The Death Penalty and God’s Mercy

ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude

God loves peace and harmony among his children, and necessary to this is punishment for crime. But more than that, God desires peace and harmony between his children and himself, and necessary to this is punishment for the sin that prevents it. In that sense, we all deserve the death penalty for sin. But praise the Lord, God himself stepped in and offered his Son to suffer our capital punishment. He took the punishment that fit our crime.

Death Penalty

Going Deep // Focus: Exodus 24:17-22

Anyone who takes another person’s life must be put to death. Anyone who kills another person’s animal must pay for it in full—a live animal for the animal that was killed. Anyone who injures another person must be dealt with according to the injury inflicted—a fracture for a fracture, an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. Whatever anyone does to injure another person must be paid back in kind. Whoever kills an animal must pay for it in full, but whoever kills another person must be put to death. This same standard applies both to native-born Israelites and to the foreigners living among you. I am the Lord your God.

Perhaps Leviticus 24 would be an appropriate time for me to do a devotional on the death penalty—although you might consider the juxtaposition of “death penalty” and “devotional” a bit of an oxymoron—but that is not what I think this section of scripture is primarily about. More on that in a moment.

But let me just say that any believer who holds a high view of Scripture (which every believer should, by the way) who offers a glib argument either for or against capital punishment probably needs to carefully and empathetically read, re-read and prayerfully reflect on the seriousness of this account. Mostly, Leviticus is didactic—God is instructing his people on how to live in holiness. This chapter, however, includes one of the few narratives in Leviticus—it tells a real story of a real human situation. And while I won’t get into it here, grasping the context of this drama is necessary to reaching any conclusions about the death penalty from Leviticus 24.

The death penalty, whether you are for it or against it—involves real human tragedy and is connected to human suffering at its most painful. Someone did something so heinous to another human being that it required death at the hands of the state. And someone was victimized so terribly that it will forever mark his or her life. And two families were forced into a trauma they didn’t ask for and for which they cannot simply “take an aspirin and call the doctor in the morning.” This will be with them forever. And in this case, the witnesses to the crime actually had to lay hands on the guilty party’s head—there was no anonymous tip line here—and representatives of the witnessing community had to actually throw the stones that crushed the man’s skull. This was tragic as well as gruesome.

The death penalty might be easy to debate academically, but the reality of taking another person’s life as punishment, rightly or wrongly, will turn the stomach of any person with normal human empathy. Not that I am recommending this, but if you don’t believe me, watch one of the many videos that are now a part of our online living that shows a Middle Eastern stoning for adultery or some other crime. But I want to give you fair warning: it is not pretty and it will turn your stomach in a way that will affect you for a long time.

And one more thing about this chapter as it relates to any death penalty argument: God commanded it! This was not just a human construct; it originated with the Almighty. There is no getting around that. Something so egregious to a holy God took place that the Lord himself issued the death warrant.

Now, does that amount to God’s tacit approval for capital punishment in today’s society? Maybe—he did order it, after all. But maybe not, because we don’t execute every punishment that God ordered against sin in Old Testament in our current culture. We don’t stone adulterers today, nor do we execute those who blaspheme their parents, do we? My point is, using this chapter to argue a pro death penalty position will be fraught with inconsistencies. So take care.

Let me offer this broader insight into what is going on here by quoting from the Expositor’s Bible Commentary:

The stoning of the blasphemer is taken as the occasion for the summation of the principles of justice. Here again the principle of lex talionis or retaliation is stated as a form of justice. The principle similarly appears in Exodus 21:23-25 and Deuteronomy 19:21. Christ quoted the law in Matthew 5:38-42 and seems to have opposed it, though he was actually not contradicting the OT but was denouncing the Pharisaic use of these verses to justify personal revenge. It is another question whether this law was taken literally or is an emphatic statement of the principle that the punishment must fit the crime. If a man killed a beast, his own beast was not killed (Leviticus 24:21). There is no example in the OT of a judge exacting literally an eye for an eye. The usual penalties of Hebrew law were capital punishment for a limited number of serious offenses and fines and restitution for the remainder. There were no prisons in the early days, and none is mentioned in the Pentateuchal legislation. Apparently we have here an emphatic legal idiom meaning that the punishment must be commensurate with the offense.

The larger point to this tragic human story is that God cares deeply about justice—both in his spiritual family and in the family of mankind. This law established here, referred to as lex talionis, is foundational to the principle of justice that govern our civilized world, and that is simply this: the penalty must fit the crime. If there is too much or if there is too little by way of punishment, the state, which is God’s instrument of justice (see Romans 6:3-5) is guilty of a grave miscarriage of justice.

So here is where the devotional gets wrung out of a death penalty discussion: God loves peace and harmony among his children, and necessary to this is punishment for crime. But more than that, God desires peace and harmony between his children and himself, and necessary to this is punishment for the sin that prevents it. In that sense, we all deserve the death penalty for sin, don’t we? But praise the Lord, in the greatest act of loving kindness and mercy ever seen, God himself stepped in and offered his Son to suffer the capital punishment you and I justly deserved.

That truly is the mercy and grace and the indescribable love of a just God at its most stunning! Jesus paid a debt he did not owe for a debt we could not pay. And I don’t say this lightly, but for that, we owe an eternal debt of gratitude.

Going Deeper With God: Offer up a heartfelt prayer of gratitude to God that he commuted your death sentences.

Sexually Distinct

ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude

Whether you are single or married, when you follow purity, abstinence, and yes, even Christ-likeness in your sexuality, you become a compelling witness before a lost world of a loving God’s promise to bless his people’s obedience with abundance.

Set Apart

Going Deep // Focus: Leviticus 18:1-6

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Give the following instructions to the people of Israel. I am the Lord your God. So do not act like the people in Egypt, where you used to live, or like the people of Canaan, where I am taking you. You must not imitate their way of life. You must obey all my regulations and be careful to obey my decrees, for I am the Lord your God.  If you obey my decrees and my regulations, you will find life through them. I am the Lord. You must never have sexual relations with a close relative, for I am the Lord.

Like the title of today’s devotional? I thought that would get your attention. But basically, that is what God is saying to the Israelites in this chapter: I want you to be sexually pure, unlike the nation from which you came (“where you used to live”), and the nations where you are headed (“where I am taking you”). Do not be like them (“You must not imitate their way of life”). Do not adapt their anything-goes approach to sexual fulfillment nor get enticed into their sexual lifestyles (“You must never have sexual relations with…”), it is a deathtrap—literally (“If you obey…you will find life”).

The chapter then lists out specifically the kinds of sexual practices that were verboten. Now they didn’t need God to spell that out for them—they knew! We know too. We know, instinctively, what is right and what is wrong in terms of sexual activity. The Israelites did as well. Yet people are people, in any age, and they will shoot back with, “Yeah, but what about this? Is this okay? Can I do such and such?” Why do we do that? Because we are guilty of searching for the outer banks of morality so we can push as close to edge of permissibility as possible without pushing on past it. The problem with that type of mentality is that when we push to the limit of pre-sinfulness, it is practically a given that we will become, sooner or later, pro-sin.

Proverbs 6:27 rhetorically asks, “Can a man scoop a flame into his lap and not have his clothes catch on fire?” No. If you play with fire, you’re going to get burned.

So in this case, God says, “I’m going to pre-empt your foolish questions and tell you exactly what kinds of sexual relationships and practices you are not to commit.” And boy does he! He spells out in living color the boundaries that we are not to cross, no if’s, and’s or but’s about it.

As you read though Leviticus 18, you come away with a clear list of sexual “thou shalt not’s”. But what are the “thou shalts” of God-honoring sexuality? I have been told that when U.S. treasury agents are trained to spot counterfeit money, they don’t spend their time looking at phony bills. They become so familiar with the real deal that it becomes easy to spot the fake. In the case of human sexuality, I think perhaps it’s is just as critical for us to study the real deal of God’s design and become so familiar with it that we don’t need to dwell on the “is this okay, is that not okay?” approach to morality.

And I think I can put this very succinctly: the sexuality that God blesses is between a man and a woman living as husband and wife within the loving/serving/honoring bonds of marriage. Now read deliberately and think clear about every single word in that statement: man, woman, husband, wife, within, loving, serving, bonds, marriage.

Our culture will call that outdated, restrictive, counterproductive to pleasure, ignorant and hateful toward certain groups. That is too bad, because the designer of human sexuality says it’s the only way to a blessable life.

Now that is what culture will say—and we should never be surprised that they would label us a weird and dangerous for holding to those views. But the major theme of this chapter is that as believers, God wants us to be different from the culture around us, and even in our sexuality, he wants us to stand out as belonging to him.

Have you ever thought of sexuality that way? Whether you are single or married, when you follow purity, abstinence, and yes, even Christ-likeness in your sexuality, you become a compelling witness before a lost world of a loving God’s promise to bless his people with the abundant life.

In your sexuality, God wants you to stand out for your moral purity. So don’t blend in and he will bless you!

Going Deeper With God: Take some time to very carefully and deliberately meditate on the statement: the sexuality that God blesses is between a man and a woman living as husband and wife within the loving/serving/honoring bonds of marriage.

Unintentional Sin Is Still Sin

ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude

To downgrade sin, or to do away with it entirely, is to show contempt for the God who is holy. When we reduce the sinfulness of sin, we do away with the need for a Savior—which is the whole point of the Bible. Yet there is a growing number of Christians today who do just that. What an affront to the doctrine of salvation, and to the cross of Christ.

Whatever Became of Sin

Going Deep // Focus: Leviticus 5:17-19

Suppose you sin by violating one of the Lord’s commands. Even if you are unaware of what you have done, you are guilty and will be punished for your sin. For a guilt offering, you must bring to the priest your own ram with no defects, or you may buy one of equal value. Through this process the priest will purify you from your unintentional sin, making you right with the Lord, and you will be forgiven. This is a guilt offering, for you have been guilty of an offense against the Lord.

“Even if you are unaware of what you have done, you are guilty and will be punished for your sin.” Wow—that’s harsh. But yes, sin is sin, no matter the good intentions or unawareness of the sinner. Sin is a very big deal to a holy God, and even though as modern readers we live at a time where the offensiveness of certain types of sin have been downgraded, if not done away with altogether, we would do well to remember that God has not changed his mind one iota regarding the matter.

Dr. Karl Menninger, the famed psychiatrist and found of the Menninger Clinic, wrote a book called Whatever Happened to Sin, in which he tells us that the word “sin” has practically disappeared from our vocabulary. And yet, the sense of guilt remains in our hearts and minds. Likewise, the outcome of sin is plainly evident in the world—both near and far. Yes, sin is still sin, even if sophisticated man says it doesn’t.

Pride is still sin. So is inappropriate anger. Cheating, too. Mistreating the poor, contempt, lying, unbiblical divorce, selfishness, gluttony, abortion, homosexuality, heterosexual lust in the heart, pornography, disrespect for authority, laziness, stinginess—you get the picture. Or, if you don’t, here is how pastor-theologian John Piper puts it:

What is sin?
It is the glory of God not honored.
The holiness of God not reverenced.
The greatness of God not admired.
The power of God not praised.
The truth of God not sought.
The wisdom of God not esteemed.
The beauty of God not treasured.
The goodness of God not savored.
The faithfulness of God not trusted.
The commandments of God not obeyed.
The justice of God not respected.
The wrath of God not feared.
The grace of God not cherished.
The presence of God not prized.
The person of God not loved.
That is sin.

We could fill page after page of a very long book with the ways, big and small, obvious and subtle, willful and intentional, that human beings violate the law of God. Sin is missing the mark, whether it is by miles or inches, and it is an offense to God, who to be true to his just and righteous character, must either punish it or find a means to forgive it.

To downgrade or to do away with sin is show contempt for the Creator and the cross of Christ. When we reduce the sinfulness of sin, we do away with the need for a Savior—which is the whole point of the Bible. Yet there is a growing number of Christians today doing just that. Far too many have been lured into a false gospel that believes, apparently as he evolves into a better, kinder deity, that God now grades on the curve, that if the person’s heart was right, or if they just didn’t know that what they were doing was wrong, that God will give special consideration when grading their final.

In reality, that is a theology of works—that we are saved by our own goodness and not by grace through faith and not of works. In other words, if a person is morally good enough, or if they were ignorant of their sinfulness, God will take their goodness and their ignorance into account. After all, how could God assign good and unwitting people to punishment, not to mention, perish the thought, eternal damnation?

What an affront to the most basic tenet of the Bible: that salvation is by grace through faith, and not by works—sola fide, justification by faith alone. The fact that even sin for which we are unware brings guilt before God and must be punished is a clear reminder of that. Obviously, all sin was a big deal to a holy God, and if his people were to live in holiness, they would need a way to deal with the sins they committed along the way.

Between Leviticus 5-7 God shows his people how to deal with their sin and guilt through a series of sin offerings. And while we may be tempted to pass over these sin offerings since we no longer live under this system—thankfully—yet there are several eternal realities that this section of Scripture teaches us. Let me offer three:

  1. God is utterly holy, and sin is a violation of his holiness—always!
  2. Man is thoroughly sinful, and therefore deserving of judgment. The fact that sin may be unintentional and unknown and still render the sinner guilty before a holy God reminds us that there is none righteous, not even on our best day. We tend to think that God judges sin based on our motives, but this clearly shows that even the littlest sin drops our standing before him. Fallen man was born with a sin nature, and since it won’t be eradicated this side of heaven, it must be atoned for—some how in some way.
  3. Forgiveness is always available. Atonement for sin is made through God’s path to forgiveness. God, in his grace and mercy, made it possible for his people to have the guilt of their sin removed so they could live in right standing before him. Of course, we now know in light of the New Testament revelation that the Old Testament system of sacrifice was a temporary placeholder until the once-for-all sacrifice of Christ was made, but it was still a beautiful picture of a God who longed to forgive, not punish, the guilt of his people. But they had to do it his way.

We still do—do it God’s way, that is! And God still longs to forgive—that is just who God is. But we block the flow of the forgiveness of the forgiving God when we join the growing trend of those removing the sinfulness of sin. We need to remember that whenever sin is removed by any other means than through repentant faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus, we have just removed the whole purpose for the Incarnation: that Jesus came to seek and to save the lost by giving his life as the ransom for their sin.

Going Deeper With God: Have you found yourself making excuses for sin—either yours or another’s? That in itself is sin, and a very serious one at that. Repent, and ask God to give you a heart that is hyper-sensitive to sin. Far from being a bad thing, that is a very healthy way to live and the path to Divine blessing.

God’s Open Letter to America

ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude

Social justice, the refugee crises, protests, lawlessness, government gridlock, racism, mounting national anger and imminent cultural decline—no matter what political system you side with, most of us are worried about our nation. And with good cause: many of us believe we are watching the self-immolation of America. No matter who are you or what you believe, please take a moment, with both open mind and tender heart, to read Exodus 23. As you do, let God’s word convict you of your guilt as a lawbreaker—his immutable, universal law, that is. And may that lead you to repentance. If enough of us do that, we can save America.

Beck Diefenbach/Reuters

Going Deep // Focus: Exodus 23:1-9

Do not spread false reports. Do not help a guilty person by being a malicious witness. Do not follow the crowd in doing wrong. When you give testimony in a lawsuit, do not pervert justice by siding with the crowd, and do not show favoritism to a poor person in a lawsuit. If you come across your enemy’s ox or donkey wandering off, be sure to return it. If you see the donkey of someone who hates you fallen down under its load, do not leave it there; be sure you help them with it. Do not deny justice to your poor people in their lawsuits. Have nothing to do with a false charge and do not put an innocent or honest person to death, for I will not acquit the guilty. Do not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds those who see and twists the words of the innocent. Do not oppress a foreigner; you yourselves know how it feels to be foreigners, because you were foreigners in Egypt.

Having been through the most divisive, mean-spirited political season in my memory, and with the after effects of that bruising contest continuing to pound our nation with racial disharmony, hatred, name-calling, government gridlock, lawsuits, violent protests, destroyed friendships, national anxiety and general nastiness, many of us are seriously worried about the stability of America and our nation’s longevity as the last best hope of the world. We are in trouble, and only we can fix it, with God’s help. We must create a movement internally that will call a stop to our national cannibalism and return us to the common ground that has made us the envy of the world, imperfect as we have been, for hundreds of years.

The blame for our mess is not to be laid at any one person’s feet—not at President Trump, or Obama, or Bush or Clinton. The blame is not one political party or another—it is not the Republicans or the Democrats. It is not the media’s fault. Secularists or academicians are not to blame. Nor is it right wing nut jobs, shrill Christians or blue hairs from the Tea Party. The problem isn’t leftists, socialists, open borderists or anarchists.

The fault is ours. We have met the enemy—and he is us. Let me be clear: you and I are to blame.

If you don’t believe me, read Exodus 23. God gets up in our grill in this chapter and shows us issue after issue where we have not just gone off the rails; we have annihilated his holy law and have deeply offended his righteous character. In very unmistakable language, he turns into an equal opportunity offender and goes after us on issue after issue:

  • Dishonesty, dissembling, fake news, and flat out lying: “Do not spread false reports. Do not help a guilty person by being a malicious witness.” (Exodus 23:1)
  • Pandering for popular appeal, blind loyalty to a political leader, media bias and pushing a false narrative for political power: “Do not follow the crowd in doing wrong. When you give testimony in a lawsuit, do not pervert justice by siding with the crowd, and do not show favoritism to a poor person in a lawsuit.” (Exodus 23:2-3)
  • Nastiness, the politics of personal destruction, name calling, and argumentum ad hominem: “If you come across your enemy’s ox or donkey wandering off, be sure to return it. If you see the donkey of someone who hates you fallen down under its load, do not leave it there; be sure you help them with it.” (Exodus 23:4-5)
  • Social justice, inequality, racism, profiling, judicial activism and a legal system that is biased in favor of the wealthy: “Do not deny justice to your poor people in their lawsuits. Have nothing to do with a false charge and do not put an innocent or honest person to death, for I will not acquit the guilty. Do not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds those who see and twists the words of the innocent.” (Exodus 23:6-8)
  • Immigration reform, open borders, religious discrimination and the mounting refugee crisis: “Do not oppress a foreigner; you yourselves know how it feels to be foreigners, because you were foreigners in Egypt.” (Exodus 23:9)

Did God leave anything out? I don’t think so. There is no cultural issue currently dividing us that God’s Word hasn’t already addressed. And when you look at what he has declared with an open mind and a tender heart, you realize that we are all guilty before a holy God who sees through our sophisticated philosophies and convoluted arguments with utter moral clarity. And he stands ready to judge us, or help us, depending on the heart response that we offer him.

Choose your issue: social justice, the refugee crises, identity politics, the death of truth in favor or moral relativism, protests in the streets, lawlessness, national anger, cultural decline, neighbor hating neighbor over the election—no matter what political system you side with, no matter what life philosophy you choose to live by, most of us are worried about our nation. And with good cause: many of us believe we are watching the self-immolation of America. No matter who you are or what you believe, with an open mind and tender heart, take to heart what God has said as you read Exodus 23. As you do, give God the right to convict you of your guilt as a lawbreaker—his immutable, universal moral law.

And make no mistake: you are a lawbreaker. So am I. If not the letter of the law, we have murdered the spirit of the law in our hearts and minds. And may your acknowledgement of guilt lead you to repentance.

What can we do to save America? It might sound simplistic, but I believe it starts with personal confession and repentance. Then comes obedience to God’s law, not man’s opinion or political preferences or cultural philosophies. And when we follow God’s way, he makes some wonderful promises of what life will be like as he leads us into a time of peace and prosperity—which you can read about in Exodus 23:20-33. Among other blessings, our repentance and obedience will be met with his provision of peace: “See, I am sending an angel ahead of you to guard you along the way and to bring you to the place I have prepared.” (Exodus 23:20)

If enough of us do that—repent and obey—we can save America. We really can!

Going Deeper With God: Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand!

Heads Up World: You Are The Potter’s Clay!

ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude

As the created, living on the planet formed by the hands of the Creator, out of nothing, mind you, we never, ever, have the right to have a “not in my back yard” attitude before him. The earth belongs to him. It exists for his purpose—whatever that purpose it. And we exist for his purpose, too—whatever that is.

Clay in Potter's Hand

Going Deep // Focus: Exodus 9:16

But I have raised you up for this very purpose, that I might show you my power and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.

Psalm 24:1-2 declares, “The earth is the LORD’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it; for he founded it upon the seas and established it upon the waters.”

Since that is the case, why do we try to limit the Almighty with our cultural sense of fairness? Who are we to tell God how he should or shouldn’t act toward the people of the earth? After all, he is the one who designed and built the earth, he placed it exactly as it should be; it is for his purpose and pleasure that he laid it out the way it is and populated it with life.

As the created, living on the planet formed by the hands of the Creator, out of nothing, mind you, we never, ever, have the right to have a “not in my back yard” attitude before him. The earth belongs to him. It exists for his purpose—whatever that purpose is. And we exist for his purpose, too—whatever that is. As the prophet Isaiah so bluntly reminds us,

Woe to those who quarrel with their Maker,
those who are nothing but potsherds
among the potsherds on the ground.
Does the clay say to the potter,
‘What are you making?’
Does your work say,
‘The potter has no hands’?

God is God and we are not! We would do well to remember that—not only for ourselves, but as we interpret the current issues in our culture. The fact is, like it or not, God can raise us up for his glorious purposes, or he can cast us down for the same. Presidents, politicians, poets, celebrities and tycoons—no matter how powerful the world declares them to be, no matter how mighty they proclaim themselves to be—are still clay in the Potter’s hands.

And you? You are the Lord’s! God has raised you up to show his great power in you that his name might be proclaimed through you. And your life-mission is to spread his fame among the peoples of the earth and the principalities looking on from the unseen realm. That is your singular job as clay in the Potter’s hand: to make him famous.

Going Deeper With God: Today, be intentional in making Jesus famous in your world.

The Slow and Serpentine Arc of the Moral Universe

ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude

The Day of the Lord may be slow in coming—and gratefully so, given the eternal finality of the final revelation of God’s judgment—but it won’t be late. The arc of the moral universe may be long and serpentine, but it will ultimately bend to the justification of God and God’s people. Given that, it’s best to be on the right side of redemptive history.

God's Patience

Going Deep // Focus: Exodus 8:23

I will make a distinction between my people and your people. This sign will occur tomorrow.

As a believer, there are times when you just wish God would show up and through some unbelievable, undeniable act, convince one and all, especially the unbelieving, scoffing world, that he alone is God. And there are times when your heart longs for God to publically justify his people before a belligerent, God-hating, sin-loving culture in a way that leaves no room for doubt.

Historically, the community of faith, to it’s own peril, has rubbed against the fur of the world in standing for the values of the Kingdom. And we long for that moment when, to this godless age, God proves himself and approves of his people in such a way that there is no other explanation than God.

And occasionally in history, God has done just that. Such is the case in Exodus 8 as he visits the ten plagues upon the godless culture of Egypt. By the very nature of these plagues, which were Divine counterparts to the counterfeit gods of Egypt, it became plainly evident to both Hebrew and Egyptian that there was no greater God than the God of Israel and that the children of Israel were God’s prized possession. Indeed, the plagues were a sign to Pharaoh, his officials, and his people, that God made “a distinction between my people and your people.” (Genesis 8:23)

One of the deepest longings of the God-follower’s heart is that the Almighty would justify himself, once and for all! Of course, God never needs to justify himself. And of course, in spite of the previous statement, one day he will do exactly that—he will bring judgment upon a world stunned into silence as his unvarnished justice and unmitigated power is revealed. Paul speaks of that time in Philippians 2:9-11 when not only the unbelieving world, but the whole of creation, will bow in submission to the unparalleled greatness of God:

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

That day is coming. It may be slow—and gratefully so, given the utter finality of the final revelation of God’s judgment—but it won’t be late. The arc of the moral universe may be long and serpentine, but it will ultimately end in the justification of God and God’s people. And, given that, it’s best to be on the right side of history.

God gave Pharaoh a chance to repent. God gives the world a chance to repent. God gives you and me a chance to repent. In light of the coming day when there will be no other explanation than God, let’s live as people of repentance.

Going Deeper With God: There will be payday, someday. Make sure you have accepted the greatest paycheck of all—the grace of God through saving belief in and full surrender to his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.

For Every Leah

ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude

You are worthy to be loved, accepted and valued simply because God created you perfectly you. Even if others don’t recognized that, never forget that God sees you as something special.

Beloved By God

Going Deep // Focus: Genesis 29:16, 30-32

Now Laban had two daughters [that Jacob married]; the name of the older was Leah, and the name of the younger was Rachel… Jacob’s love for Rachel was greater than his love for Leah… When the Lord saw that Leah was not loved, he enabled her to conceive, but Rachel remained childless. Leah became pregnant and gave birth to a son. She named him Reuben, for she said, “It is because the Lord has seen my misery. Surely my husband will love me now.”

You are worthy to be loved, accepted and valued simply because God created you perfectly you. Even if others don’t recognize that, never forget that God sees you as something special.

Unfortunately in our world, we typically assign loveliness by arbitrary, unfair and constantly shifting standards of physical attractiveness, and in so doing we set the stage for untold misery for those who don’t measure up.

In this story in Genesis 29, Jacob desires to marry the beautiful Rachel, but is duped into marrying her not-so-attractive older sister Leah. (Genesis 29:16-23) Unfortunately for Leah, she wasn’t Jacob’s type. Genesis 29:17 tells us that, “Leah had weak eyes, but Rachel was lovely in form, and beautiful.” In the Hebrew, that’s a polite way of saying Leah was ugly. Likely that is not news to her. She is fully aware of how people perceived her, and to add insult to injury, her little sister, Rachel, is absolutely beautiful.

Imagine the comparisons Leah lived her entire life—sometimes openly, sometimes in the not-so-subtle whispers and stares of others, including her family. Every day Leah faced the pain of rejection that not having the right looks brings, because in truth, she—and other every woman—wants to be told she is beautiful and desirable.

Picture her fear going to bed with Jacob that night, knowing that the truth will be exposed in the first light of day. She will wake up yet again unwanted, unnoticed, unloved—again coming in second—because, as C.S. Lewis wrote, “in the morning it’s always Leah.”

Imagine that sinking feeling when she hears her new husband yelling at her father for foisting on him the ugly one—the one he didn’t want. And in her mind, her worthlessness is once again validated that the only way she will find love and get married is through pretense or a payoff.

But by hook or by crook she has gained a husband, and now she must command his affection. So in vain, Leah begins a whole new attempt to capture Jacob’s heart—bearing babies. In Genesis 29:31-30:24, we become witness to a baby race: over the next 20 years, these two wives and their two concubines try to outdo each other to get the upper hand with Jacob by bearing 12 sons.

But for Leah, no matter how many babies are born, nothing changes—still no flowers, no candy, and no affection. With each new child, “in the morning, it’s still Leah.” Notice Leah’s diminishing expectations with each successive birth. In 29:32, when Reuben was born, there are still high hopes, “Now my husband will love me.” Thinking she can lure Jacob’s love, she names the baby Rueben, which means “a son.” After all, what husband wouldn’t love a wife who could give him a son? But those longings for a sizzling, romantic relationship become simply a fleeting hope for some expression of affection in Genesis 29:34 when her third son, Levi, is born: “This time my husband will become attached [attracted] to me.” Finally, many years later, in Genesis 30:20, when she bears her sixth and last son, Zebulun, Leah says, “Now will my husband dwell with me because I have given him six sons” By this time, she’d be satisfied with just a token—that Jacob would just spend more time with her.

Understandably, she’s looking to Jacob to meet a need that God had planted in her heart by design. But because of sin, the sad fact is, no other person will ever fully meet that need. Jacob can’t for Leah, and no one—husband, wife, boyfriend or girlfriend will do it for you. It is only when we allow God to fill us that our deepest longing for belonging will be met.

Leah began to get that along the way. When Judah was born in Genesis 29:35, she says, “Now will I praise the Lord.” The sad reality was, this relationship between Leah and Jacob never sizzled. But something did begin to happen in Leah’s character to win Jacob over. As you get to the end of this saga in Genesis 49:29-31, we find Jacob is an old widower. He has outlived both Leah and Rachel. His last recorded request is to be buried next to Leah. At death, Jacob made his last pledge of love to weak-eyed Leah, not the beautiful Rachel. In the end, it was Leah’s character, not her curves that won Jacob’s respect—and his heart.

The truth is, most likely we will never change the way sin-tainted people assign value to us. In the eyes of some, worth may continue to evade us. No matter what, “in the morning we will still be Leah.” But when we make God our primary source for love, acceptance and affection, he has a way of satisfying those deep longings.

While cultural standards of worth apart from Christ continually change—God’s standards don’t. He always finds you worthy of his love. So while human love and value are wonderful, make God your first and primary source for significance. If you are looking to find fulfillment in another person, every relationship will be a desperate, never-ending search for another to complete you. Only God should occupy that role—and only he can meet that need!

God loves you! So much so he sent his Son to die to redeem you and you are his forever. Now that must mean you are something incredibly special. Never forget that.

Going Deep With God: Take some time today to just soak in God’s love for you. I am not sure how you can do that, but in your own way, give him a chance to reveal just how special you are to him.