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Affirmations and Confessions of a Progressive Christian Layman – God Can Use Imperfect People – Part Two

Read Part One Here

Yes, God uses imperfect people. As 1 Peter 4:10 says, we should serve with whatever gift we have received.

George Frideric Handel, who wrote Messiah, the oratorio that has blessed multitudes since it was composed in 1741, was not a particularly exemplary Christian. However, God used him to spread his message to the world through his compositional skills. Many people believe that he was divinely inspired when he composed Messiah in only twenty-four days. Reportedly, Handel did not leave his study during the time he spent composing his extraordinary work; he even ate his meals there. A legend contends that after he wrote the “Hallelujah” chorus, he came out of his study long enough to exclaim, “I did think I did see all Heaven before me, and the great God Himself.” So he is a good example of an imperfect musician accomplishing great things for God.

Let us continuing looking at Abram as he is renamed Abraham as an excellent example of God’s use of imperfect people.

After God promised Abram a son by Sarai, God renamed him “Abraham,” meaning “father of many,” and also renamed his wife “Sarah.” The son was to be named Isaac and it would be through him that the covenant would be fulfilled.

According to Genesis, three men visited Abraham, one of whom was the LORD (YAWEH). They, collectively, informed Abraham that Sarah would have a son. Apparently Sarah had entered menopause, so she laughed at the preposterous notion that at her age she could have sexual pleasure or conceive. The LORD was offended that Sarah questioned his abilities.

The other two men, reportedly two angels, traveled to the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to determine the gravity of their sin, while YAWEH remained with Abraham. These two neighboring cities were two of five “cities of the plain” that were situated on the Jordan River plain in southern Canaan. It was well-watered, so there was plenty of grass for livestock. Abraham appealed to the LORD to save Sodom because that was his nephew’s home. Abraham found it difficult to believe that the LORD would kill the righteous people along with the wicked and corrupt. After a lengthy negotiation, Abraham convinced the LORD to spare the city if only ten righteous people can be found. I do not like the idea of a human negotiating with God, but God seems fallible in not knowing the exact number of righteous people in Sodom and Gomorrah.

When the two male angels entered Sodom, Lot welcomed them into his home. After the evening meal, some men surrounded the house and demanded Lot bring his guests out to them “so that we may know them” – that is, to have sex with them (the demand of the men of Sodom to “know” Lot’s visitors led to the name “sodomy,” which is generally defined as anal or oral sex). Lot is so offended that they would violate his hospitality towards these two angels that he offered his two virgin daughters in their place. Whatever “know” means, it must have been sexual because Lot offers his daughters to appease the men of Sodom. Maybe these men were not interested in females, so they would not have been appeased by Lot’s daughters.

The angels struck these wicked men with blindness and were so impressed by Lot’s protection that they persuaded him to flee the city with his family, telling them not to look back as they leave. However, as sulfur and fire rained down on Sodom and Gomorrah, Lot’s wife looked back at her home and was turned into a pillar of salt.

It is difficult to fathom why the stories of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah and the rescue of Lot and his family were included in the Bible. Later in Ezekiel 16:49-50, it was explained as follows: “Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy. They were haughty and did detestable things before me. Therefore, I did away with them as you have seen.” Why were the women of Sodom blamed for the destruction of their city? It was the men who wanted to do something immoral with Lot’s visitors.

Evidently, the Sodomites were guilty of many significant sins. They, actually the men, were inhospitable and lacked compassion. A rabbinic tradition said that both Sodom and Gomorrah were wealthy cities who treated visitors in a sadistic way. The Talmud recounts an incident in which young girls gave bread to a poor man who entered the city. For this act of kindness, the townspeople burned Lot’s daughter, Paltith, and smeared the other girl’s body with honey and hung her from the city walls to be eaten by bees

According to Jude 1:7, Sodom and Gomorrah and other nearby cities were indulging in sexual immorality and unnatural lust.

Sodom’s sins, according to Ezekiel 16:49, were “pride, excess food, and prosperous ease, but they did not aid the poor and needy.”

Matthew’s gospel quotes Jesus as saying if the disciples were not welcomed as they travel to spread the good news, “it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah…than for that town.” So Jesus thought being inhospitable was the sin that resulted in God’s destruction of these two towns.

Did the destruction of these cities actually happen? Is there archaeological evidence to support it? Dr. John Morris claims it was an historical fact. The Hebrew verb used for “destroy” does not necessarily mean total annihilation, Morris claims. He says in the early 1970s, an archaeological survey identified five ruined cities along five “wadis” (dry riverbeds) near the southern Dead Sea. The most northern one was in ancient times called Bab edh-Dhra in Arabic, which was Sodom. Next to it was Numeira or Gomorrah. Morris claims that an eruption set the entire region on fire.

Lot and his two daughters fled and settled into a cave home outside Zoar (the modern city of Safi). Once they were established, the daughters decided that their father was the only man left with whom they might bear children. So they concoct a plan to get their father drunk so he would impregnate them. The resulting children of this incestuous relationship become the fathers of the Moabites and the Ammonites. In the future, the Moabites and Ammonites would become Israel’s enemies.

These Biblical stories keep getting juicer and juicer. First Abram offered his wife sexually to the Pharaoh, then Sodom and Gomorrah were sexually immoral and now we have a story of incest where Lot’s daughters have sex with their father and become pregnant. What next?

What happens next is Abraham passes Sarah off as his sister again and offers her to King Abimelech. God appeared to Abimelech in a dream and revealed to him that Sarah was married. The King returned Sarah to Abraham and said, “What were you thinking?” Abraham feebly attempted to explain by claiming that “she is my sister, the daughter of my father but not the daughter of my mother.”
Amazingly, Abimelech was extremely generous; he gave Abraham sheep, oxen, male and female slaves, any land upon which he might settle and a thousand pieces of silver. Then Abraham prayed to God and God healed Abimelech, his wife and his female slaves so they could bear children.

Finally, Sarah became pregnant – long after she was of child-bearing age – and gave birth to Isaac. Sarah had been jealous of Hagar and her son, so she asked Abraham to send both of them away. God told Abraham to honor Sarah’s wish and promised to make a nation of the slave woman’s son, so Abraham sent them away. Hagar and Ishamel wandered in the Beer-sheba wilderness. When they ran out of food and water, Ishamel almost died, but God saved him by showing them a well of water.

Abimelech requested a truce with Abraham and wanted a pledge that he would “not deal falsely” with him or his offspring. Abraham agreed, but complained that Abimelech’s servants had seized a well of water. The King claimed not to know anything about it. Abraham gave sheep and oxen to Abimelech and they made a covenant. Abraham set aside seven ewe lambs for Abimelech so that he would swear that Abraham dug the well. The place was called Beer-sheba; because they both swore an oath. According to Gen 21:31, Beer-sheba was named by Abraham, but Genesis 26:33 says Beer-sheba was named by Isaac. Abraham lived as an alien in the land of the Philistines for many years.

God commanded Abraham to take Isaac, his only son, to a mountain and offer him as a burnt-offering. After a three day journey, Abraham carried the fire and knife, while Isaac carried the wood for the burnt-offering up the mountain. Isaac observed that there was not a lamb for a burnt-offering. Abraham built an altar, placed the wood on top, bound Isaac, and laid him on the altar. Just before he plunged the knife into his son’s chest, an angel of the LORD stopped him and told him that he was satisfied that Abraham feared God since he had not withheld his son. Abraham saw a ram caught in a thicket and offered it as a burnt-offering instead of Isaac. Abraham called this place “The LORD will provide.” The angel of the LORD told Abraham that because he had not withheld his son God would bless him and make his offspring as numerous as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. Because he obeyed, his offspring will conquer their enemies and his offspring would be a blessing to all the nations of the earth. Afterwards, they returned to Beer-sheba, where Abraham lived.

Abraham may be the forefather of three religions – Judaism, Islam and Christianity – but he certainly had many shortcomings. Israel descended from him through his second son, Isaac; many Arab nations are said to have descended from him through his first son, Ishmael, and Muslims believe the prophet Muhammad is his direct descendent. God promised Abraham many things that Israelites still expect. Abraham is praised as a man who believed God’s promises even though they seemed impossible. He is also praised for obeying God when God told him to do something. Sarah is supposedly a great model for women. However, as we have witnessed, they were not perfect – they were flawed human beings that God still used for achieve his purposes.

God used imperfect people like Abram/Abraham, Moses, Samson, Rahab and David, so you and I, as imperfect as we are, can be used us to bring God’s kingdom closer to reality.

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