes, jump in the car, and sneak to church. My folks forbade me from attending church; my newfound faith made me an exile from my own family. Though I was engaging in a bit of teen subterfuge, the act of launching that Bible out the window marked my difficult home life experience as something other than exile. I wanted to follow God. I was a pilgrim.

Noah picked up a hammer. I threw a Bible out the window. Have you ever done something that marked or declared your allegiance to God in a tangible way? What was the result in your life?   

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I posted this creative take on the Babel account (below) from Genesis 11:1-9 last February, but it bears repeating here as I continue my chronological journey through Scripture exploring the themes of our identity and experience as exiles. My goal in this series is to offer some helpful thoughts about how Christ can reshape that identity and reorient our exile wanderings so we journey as pilgrims. To read earlier posts in the series, go to the “Blog Categories” pull-down menu in the right column of this screen and click on “Pilgrim’s Road Trip”.

J.R.R. Tolkien once wrote, “Not all who wander are lost”. Pilgrims wander with a purpose, an internal homing device that pulls them Homeward. Every exile account in the Bible contains an invitation to pilgrimage, for those with hearing eyes and seeing ears

* * * * * * *

Sassan mopped his brow with the edge of his sweat-soaked tunic. He needed a few moments respite from the relentless heat. Sassan walked down the just-laid course of steps toward an urn of water tucked into a shaded corner. He cupped his filthy hands into the warm, gritty liquid, ladling it into his mouth and allowing it to spill down his chin. Sassan closed his eyes for a moment, willing himself to experience relief. But there was none.

Not at this altitude.

Fifteen seconds later, he wiped his face again with the back of his arm. The air at the pinnacle of the construction site felt like the smoky heat rising from his child-wife’s bitter, burnt loaves.

He turned, palming the newly-built wall behind him, and looked down. He could see an eagle’s aerie tucked into the peak of a mountain. The vista stole Sassan’s breath from him.

No one except the Most High had ever seen the world from this vantage point – until now.  He ran his damp fingers across the almond-pale brick, leaving streaks of wet gray in their wake.  Bricks, created from the same earth from which Sassan had been created.

Satisfaction was swallowed by thirst as Sassan looked up toward the tissue of thin clouds streaking blue sky above his head. They weren’t there yet. His soul’s thirst for there, for more, could not be slaked with gritty water hauled up thousands of tower stairs by slaves.

This beautiful tower had claimed the lives of countless men hauling loads of their beautiful baked bricks up the narrow steps of the tower. There had been some discussion when the tower was first being planned about whether cut stone might not make a better building material. Sassan’s own father had changed the course of the project with a single sentence: “The work of our own hands will bring us to Him.” The phrase had become a song sung by the women forming and baking the bricks.

“The song sounds like a prayer, but it is just another way to name the thirst,” Sassan thought, mopping his brow again. He cursed the heat, then turned to climb back up the stairs to the foreman’s post. At that moment, he spotted one of his crew curled up asleep under a half-built wooden scaffold three levels below.

He crept down the narrow steps like a panther, then kicked Ahirom in the small of his back.

“What….?” Ahirom was instantly awake. He leapt to his feet, nearly losing his balance before flattening himself against the brick. “Oh, it’s you, Sassan. I’m sorry…I’m just a little…”

“You fool,” Sassan growled. “I gave you a second chance just days ago when I caught you doing this exact same thing. I showed you mercy then. Remember?” He didn’t wait for an answer. “Not this time, Sassan.”

“You don’t understand,” Ahirom stammered. “It’s just…I…uh…”

“This is no time to get tongue-tied,” Sassan wiped the sweat from his forehead. “You deserve every bit of punishment the council is going to dole out to you.”

Ahirom put his hand over his mouth. It looked like he was going to be sick. “Men jeg er meget syk,” he said.

“You’re dead wrong if you think speaking like an infant will gain my sympathy.”

Ahirom looked puzzled. “Jeg forstår ikke.”

Sassan glared at him. “I asked you to stop…”

Ahirom shook his head. “Hvorfor snakker du som det?” When Sassan didn’t reply, Ahirom repeated the question. “Hvorfor snakker du som det?”

Sassan grabbed him by the shoulders and shook him. “Why aren’t you obeying me?

“Hvorfor lytter til du meg ikke? Jeg fortalte du som jeg var syk, og du svarer meg med tov!”

“I am going to report you, Ahirom.”

At the mention of his name, Ahirom began to wave his hands and scream. “Ahirom! Ahirom!”

Suddenly, a sonic tidal wave reached heavenward from the tens of thousands below them at the worksite and beyond, tending livestock, working the fields, weaving, carrying babies, baking bread. Though the words were indistinguishable, the emotion of the heaven-rending sound released a rush of adrenaline into Sasson’s system.

Ahirom’s terrified visage mirrored Sassan’s. Both men began speaking at once:

“What is that sound? What is happening?”  “Hva er at lyder? Hva er begivenhet?”

Sasson pushed past Ahirom, beginning his long descent to the bottom of the stairs.  Ahirom followed. The men jostled and pushed as they joined the crush of men desperate to get to the ground, each one screaming nonsense noise: “Mova para fora de minha maneira!” “Ich muss meine Ehefrauen sehen!” “Hâte!”

imgresA bottleneck on those terrifying, narrow stairs; Sassan tried to push past a thrashing, panicked knot of child workers. His heel caught the edge of a step. He flailed wildly, grasping for something to stop his fall. Sassan’s damp hands slid off the smooth brick, and he grabbed two fistfuls of Ahirom’s robe before crashing into the wall behind him. The force flung the distracted Ahirom over the edge and the terrified man plummeted into the roaring babble below.

His scream needed no translation.

 

To contemplate: Have you had a communications breakdown with a family member, friend or coworker that has permanently destroyed your relationship with that person?  How has being “exiled” from that relationship affected you? What has the broken relationship taught you about God? 

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We live as exiles. We’re called to be pilgrims.

I am journeying through Scripture chronologically in the coming year, exploring the themes of our identity and experience as exiles. I’ll also offer some helpful thoughts about how Christ can reshape that identity and reorient our journey so we live as pilgrims. To read earlier posts in the series, go to the “Blog Categories” pull-down menu in the right column of this screen and click on “Pilgrim’s Road Trip”.

J.R.R. Tolkien once wrote, “Not all who wander are lost”. Pilgrims wander with a purpose, an internal homing device that pulls them Homeward. Every exile account in the Bible contains an invitation to pilgrimage, for those with hearing eyes and seeing ears

* * * * * * *

He must have been startled by the white heat that rose like smoke from his chest. That sensation felt like the hot, crackling smoke that rose from his brother’s offering to The One. Cain had offered God the best of the crop he’d pulled from the soil after months of toil and patience. His brother, Abel, had slit the throat of a beast, and gutted the creature, pulling the sweet, rich fat from the animal’s innards and burning it.

God blessed Abel’s gift. At some point between the expulsion from Eden and this moment, God himself must have told the first family that just as animal skin, not fig leaves, was adequate cover for themselves in the wake of their awakening to sin, so it would take lifeblood spilled to bridge the chasm between human and Creator. Death, a reminder of all they’d lost, mingled with the promise of restored fellowship as flames transformed animal flesh and fat into incense.

imgresCain’s offering of fruit, vegetable, grain was a flop in God’s sight. That “no” set Cain’s heart on fire. God smelled that smoke rising from Cain as clearly as he smelled Abel’s gift. Cain’s freelance improvisation on this did not meet with God’s blessing. In that moment, the family’s exile journey took a surprising turn.

Then the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? 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.” – Gen. 4:6-7

Cain’s anger and jealousy were not neutral, internal emotions. They had consequences. While Cain wouldn’t kill an animal as an offering to God, his anger led him to murder his younger brother after God had shown him that he had a choice: “Do what’s right, and I’ll accept you. Do things your own way, and you will forfeit your ability to choose.”

This account in Genesis 4:1-16 ends with a second exile. God tells Cain that Abel’s blood is crying out to him from the ground – perhaps the very plot of land farmed by Cain. Cain would be banished from his family (an additional measure of loss for Adam and Eve, who’d already lost Abel), and would become a restless wanderer for the rest of his life. His farming days were over.

Sent into exile by his sin, Cain feared for his life. God marked him with mercy in order to save his life, promising that anyone who tried to kill Cain would be repaid sevenfold for the deed, sealing the promise with this: “Then the Lord put a mark on Cain so that no one who found him would kill him.” (Gen 4:15)

That brand-mark of protection was designed to transform Cain’s exile into pilgrimage. He would never be able to wander beyond the infinite boundaries of God’s mercy, even as he wandered into unfamiliar, lonely territory east of Eden.

Like Cain, I’ve sometimes silenced God’s voice by nourishing my own jealousies and doggedly insisting on doing things my own way. Like Cain, I’ve chosen to offer him what I’ve decided I’d like to give him, which is often not the same as what he’s asked of me.

And like Cain, I am a marked woman. No matter how far I wander, I can not escape God’s protection and care.

Have you ever felt as though your choices have resulted in you being banished from a place, a group of people or a role? Do you find it a comforting notion or a restrictive harness to know you are marked by God?     

 

 

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