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It's interesting that the names of all the children born either by Rachel or on her behalf (through Billah) have somewhat ambiguous names, while the children born to Leah and, for the most part even to her servant Zillah, have definitively positive names.  Here's how it breaks down.

Seen, Reuben - Leah
Heard, Simeon - Leah
Attached, Levi - Leah
Praise, Judah - Leah
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Judged, Dan - Rachel (Billah)
Wrestled, Naphtali - Rachel (Billah)
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Good Fortune, Gad - Leah (Zillah)
Happy/Blessed, Asher - Leah (Zillah)
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Wages/Payment, Issachar - Leah (for mandrakes)
Honor, Zebulun - Leah
(Judged/Vindicated, Dinah - Leah) [Note this is just the female form of Dan.]
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May he add/taken away, Joseph - Rachel
Son of my Sorrow/Son of my Stregth, Ben-Oni -Rachel / Son of my Right Hand, Benjamin - Jacob 

Rachel is a perplexing figure.  Beloved and beautiful, mother to the the savior Joseph, yet tricky and rash in a way seemingly less virtuous than Jacob's wise-as-a-serpent cunning by which he evades those who would thwart the Promise or the Covenant.  But then it's always ambiguous.  She steals Laban's household gods, but is that a bad thing?  She certainly doesn't seem to honor them, sitting on them when "the way of women" is with her (or so she says).  Perhaps it was a last effort to cleanse her father's house of idolatry as she left?  Or was it just a case of plundering a father whom she felt betrayed by?  She certainly seems spiteful toward her sister at times, even naming one of her sons after her mental/emotional wrestling match with the envy she felt over her sister's good fortune in the child bearing department.  I'm never sure what to think of Rachel.

And in Leah I can't help but see a bit of Mary and Hannah, the poor that are remembered and raised up by the Lord with children whose significance will astound. 

 
 
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“Then Abraham drew near and said, ‘Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked?... Far be it from you to do such a thing, to put the righteous to death with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be that from you! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?’”  --Genesis 18.23


Abraham, our forefather, thought that it would be unjust, and thus out of keeping with God’s character to destroy a city if there were even a few righteous people in it.  Think about that.  He presumed to tell God what was just, presumably because it was obvious to him.  And God agreed, going farther even than Abraham had dared to ask, removing all of the “righteous” (even those whom he knew would apostatize) before destroying the cities.

Now before we go trying to apply such a lesson we have to make a few distinctions, if only to maintain our street cred.  A) We’re not God, so we can’t know exactly who the righteous are, nor can we as easily shepherd them out of harm’s way (although we could protect churches and the like).  B) We don’t have divine sanction for any particular military action, so we don’t know that the wickedness of a particular nation has sparked an angelic outcry such that God wants that place utterly destroyed like Sodom did.  This means that we are not in a position to presume to be carrying out some sort of divine judgement.

What this leads to is a realization that we should be very, very careful in our pursuit of war.  If we have no divine sanction, and we know that God believes that killing even a few righteous persons in an attempt to destroy a “wicked city”, much less one that simply opposes our interests, is unjust, we should be extremely cautious in our pursuit of war.  

More particularly we should certainly avoid wars that involve the killing of large numbers of innocents.  That was precisely the issue at Sodom and Gomorrah.  Abraham had just been involved in a battle whereby he rescued his nephew Lot, and there is no doubt from the text that many died in that affair.  But there are two important facts that help us understand the distinctions between that action and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.  First, it was a defensive action.  Abraham’s nephew had been captured and Abraham sought to redeem him.  Second it was a war fought between soldiers or fighting men.

The difference between Abraham’s reaction to the battles for Lot and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah is the fact that one was a defensive war between armies and the other was the destruction of a civilian population.

The lesson to be learned from this is that if you engage in war, and particularly offensive or “pre-emptive” war, in such a way that you start killing righteous people “for the greater good” it seems to me that you have to reckon with Abraham and the divine sanction of his belief that killing the righteous along with the wicked is unjust and ungodly.

Finally, I would say, that even if we pretend that the United States is an obvious force for good in the world (with her hundreds of thousands of child murders per year, Bible burnings by the military, assassinations, and wholesale embrace of statism) we must reckon with the fact that even the greatest “force for good” there is, YAHWEH himself, did not believe that “collateral damage” of the righteous in an offensive action was simply one of the cold hard realities of war that must be accepted. 

Foreign policy is not just a side issue. 

 
 
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Psalm 5.4 says this: "For you are not a God who delights in wickedness; evil may not dwell with you."  I think it is easy for us to read this as a truism.  Of course God doesn't delight in wickedness.  Need that be mentioned?  For us it is definitional.  No god could be properly called such if he delighted in wickedness.  But it is important to remember that for David's audience and for most of the world prior to the resurrection such an idea would not be obvious.  David was writing into a context where people, or their ancestors had worshipped Baals, Ashteroth and Molech, the latter of whom famously delighted in child sacrifice.

One of my pastors once pointed out that when Jesus died and was resurrected it was almost as if he pulled the entire world through the cross leaving it a new and resurrected reality on the other side.  I find this to be a poignant and profound image.  While the world is stil very broken and in need of redemption, the world after Christ is different than the world before Christ.  On this side of the cross, in places where the gospel has penetrated, it can be taken as a given that God is one who does not delight in wickedness.  The whole notion of the philosophical debate about the "problem of evil," or theodicy, is premised on this.  But before the cross we had the Molech's, the Baal's, the Greco-Roman pantheon that delighted in wickedness of all manner.  So we should not just gloss over such statements.  It is not a given.  We should give thanks that we know the true God, the God who does not delight in wickedness but in grace, mercy and love.

At the same time, reading on in the Psalm, we should remember that God delights to bless the righteous and humble the wicked.  We should never be self-righteous, but neither should we engage in false humility.  David is not afraid to pray that God would bless him for his righteousness/faithfulness and cast down/destroy the wicked.  In our day it is fashionable to assume that there is some sort of neutrality whereby the righteous and wicked can peacefully co-exist (and the righteous aren't really righteous anyway because we are all depraved).  However, David will have none of this.  Living on the backside of the resurrection he has a full appreciation of the death and destruction that wickedness leads to, and while we know from his other Psalms and the historical books that he certainly would prefer to see the enemies of God converted rather than destroyed, he is not afraid to contrast his own faithfulness to the Lord with their murderousness and implore the Lord to bring destruction on them and remember his faithfulness.

This is not somehow sub-Christian.  The Psalter is the Christian's hymnbook.  We should simultaneously recognize God's grace and his disgust at wickedness.  We should praise him for his holiness, thank him for his grace, pray for our enemies, and at the same time pray that he would destroy those who seek to do his people and his kingdom harm.  God is not a genie in a bottle.  You don't have three wishes and then it's over.  You can ask him to convert your enemies, bless you and the other righteous (and yes it is okay to number yourselves among the righteous, otherwise you can't pray/sing the Psalms), bring the kingdom, and destroy those who delight in wicked.  God can sort out the details.  He knows that some of these requests feel mutually exclusive, yet he exhorts you to make each of them.

So thank God that you live in a world where the statement 'God does not delight in wickedness' is tautological, ask him to remember you, bless your faithfulness, build the kingdom, convert its enemies, and destroy those who love wickedness.   And trust him to work it out. 

 
 
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A friend on Facebook recently suggested that it would be hard to make the case that Ron Paul's policies on gay marriage, drugs, abortion and Israel could be squared with Biblical principles after I posted a link to this series of videos purporting to do just that.  Here is the gist of my response:

These sort of shotgun blast comments kind of frustrate me-- not because we disagree but because they come across as ill informed and just sort of shooting from the hip but with a great sense of self assurance.  It also seems as though you didn't actually watch the videos before at least implicitly disagreeing with them.  If that is incorrect I'm sorry, but you didn't actually interact with anything in them.

Re: "gay marriage" - Paul wants the civil government to be uninvolved in marriage at a federal level, period.  He does  not think the federal government has a role to play in sanctioning (or not) any marriages.  Whether you agree with this or not, I can see no clear biblical case for the idea that marriage must be regulated by the state, much less the federal government, and I can see Paul's legal reasoning that the federal government has no clear constitutional authority to regulate marriage.  

Re: drugs - Again, Paul is opposed to using drugs personally, but sees no warrant for the federal government to engage in a "war on drugs."  While the Bible certainly forbids certain behaviors that can be caused or induced by some drugs, I see nothing in the Bible that would imply that the the civil authorities are obligated to legislate the use of particular substances, much less prohibit them, and certainly not at the highest levels of government.  Further, the practice of rounding people up who do use particular substances and locking them in cages for years at the expense of the rest of society has zero Biblical warrant, and strikes me as a failure of justice, immoral, inhumane, and a case of massive government over-reach.  We need to distinguish more carefully between sins and crimes.  There is overlap, but not every sin is a crime.  Beyond that, the reasons generally given for prosecuting drug use seem to me to amount to little more than "pre-emptive prosecution" (i.e. X may lead to Y so we will prosecute X on the grounds that we are preventing Y, despite the fact that on it's face X is not a crime per se).  Regardless of all of that however, Paul of couse supports the punishment of actual criminal behavior, whether resulting from the use of drugs, or for any other reason, and he supports the right of individual states and communities to regulate substances and prosecute immoral behavior as they deem necessary.  

Re: abortion - This one astounds me.  I would never support a candidate who did not oppose abortion.  Paul is a former OB-GYN who refused to take payments from Medicare and Medicaid (working pro bono instead), and frequently lowered payments for those who could not afford services.  He routinely worked with women to encourage them to pursue options other than abortion and has never performed, recommended, or supported an abortion.  He has supported legislation that opposes federal funding for abortion and/or groups that provide abortions.  More importantly than any of that Ron Paul has personally sponsored and introduced the "Sanctity of Life Act" which would effectively repeal Roe v. Wade by defining life and legal personhood as beginning at conception in every Congress he has been a part of since the 109th.  This is huge.  Yet the most recent introduction of the Bill in March of 2011 (H.R. 1096) received 0 co-sponsors.  There's you're pro-life republicans for you.  I could go on and on listing Paul's pro-life credentials, but I'll just note two more things.  When Paul says that it is a state issue, he does not mean that states should be able to decide whether killing babies is okay.  This is clearly evidenced by his frequently voiced belief that life begins at conception and introduction of legislation like that mentioned above.  What he means is that the Supreme Court had no authorization to rule on abortion qua abortion.  Rather, the government should recognize that unborn babies are persons and thus are afforded the same rights as any other person.  And states should then go about the business of prosecuting those who murder them, just as they prosecute those who murder anyone else.  Finally, it is telling that in 2008 Ron Paul received the endorsement of Norma McCorvey (a.k.a Jane Roe) of Roe v. Wade, who famously converted to Christianity and has become an outspoken pro-life advocate.  I'll leave off this topic with these three quotes from Dr. Paul: 

"The right of an innocent, unborn child to life is at the heart of the American ideals of liberty. My professional and legislative record demonstrates my strong commitment to this pro-life principle." 

"As an OB/GYN doctor, I've delivered over 4,000 babies. That experience has made me an unshakable foe of abortion. Many of you may have read my book, Challenge To Liberty, which champions the idea that there cannot be liberty in a society unless the rights of all innocents are protected. Much can be understood about the civility of a society in observing its regard for the dignity of human life."

"Many talk about being pro-life. I have taken direct action to restore protection for the unborn."

Finally re: Israel - I suspect that differing views of eschatology and covenant theology will mean that we don't see eye-to-eye on the place of Israel in the cosmic plan of redemption.  I do not believe that Israel is God's uniquely chosen people in the New Covenant.  I believe that since Jesus' death and resurrection, and particularly after the judgement that occured in A.D. 70 in fulfillment of prophecy, that the people of God is now constituted of all who put their faith in Christ period, whether Jew or Gentile.  There is no longer a particular nation or nationality that enjoys God's special favor, but rather his special favor is open to all who come to the Father by bowing the knee to the Son.  Therefore I don't think that the modern state of Israel has any special role in fulfilling Biblical prophecy, end times, etc.  That's a huge subject that it would take a great deal of time to get into, but I would just note that my view, while less common among evangelicals at this particular moment in history, is not at all uncommon in the history of the church, while the dispensational view is essentially a historical anomaly that did not exist until the mid 19th century.  

Regardless of what you think about that though, Paul does not oppose or harbor ill will toward Israel.  He simply does not believe that the federal government should fund the nation, nor act militarily on its behalf.  In this he agrees with Netanyahu who said to Congress in May, "My friends, you don't need to do nation building in Isreal, we're already built! You don't need to export Democracy to Israel we've already got it! and you don't need to send American troops to Israel we can defend ourselves."  Further, Paul stood alone in supporting Israel's sovereign right to act when they bombed an Iraqi nuclear facility in 1981, and he continues to defend their right to act in whatever manner necessary for their own defense, for instance with regard to Iran.  His "anti-Israel" policy is nothing more than his policy with regard to all nations, namely that he doesn't believe the federal government is authorized to take money from its citizens to re-distribute around the world as it sees fit any more than it is authorized to take money from its citizens to re-distribute domestically as it sees fit.  Paul is not a zionist, but he certainly recognizes Israel as an ally and a friend; however, he does not believe in treating her as a dependent.  I can see nothing to indicate that Ron Paul's position toward Israel is unbiblical or even unchristian in some general sense.  What does seem unchrstian to me is the foreign policy we have engaged in in the middle east that has contributed vastly to the militarization and de-stabilization of that region (i.e. CIA interference in Iran, arming of Saddam Hussein, etc.).

So, I guess I just don't see your point.  

 
 
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1.  The call for Abram to leave Ur wasn't really all that much of an uprooting.  His father had already brought them away from their original home in Ur, quite some distance to Haran.  With his father and brother dead, moving on wouldn’t seem that odd.  So, not to undermine lots of sermon points, but it wasn't like Abe was leaving everything he’d ever known.

2.  I think the key to understanding the Abrahamic blessing/covenant is seeing that when God blesses Abram it results in Abram being a blessing.  This hasn't changed.  When God blesses us, as he surely has all Christians, it is so that we can be a blessing.  Abram was blessed so that he could be a blessing by bearing the chosen seed through whom God would bless the earth.  That seed became Israel.  Israel was blessed so that she could bless the world.  When she failed to do so and became an insular, grumbling people God chastised her by allowing her to be overcome by the ungodly who, by the way, he is perfectly capable of using for his purposes.  Nevertheless, despite their hardheartedness God did bring the seed through them in the most weak and lowly form imaginable.  We should remember this.  The church is blessed in order to be a blessing, and when we cease seeking for all the families of the earth to be blessed (including those in foreign nations that our secular government may have issues with), God is perfectly willing and able to disperse our influence and chastise us by means of the ungodly.  The Abrahamic covenant has not been nullified but fulfilled.  Christ came tearing down barriers and dividing walls in order that the distinction between Jew and Gentile, between God’s particular chosen people (through whom would come the Savior of the world), and all the families of the earth might be obliterated in order that God’s good news that sin has been overcome and that the way to peace between God and man has been opened might be made known.  If we forget this, and become insular grumblers we stand in danger of God’s chastisement which may well come at the hands of the wicked.