×
A devotional bible commentary
in partnership with
Join Us!
Join Us!

Today’s Reading

Devotional

In all of ancient Near Eastern literature, so far as I am aware, Hagar is the only woman whom Deity directly addresses by name (Gen. 16:8; 21:17). The woman in question is not one of the great matriarchs of the Old Testament—Sarah, perhaps, or Rachel, or Rebekah—but a slave who resents her mistress and flees. Yet God addresses her, tells her to submit to Sarai (16:9), promises that the child she is carrying in her womb will be a son, and later tells her that that son will be the progenitor of a great nation (21:18).

The account has many interwoven layers to think about. Placed after God’s covenant with Abram in Genesis 15, this incident reflects well on neither Abram nor Sarai. Desperate for children, they think they have the right to bring God’s purposes—and their own desires!—to pass by legal but shady means. The result is not only tension in their household for years to come—tension that spills over into the next generation (Gen. 21, 25), but the beginnings of the Arab peoples, who frequently find themselves locked in hostility with Israel to this day. One of the great features of the Bible is its sheer honesty: great men and women are portrayed with all their warts. This remains a broken world, and the very best are fallen. This should warn us against untamed hero-worship.

Yet there is another connection with the previous chapters. God had promised Abram that all peoples on earth would be blessed through him (12:3). The election of Abram is a means to that end. However focused on Abram’s offspring his purposes will be, God remains the sovereign Lord of all. In the book of Genesis, the account of Abram is nestled into the broader account of the creation of all, and the fall of all. And so here, at the very beginning of the history of the nation of Israel, God displays his concern for the despised and the outcast, people who are not organically connected with the promised line.

We may detect the same concern in the Lord Jesus. In Matthew 15:21–18, Jesus well knows that during the days of his flesh his mission is in the first instance directed to “the lost sheep of Israel” (15:24). There is a redemptive-historical primacy to the ancient covenant people of God. But this does not prevent him from acknowledging the remarkable faith of yet another woman, a Canaanite, who wisely changes her plea. She no longer addresses Christ as “Son of David” (15:22), on who she can make no direct claim, and simply pleads for mercy (15:27). Another “Hagar” finds that mercy abundant, as countless people do today.

Genesis 16

Sarai and Hagar

16:1 Now Sarai, Abram's wife, had borne him no children. She had a female Egyptian servant whose name was Hagar. And Sarai said to Abram, “Behold now, the LORD has prevented me from bearing children. Go in to my servant; it may be that I shall obtain children1 by her.” And Abram listened to the voice of Sarai. So, after Abram had lived ten years in the land of Canaan, Sarai, Abram's wife, took Hagar the Egyptian, her servant, and gave her to Abram her husband as a wife. And he went in to Hagar, and she conceived. And when she saw that she had conceived, she looked with contempt on her mistress.2 And Sarai said to Abram, “May the wrong done to me be on you! I gave my servant to your embrace, and when she saw that she had conceived, she looked on me with contempt. May the LORD judge between you and me!” But Abram said to Sarai, “Behold, your servant is in your power; do to her as you please.” Then Sarai dealt harshly with her, and she fled from her.

The angel of the LORD found her by a spring of water in the wilderness, the spring on the way to Shur. And he said, “Hagar, servant of Sarai, where have you come from and where are you going?” She said, “I am fleeing from my mistress Sarai.” The angel of the LORD said to her, “Return to your mistress and submit to her.” 10 The angel of the LORD also said to her, “I will surely multiply your offspring so that they cannot be numbered for multitude.” 11 And the angel of the LORD said to her,

  “Behold, you are pregnant
    and shall bear a son.
  You shall call his name Ishmael,3
    because the LORD has listened to your affliction.
12   He shall be a wild donkey of a man,
    his hand against everyone
    and everyone's hand against him,
  and he shall dwell over against all his kinsmen.”

13 So she called the name of the LORD who spoke to her, “You are a God of seeing,”4 for she said, “Truly here I have seen him who looks after me.”5 14 Therefore the well was called Beer-lahai-roi;6 it lies between Kadesh and Bered.

15 And Hagar bore Abram a son, and Abram called the name of his son, whom Hagar bore, Ishmael. 16 Abram was eighty-six years old when Hagar bore Ishmael to Abram.

Footnotes

[1] 16:2 Hebrew be built up, which sounds like the Hebrew for children
[2] 16:4 Hebrew her mistress was dishonorable in her eyes; similarly in verse 5
[3] 16:11 Ishmael means God hears
[4] 16:13 Or You are a God who sees me
[5] 16:13 Hebrew Have I really seen him here who sees me? or Would I have looked here for the one who sees me?
[6] 16:14 Beer-lahai-roi means the well of the Living One who sees me

(ESV)

Matthew 15

Traditions and Commandments

15:1 Then Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem and said, “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat.” He answered them, “And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition? For God commanded, ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’ But you say, ‘If anyone tells his father or his mother, “What you would have gained from me is given to God,”1 he need not honor his father.’ So for the sake of your tradition you have made void the word2 of God. You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said:

  “‘This people honors me with their lips,
    but their heart is far from me;
  in vain do they worship me,
    teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’”

What Defiles a Person

10 And he called the people to him and said to them, “Hear and understand: 11 it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person.” 12 Then the disciples came and said to him, “Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this saying?” 13 He answered, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be rooted up. 14 Let them alone; they are blind guides.3 And if the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit.” 15 But Peter said to him, “Explain the parable to us.” 16 And he said, “Are you also still without understanding? 17 Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth passes into the stomach and is expelled?4 18 But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. 19 For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. 20 These are what defile a person. But to eat with unwashed hands does not defile anyone.”

The Faith of a Canaanite Woman

21 And Jesus went away from there and withdrew to the district of Tyre and Sidon. 22 And behold, a Canaanite woman from that region came out and was crying, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.” 23 But he did not answer her a word. And his disciples came and begged him, saying, “Send her away, for she is crying out after us.” 24 He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” 25 But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” 26 And he answered, “It is not right to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs.” 27 She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table.” 28 Then Jesus answered her, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly.5

Jesus Heals Many

29 Jesus went on from there and walked beside the Sea of Galilee. And he went up on the mountain and sat down there. 30 And great crowds came to him, bringing with them the lame, the blind, the crippled, the mute, and many others, and they put them at his feet, and he healed them, 31 so that the crowd wondered, when they saw the mute speaking, the crippled healthy, the lame walking, and the blind seeing. And they glorified the God of Israel.

Jesus Feeds the Four Thousand

32 Then Jesus called his disciples to him and said, “I have compassion on the crowd because they have been with me now three days and have nothing to eat. And I am unwilling to send them away hungry, lest they faint on the way.” 33 And the disciples said to him, “Where are we to get enough bread in such a desolate place to feed so great a crowd?” 34 And Jesus said to them, “How many loaves do you have?” They said, “Seven, and a few small fish.” 35 And directing the crowd to sit down on the ground, 36 he took the seven loaves and the fish, and having given thanks he broke them and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. 37 And they all ate and were satisfied. And they took up seven baskets full of the broken pieces left over. 38 Those who ate were four thousand men, besides women and children. 39 And after sending away the crowds, he got into the boat and went to the region of Magadan.

Footnotes

[1] 15:5 Or is an offering
[2] 15:6 Some manuscripts law
[3] 15:14 Some manuscripts add of the blind
[4] 15:17 Greek is expelled into the latrine
[5] 15:28 Greek from that hour

(ESV)

Nehemiah 5

Nehemiah Stops Oppression of the Poor

5:1 Now there arose a great outcry of the people and of their wives against their Jewish brothers. For there were those who said, “With our sons and our daughters, we are many. So let us get grain, that we may eat and keep alive.” There were also those who said, “We are mortgaging our fields, our vineyards, and our houses to get grain because of the famine.” And there were those who said, “We have borrowed money for the king's tax on our fields and our vineyards. Now our flesh is as the flesh of our brothers, our children are as their children. Yet we are forcing our sons and our daughters to be slaves, and some of our daughters have already been enslaved, but it is not in our power to help it, for other men have our fields and our vineyards.”

I was very angry when I heard their outcry and these words. I took counsel with myself, and I brought charges against the nobles and the officials. I said to them, “You are exacting interest, each from his brother.” And I held a great assembly against them and said to them, “We, as far as we are able, have bought back our Jewish brothers who have been sold to the nations, but you even sell your brothers that they may be sold to us!” They were silent and could not find a word to say. So I said, “The thing that you are doing is not good. Ought you not to walk in the fear of our God to prevent the taunts of the nations our enemies? 10 Moreover, I and my brothers and my servants are lending them money and grain. Let us abandon this exacting of interest. 11 Return to them this very day their fields, their vineyards, their olive orchards, and their houses, and the percentage of money, grain, wine, and oil that you have been exacting from them.” 12 Then they said, “We will restore these and require nothing from them. We will do as you say.” And I called the priests and made them swear to do as they had promised. 13 I also shook out the fold1 of my garment and said, “So may God shake out every man from his house and from his labor who does not keep this promise. So may he be shaken out and emptied.” And all the assembly said “Amen” and praised the LORD. And the people did as they had promised.

Nehemiah's Generosity

14 Moreover, from the time that I was appointed to be their governor in the land of Judah, from the twentieth year to the thirty-second year of Artaxerxes the king, twelve years, neither I nor my brothers ate the food allowance of the governor. 15 The former governors who were before me laid heavy burdens on the people and took from them for their daily ration2 forty shekels3 of silver. Even their servants lorded it over the people. But I did not do so, because of the fear of God. 16 I also persevered in the work on this wall, and we acquired no land, and all my servants were gathered there for the work. 17 Moreover, there were at my table 150 men, Jews and officials, besides those who came to us from the nations that were around us. 18 Now what was prepared at my expense4 for each day was one ox and six choice sheep and birds, and every ten days all kinds of wine in abundance. Yet for all this I did not demand the food allowance of the governor, because the service was too heavy on this people. 19 Remember for my good, O my God, all that I have done for this people.

Footnotes

[1] 5:13 Hebrew bosom
[2] 5:15 Compare Vulgate; Hebrew took from them for food and wine after
[3] 5:15 A shekel was about 2/5 ounce or 11 grams
[4] 5:18 Or prepared for me

(ESV)

Acts 15

The Jerusalem Council

15:1 But some men came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” And after Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and debate with them, Paul and Barnabas and some of the others were appointed to go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and the elders about this question. So, being sent on their way by the church, they passed through both Phoenicia and Samaria, describing in detail the conversion of the Gentiles, and brought great joy to all the brothers.1 When they came to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and the elders, and they declared all that God had done with them. But some believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees rose up and said, “It is necessary to circumcise them and to order them to keep the law of Moses.”

The apostles and the elders were gathered together to consider this matter. And after there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them, “Brothers, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe. And God, who knows the heart, bore witness to them, by giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us, and he made no distinction between us and them, having cleansed their hearts by faith. 10 Now, therefore, why are you putting God to the test by placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? 11 But we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.”

12 And all the assembly fell silent, and they listened to Barnabas and Paul as they related what signs and wonders God had done through them among the Gentiles. 13 After they finished speaking, James replied, “Brothers, listen to me. 14 Simeon has related how God first visited the Gentiles, to take from them a people for his name. 15 And with this the words of the prophets agree, just as it is written,

16   “‘After this I will return,
  and I will rebuild the tent of David that has fallen;
  I will rebuild its ruins,
     and I will restore it,
17   that the remnant2 of mankind may seek the Lord,
    and all the Gentiles who are called by my name,
    says the Lord, who makes these things 18 known from of old.’

19 Therefore my judgment is that we should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God, 20 but should write to them to abstain from the things polluted by idols, and from sexual immorality, and from what has been strangled, and from blood. 21 For from ancient generations Moses has had in every city those who proclaim him, for he is read every Sabbath in the synagogues.”

The Council's Letter to Gentile Believers

22 Then it seemed good to the apostles and the elders, with the whole church, to choose men from among them and send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas. They sent Judas called Barsabbas, and Silas, leading men among the brothers, 23 with the following letter: “The brothers, both the apostles and the elders, to the brothers3 who are of the Gentiles in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia, greetings. 24 Since we have heard that some persons have gone out from us and troubled you4 with words, unsettling your minds, although we gave them no instructions, 25 it has seemed good to us, having come to one accord, to choose men and send them to you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, 26 men who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. 27 We have therefore sent Judas and Silas, who themselves will tell you the same things by word of mouth. 28 For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay on you no greater burden than these requirements: 29 that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from what has been strangled, and from sexual immorality. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well. Farewell.”

30 So when they were sent off, they went down to Antioch, and having gathered the congregation together, they delivered the letter. 31 And when they had read it, they rejoiced because of its encouragement. 32 And Judas and Silas, who were themselves prophets, encouraged and strengthened the brothers with many words. 33 And after they had spent some time, they were sent off in peace by the brothers to those who had sent them.5 35 But Paul and Barnabas remained in Antioch, teaching and preaching the word of the Lord, with many others also.

Paul and Barnabas Separate

36 And after some days Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us return and visit the brothers in every city where we proclaimed the word of the Lord, and see how they are.” 37 Now Barnabas wanted to take with them John called Mark. 38 But Paul thought best not to take with them one who had withdrawn from them in Pamphylia and had not gone with them to the work. 39 And there arose a sharp disagreement, so that they separated from each other. Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus, 40 but Paul chose Silas and departed, having been commended by the brothers to the grace of the Lord. 41 And he went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.

Footnotes

[1] 15:3 Or brothers and sisters; also verse 22
[2] 15:17 Or rest
[3] 15:23 Or brothers and sisters; also verses 32, 33, 36
[4] 15:24 Some manuscripts some persons from us have troubled you
[5] 15:33 Some manuscripts insert verse 34: But it seemed good to Silas to remain there

(ESV)

Resources

When Godly People Disagree: Lessons from Acts 15

Divisions between Christians are nothing new; they began in the New Testament.

What to Do with the Bible’s Purity Laws

We moderns are not above purity laws. We have plenty.

When You Feel Forgotten, Abandoned, and Unloved

Hagar is the only woman in the Bible to receive this promise as in Genesis 16:10: “I will surely multiply your offspring so that they cannot be numbered for multitude.”