Defeating Anxiety and Control
We jump around, but these are the scriptures mentioned:
Today's meditation and retelling is from Acts 16:16-40.
Zacharias and Elizabeth are the only other truly elderly couple in scripture to bear a child, besides Abraham and Sarah. There are a lot of parallels between Isaac and John the Baptist. Why this couple, and why now? Why did his need to be a “miraculous” birth?
Gabriel did tell Zacharias that his prayers for a child were heard (Luke 1:13), so we know that Zacharias and Elizabeth wanted children long before this. Zacharias’s response to Gabriel’s good news was skepticism, based upon their ages (Luke 1:18), which suggests that he’d given up praying for children long ago, when he thought that it was too late. But given all the promises in scripture for fertility for those who followed the Lord, and the fact that this couple was blameless (Luke 1:6), I’m sure they wondered why it seemed that the Lord had not fulfilled His end of the promise. Elizabeth also called her barrenness a “reproach” (Luke 1:25). We know from the question the disciples asked Jesus about the man who was blind from birth (John 9:1-5) that it was a common belief among Israelites that physical ailments were a direct punishment for personal sin. Thus, like blameless Job, the people likely would have believed that it was some sin on their part that had kept them from bearing children all these years.
Yet God had not forgotten them… it just took faith and patience (a lot of it!) for them to inherit this particular promise (Hebrews 6:12). One reason for this likely is because John’s conception and birth would have caused such a stir, and attracted such attention. Gabriel appears to Zacharias while he is performing his duties at the Temple, and the fact that he is subsequently struck dumb alerts everyone who was waiting for him outside the temple that he must have seen a vision (Luke 1:21-22). Then, after five months of seclusion, elderly Elizabeth reveals to all that she is pregnant. Imagine the whispers! She gives birth to the child, and then on the eighth day they break with all tradition and name him John, a name found nowhere in their lineage. As soon as Zacharias complies with Gabriel’s final decree, his tongue is loosed, and he announces to all the onlookers that this is to be the prophet they have all been waiting for these four hundred years. Had his conception and birth been ordinary, this child would not have caused such a stir, or such expectation (Luke 1:65-66).
That’s one reason why the Lord probably chose an elderly, faithful couple to be the parents of John the Baptist. But I suspect the other reason is because Elizabeth and Mary were close relatives (Luke 1:36). (In my retelling, I imagined that she was her great aunt, though the scriptures don’t say what their exact relationship is.) They obviously knew each other well, though, because Mary goes to stay with Elizabeth for three months. This close relationship with another woman who had a miracle pregnancy was probably very important for Mary, who was being asked to take such an enormous step of faith, knowing she would be ostracized for getting pregnant out of wedlock. Not only does Elizabeth’s pregnancy confirm Gabriel’s words for Mary, but then the Lord reveals to Elizabeth that Mary, too, is pregnant, by the Holy Spirit, and with the Son of God (Luke 1:42-45)! I’m sure Mary very much needed this confirmation of the angel’s word to her, and the encouragement.
While scripture never talks about the relationship between Jesus and John the Baptist as children, given the relationship between Mary and Elizabeth and the prophetic connection between the two boys’ lives, they must have known each other before they each stepped into their ministries. And Jesus was born “in the fullness of time” (Galatians 4:4-7); he could not have come any earlier than He did. His forerunner had to just barely precede him. So had the Lord granted Zacharias and Elizabeth’s prayer for children any earlier, they could not have been the parents of John the Baptist. I also suspect that John’s later evangelistic success was in part due to the widespread knowledge of his miraculous birth. This great honor was reserved for a faithful couple, a couple who would continue to believe in Him, even when it looked like His word had failed. But this couple—or Elizabeth, at least—knew that God’s promises never fail (1 Kings 8:56). He cannot lie (1 Samuel 15:29). His word is firmly fixed in the heavens (Psalm 119:89-90).
Zacharias’s muteness may have been a punishment for his unbelief, but I think Elizabeth’s interpretation in the retelling is more accurate. Scripture makes very clear that death and life are in the power of the tongue (Proverbs 18:21, and throughout Proverbs), and that we will have what we say (Numbers 14:28-29). Zacharias’s protest to Gabriel expressed unbelief; it may well have been that Gabriel struck him mute so that he could not stop John’s conception and birth from coming to pass by speaking forth his doubts.
The end of Malachi 4:6, prophesying the return of Elijah before the Messiah, says, “lest I come and strike the earth with a curse.” That was the last word from the prophets for four hundred years. What a strange statement—that without the forerunner to prepare the way for the Lord, Jesus might have cursed the earth rather than redeem it! It’s hard to imagine Jesus doing such a thing; yet in His second coming, He will judge those who refuse to repent. Apparently the first and second coming could have been one and the same, without John’s six month ministry calling the people to a baptism of repentance (Luke 3).
In those six months, John became incredibly well known, and his impact continued even long after his death. In fact, after Jesus’ resurrection and ascension, the great apostle Apollos preached the Word accurately, but he knew of only the baptism of John (Acts 18:25). Paul found that even Gentile believers in Ephesus knew only the baptism of John, and had not heard of the Holy Spirit (Acts 19:1-5). John’s teaching of repentance from sins clearly spread far and wide, long after both his death, and the death and resurrection of Jesus. His ministry, preparing the way for the Messiah, long outlasted him.
Many churches today, and many believers, in a way still only preach the baptism of John. They focus exclusively on repentance from sins, a necessary first step to prepare the way for the fruits and gifts that come from the baptism of the Holy Spirit. But repentance is meant to be the preparation, not the end in itself. John himself said this (Luke 3:16). We need the baptism of the Holy Spirit, just as the disciples did in order to fulfill their calling (Luke 24:49). We can’t do it without Him.
“Goodbye, my love.” Zacharias kissed me, and threw his traveling cloak around his shoulders before mounting his donkey. Then he added with a teasing wink, “Try to stay out of trouble.”
I smiled at his little joke. We lived in the hill country of Judea, we kept no servants, and we were childless—so I would be all alone, and could not possibly get up to any trouble even if I had wanted to. Usually when Zacharias’s turn came to serve as a priest in the temple, I spent the time gardening, tending our few livestock, and experimenting with new dishes to feed Zacharias when he returned home.
“What will you do with yourself?” he asked the customary question, expecting my answer to be the same as always.
Today, though, it wasn’t. “You know… I’ve been drawn to the books of the kings lately, for some reason. I think I’ll study that.” My husband had taught me to read in our early marriage. When I was younger, I required his help in interpreting what I read. Now that I was in my seventies, though, I knew the texts almost as well as he did.
Zacharias pursed his lips before moving his donkey forward. “Elijah?” he guessed, and I nodded. “Funny. I’ve been drawn to those passages too, of late.”
“Oh really?” I mused. “Perhaps the time is drawing near?” After four hundred years of prophetic silence, the last verse in Malachi promised that Elijah himself would return as the forerunner of the Messiah.
Zacharias chuckled. “Perhaps. Every generation has believed that theirs would be the one to see the Lord’s anointed. But, someone will have to be right eventually!” He winked and dug his heels in to his donkey’s side. I watched him ride to the top of the hill, waving, until he was out of sight.
Then I looked up at the sky to judge how much time I had to spend upon my studies, and went inside, withdrawing the scrolls Zacharias kept of the Hebrew texts. I meant to go straight to the records of the kings, but the scroll unrolled of its own accord to Exodus. A passage that I had meditated on years ago practically leapt off the page at me: None shall miscarry or be barren in your land.
I blinked, and tried to shake it off. I kept unrolling, and one of the scrolls fell to the table, exposing a text opened to Deuteronomy.
There shall not be male or female barren among you.
I closed my eyes, breathing through the unexpected stab of an old wound. I had clung to these verses and many others that promised the same thing in my youth, even in to middle age. But when my cycles had ceased, I realized I had a choice. Either I would believe that God had forgotten to honor His covenant, that His promises to me had failed, that He had forsaken me—or, I would consider my continued barrenness a mystery and decide to trust in Him anyway, believing that one day it would make sense. I chose the latter, since I knew the former would lead only to bitterness.
God is good. He is faithful. I had staked my entire life upon that, and I would not waver now.
Yet I had never revisited those passages in all these years. They were too painful.
I breathed through it until the emotion subsided. Another scroll slipped free, revealing the latter psalms.
Children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb His reward. Like arrows are in the hand of a mighty man, so are children born in one’s youth. Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them.
“Stop,” I gasped out loud, clutching my chest. I wasn’t sure if I was begging the Lord to stop, or some outside force… I only knew I did not want to revisit this subject.
There was more to the issue of being a barren woman than not having a child. That by itself would have been bad enough. But Deuteronomy made it very clear that God would bless those who obeyed Him, and curse those who disobeyed Him. Because of this, the common belief among the Jews was that those who suffered a curse of any kind were receiving their just deserts. The story of Job should have dispelled the concept that affliction is always connected to personal sin, and yet the idea persisted.
Zacharias and I were not perfect of course, but we believed in the Lord and in His promises, like Abraham had done. I was sure that like Abraham, our faith was counted to us as righteousness. Yet despite this, and despite the very clear promises in scripture, we remained childless. I knew that many secretly wondered what sin I had committed to merit such a punishment. I had asked the Lord about this for almost a year after my cycles had ceased, but eventually I stopped asking. I had to. The question was driving me crazy.
I took another deep breath, and opened, finally, to the records of the kings. I reread the familiar story of Elijah’s sudden arrival, announcing the famine to King Ahab. What a man he was! He reminded me a bit of King David in his outrageous faith. Without any direct word from God, he decided to take God’s statement of a famine as part of the curse in Deuteronomy, and just go declare it to the king. I could just see God watching Elijah in heaven, shaking his head and smiling—almost with incredulity, if God could be incredulous. This guy was incredible.
Over the next couple of days of Zacharias’s absence, I pored over the story of the famine, the ravens that fed Elijah by the brook Cherith, the widow of Zarephath, and the first recorded story of the resurrection of the dead. How did Elijah know that resurrection was even possible? It had never been done before, and there was no record that God had told him anything about it. But if anybody was going to test the boundaries of what was possible in God, it was he.
My favorite was the story of Mount Carmel. Surrounded by enemies, Elijah was supremely in control of himself, jeering at all the 750 false prophets. Perhaps your god did not answer because he was relieving himself! he taunted. I laughed out loud at that every time. Then he doused his own offering in water multiple times to make it as hard as possible to set ablaze before he called upon the Lord. Fire fell from heaven at once, of course, consuming not just his offering, but his entire altar, and every last drop of water!
I realized I was grinning with pride, and stopped to wonder at my own reaction. Pride implied ownership, didn’t it?
Strange. I paused in my reading, and prepared for myself an easy supper of bread and milk. I could cook, but I didn’t feel like it right now—I had no one to feed but myself, and I was too otherwise engrossed.
The day I expected Zacharias’s return, I skipped to the story in the latter kings, where God took Elijah up to heaven in a chariot of fire. Elisha, meanwhile, stood down below and watched, as Elijah’s prophetic mantle passed to him.
Then I opened to the passage at the end of Malachi: “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord.”
What did this mean? I wondered. Send Elijah? Would he return the way he left, in a chariot of fire? Would he return in the same body, with the same mind and personality? The scripture gave no indication that a person who died could return to earth in a new body—but then, Elijah had never actually died. He was one of only two people recorded in scripture who had not, the other being Enoch from Genesis.
“And he will turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the earth with a curse.”
Lest I come and strike the earth with a curse? I had never thought about this passage before either. Did this mean that without Elijah preceding the coming Messiah, the Messiah might find that the hearts of his people had grown cold, and might curse the earth, rather than redeem it?
That was a chilling thought. It certainly made Elijah’s second coming critical.
It occurred to me that Zacharias should have been here by now. I looked out the window at the position of the sun: it was late afternoon. Usually he returned on the last day of his service by midday. I determined not to worry about it, since there was nothing I could do anyway, and rose from my studies, grabbing my basket. I went out into my garden and began to collect vegetables and herbs for supper that evening. I rose when I heard the faint clop of donkey’s hooves behind me.
“Finally!” I cried out, turning around. I shielded my eyes from the late afternoon sun, squinting to see Zacharias atop the donkey in his traveling cloak. “It’s almost sunset, what kept you so long?”
He did not answer, though the donkey plodded on. I frowned. Hadn’t he heard me?
Still he did not reply, though he waved and nodded that he had heard me. Something was very strange. I dropped my basket and walked forward to meet him. When I came close enough, he made an exaggerated mime of writing. Then he pointed at the house. I read his lips and saw that he mouthed the words, Get me a scroll and pen.
“Can… can you not talk?”
He shook his head no, and dismounted, leading his donkey by the reins to the stable. I stood dumbfounded as well, wondering what to make of this. Was it an illness of some kind? But if that were the case, if he had merely lost his voice, surely he could still at least whisper. Yet no sound escaped his lips at all.
Finally Zacharias joined me, putting a hand on my lower back and ushering me inside. I found for him the scroll, jar of ink, and pen, and set them on the table beside the open scriptures. He scribbled as fast as he could, I saw an angel in the temple. He said his name was Gabriel.
My heart started to gallop. “The same one who appeared to Daniel?” I gasped, and my husband nodded vigorously.
The very same, he wrote. He says you are going to bear a son.
He stopped writing and looked at me. I stared at the words. My mind went blank, but my knees suddenly gave out, and I sank to a seat beside him. Zacharias reached out and took my hand in his, nodding at me as if to say, I mean what I say.
Children are a heritage of the Lord, the verse echoed in my mind. Heritage, as in, inheritance. It’s a promise.
I looked up to heaven and whispered, “Why now? Why not… I don’t know, forty years ago?”
Zacharias wrote, We are to call him John. I know there is no one in our family by that name, he added, as if he thought that would be my next question. He is to be the forerunner of the Christ, and will come in the spirit and power of Elijah.
My mouth fell open.
That was why the Lord had taken me back to all those passages. The promises for a child. The story of Elijah. The promises for the forerunner.
That meant the Messiah was coming—soon. Probably in my lifetime.
My hands absently sought my belly. Zacharias placed his hand over mine. I looked up at him.
“But… why can’t you talk?” I whispered.
He looked a little bit bashful, and hesitated before he wrote, I talked back to Gabriel.
I let out a short little guffaw. “You did what?”
He nodded, gave me a sheepish grin, and wrote, I told him we were too old to have children. He said I would be mute until the day of John’s birth.
Now I laughed out loud. “Well, it serves you right!” I teased him, wiping away the tears that I suddenly realized had leaked onto my face. Then I caught my breath. “Wait a minute—Zach.” I shook my head. “‘Death and life are in the power of the tongue. Those who love it will eat its fruit’… that wasn’t a punishment. It’s because our words can stop it from coming to pass if they don’t agree with what the Lord said…” I clamped my hands on my cheeks, squeezing my eyes tightly shut. In a strange way, I was grateful for my husband’s affliction, because it served as a sign to me. I had not seen Gabriel, but Zacharias would not invent such an ailment. He never even would have thought of it. Without his muteness, I might have wondered in time whether he had imagined the encounter. But here was proof!
I lifted both hands in the air and whispered, “Praise You, Lord of heaven and earth. You have not forgotten me. You have taken away my reproach among my people. You have granted me the high honor of not only bearing a child past the age of childbearing, like Sarah, but the honor of bearing a great prophet, like Hannah.” I grinned at Zacharias. “He’ll be a firebrand, too, if Elijah was any indication!” I sniffled, wiping my tears away with the back of my hand. “I can hardly wait to meet him!”
Over the next several days, I pumped Zacharias for information until he had written down every detail of his encounter with Gabriel. I wanted to know exactly what the angel looked like, and exactly what he had said. I wanted it to be as if I had seen him myself. For the thousandth time, I was grateful that my husband had taught me to read. He wrote of how he had lingered in shock inside the temple long past the end of his service, which was why he had been late getting home. Then when he finally emerged, the people guessed that he had seen a vision when he could not speak to them.
“But you haven’t told anyone,” I pressed. “Right?” He shook his head no, and I breathed a sigh of relief. “Good.” He gave me a quizzical look, and I tried to put my feelings into words. Finally I said, “You know what people will say, Zach. I’m seventy, and I was barren even when I was young. They’ll be well-meaning, but they’ll try to talk me out of it, because they don’t want me getting my hopes up. Death and life is in the power of the tongue, and—” I groped for words. “I just don’t want anyone to see me until it’s undeniable. Right now, let’s just keep this between us. We’ll study Elijah, study the Messianic prophecies so we can guide John in his purpose when the time comes, rehearse what Gabriel told you, and then just… introduce the world to our son.”
Zacharias reached out, took me by both hands, and squeezed. Then he moved one of his hands to my soft, slightly sagging belly. He leaned forward and kissed me.
For five months I remained at home, meditating upon what the Lord had done for me, and dreaming of the days to come. Then, finally, I came out of seclusion. I said nothing to anyone about the little bulge as I went into the marketplace, whistling like I had a great secret. I saw people looking and whispering, but no one was brave enough to ask me. They probably had convinced themselves that I had just put on weight in a strange way. Or perhaps that I had a tumor.
In my sixth month, Zacharias and I were at home, and I heard that we had a visitor. He answered the door, though I ran to intercept whoever it was, since of course Zacharias could not speak to them. I heard the young female voice of my grand-niece Mary, and at once, I felt little John give a great kick. It doubled me over, and in the moment I tried to catch my breath, a flash of insight came to me.
Mary is pregnant with the Messiah!
I blinked, tears of joy pricking my eyes. The thought arrived with such absolute conviction that the Lord might as well have said it out loud.
I heard Mary awkwardly trying to understand why my husband would not greet her, and I straightened, calling out as I approached, “God has blessed you above all women, and your child is blessed!” She startled, and grew suddenly pale. I grinned back knowingly. “Why am I so honored, that the mother of my Lord should visit me? When I heard your greeting, the baby in my womb jumped for joy. You are blessed because you believed that the Lord would do what he said!”
Mary gave me a quavering smile, her eyes full of tears, and I understood that the Lord had given me those words for her sake. She was unmarried, a virgin, and newly pregnant—her miracle was even greater than mine. But she was not showing yet, and she was struggling to believe. That was why the Lord sent her to me: to see my miracle, as an encouragement to her! Her eyes went to my belly, and I beamed proudly, putting a hand on either side of it. She ran forward and hugged me, and burst into a song of praise worthy of King David, bless her little heart. I joined in, and though Zacharias could not, he watched us and raised his hands up to the Lord in worship.
“Stay with us,” I urged Mary when we had finished, all three of us grinning and exultant. “At least until you are showing. It’s easier that way, believe me.”
Mary’s joyful expression faltered. “But… Joseph doesn’t know yet.”
“Who’s Joseph?” I asked.
“My betrothed,” she murmured. “He had only just asked for my hand, when the angel Gabriel appeared to me—”
“Oh, Gabriel was the one who came to you too!” I cast a fond look at my husband, who looked bemused.
Mary nodded, and confessed, “I love Joseph. But I know what he will think—obviously. What else could he possibly think? Why would he believe such a story?”
I squeezed Mary’s hand. “Let the Lord take care of it,” I advised her. “It’s His problem, after all. He got you into this mess; He’ll work out the details.”
Mary giggled, and I watched her fondly. She was so very young. What an incredible weight to place upon those narrow shoulders! And yet, the Lord would never have chosen her if He did not know she was up to the task.
“Stay with us,” I urged her again. “Until John is born, at least.” I gasped, as it had just occurred to me right then—“They’ll be cousins, then! John and the Messiah!”
“Yes!” Mary laughed. “And only six months apart in age…”
“They will have to play together as children,” I asserted at once. “They’ll grow up to be great friends.” Then I added, musing aloud, “I wonder when we should tell them?”
Mary puffed out a heavy breath. “One problem at a time, please!”
I chuckled. “Very wise, child. Very wise.”
Mary did remain with us for three months. I still went out to the marketplace until just before my time, and by then, all my friends and neighbors knew my real condition, and marveled.
When I gave birth, I was so enamored with my child that it took me almost a full day to notice that Zacharias still could not speak. I was rather used to his silence now, but this confused me, and upset him.
When the time came for the child’s circumcision on the eighth day as prescribed by the law, it was also time to officially declare his name. They asked me what he was to be called, whether we would name him Zacharias, after his father. This had never occurred to me.
“No!” I asserted at once, “his name is John.”
“John?” asked the priest, perplexed. “But there is no one among your relatives who is called by that name. Surely, he will be Zacharias.”
They turned to my husband, who gestured for a writing tablet. He wrote very clearly, His name is John. As the priests stared at the tablet in wonder, Zacharias burst forth, “Praise the Lord!”
I gasped. “You can speak!”
Zacharias, laughing and crying at once, hugged me and took the little bundle from my arms. He gazed down at John with such love that for a second, I had the strange thought that I was looking into the face of God, seeing His love for my newborn child reflected in my husband’s face.
“Praise the Lord, the God of Israel,” he proclaimed, “because he has visited and redeemed his people. He has sent us a mighty Savior from the royal line of his servant David,just as he promised through his holy prophets long ago. Now we will be saved from our enemies and from all who hate us. He has been merciful to our ancestors by remembering his sacred covenant— the covenant he swore with an oath to our ancestor Abraham. We have been rescued from our enemies so we can serve God without fear, in holiness and righteousness for as long as we live”
I blinked at Zacharias, astonished, and looked around the room to see the reactions of the rest of the priests. It was clear to me, at least, that the words were not Zacharias’s own. Something—the Holy Spirit, surely—had taken hold of him.
He went on, gazing down at John, “And you, my little son, will be called the prophet of the Most High, because you will prepare the way for the Lord. You will tell his people how to find salvation through forgiveness of their sins. Because of God’s tender mercy, the morning light from heaven is about to break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, and to guide us to the path of peace.”
I suddenly realized I wasn’t breathing. I sucked in a breath, and turned to one of the priests.
“Did you write all that down?” I demanded.
As if galvanized by my words, he jumped up to find a scroll and ink. I looked at Zacharias and whispered as I caressed our son’s head, “He’ll want to hear his father’s prophecy about him when he grows up.” I kissed his forehead and added tenderly, “Our little Elijah.”
This retelling comes from Genesis 37, 39-45, and it appears in Blood Covenant Origins: Biblical Retellings.
Today's podcast is a meditation on the story of the Israelites' first attempt to take the Promised land from Numbers 13-14, when they finally went in and did it from Joshua 1-6, when Caleb took the mountain in Joshua 14, and the writer of Hebrews' reflection on what this means for us from Hebrews 4.
Today's meditation comes from Matthew 4:1-11, Mark 1:12-13, Luke 4:1-13.
Fictionalized Retelling (from Jesus' POV)
Today's podcast is a meditation on and retelling of John 2:1-11.
Today's meditation is on Luke 18:1-8, the Parable of the Unjust Judge (or the parable of the persistent widow)
Today's podcast is a meditation on 1 John 5:14-15: "And this is the confidence we have in Him: that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us, in whatever we ask, we know that we already possess what we asked of Him."
Today we're meditating on the relationship between forgiveness and justice.
Royce King has served in ministry for nearly 30 years. She’s held leadership roles within the church, including youth group leader, Bible study leader, retreat speaker, and others. Her heart for at-risk populations has always spurred her to serve and mentor women and young girls.
Royce King, published author, speaker, and coach, has served startups and nonprofit organizations who desire to grow in revenue and develop leadership skills since 2012.
In this new season of life, Royce is serving missionaries around the world, and is committed to helping others develop a relationship with Jesus. She and her husband reside in Colorado, and have two grown children and a precious granddaughter. She enjoys hiking, traveling, good food, and reading.
Meditation on Judges 5-6
Deborah was the only female judge recorded in Israel’s history. We don’t know why that is, or how she got into that position, though we do know that she was a wife and a mother (unless the mention that she is a “mother in Israel,” Judges 5:7, is symbolic of her role over her people). When God instituted judges to help Moses, he was specifically instructed to appoint men to that position. Perhaps, as in the days of Gideon, the men of Israel were all so cowed by their oppressors that God could not find a man of faith, so he found a woman instead. (Gideon eventually did as God asked, but it sure took a lot of convincing on God’s part.) We can see that faith is scarce by Barak’s response when Deborah told him to go up against Sisera—he was so fearful that he insisted that she be the one to lead the armies into battle! Presumably had he done what the Lord commanded through Deborah without shrinking back in fear, the glory for finishing off Sisera would have gone to him, rather than to Jael.
It’s easy to understand why the men were so fearful, if you only look at the situation in the natural. They had been oppressed by King Jabin for at least twenty years. The Israelite armies had not one shield or spear among forty thousand (Judges 5:8), compared to Sisera, who had nine hundred chariots of iron. Most of the tribes of Israel refused to heed Barak’s call (Judges 5:13-18), so even their numbers were pitiful compared to what they might have been. But it didn’t matter: the Lord caused the river Kishon to sweep the chariots away (Judges 5:21). This might have been due to rain overflowing the banks, and the water from the mountains rushing down to the banks as well (Judges 5:4-5)—perhaps due to marshy conditions, the chariots got stuck and were rendered useless. Regardless, when the Israelites came against Sisera’s far more powerful army, they killed every last one of them (Judges 4:16) by the sword—swords they didn’t even have to begin with! Sisera alone fled on foot. Since the Israelites had no swords, presumably they took their enemies’ own swords and used those against them.
Heber, meanwhile, was mentioned just before the verse that someone told Sisera of the assembly of Barak’s armies, so presumably he was the one who tattled. Sisera would have felt safe in Jael’s tent, as she was Heber’s wife. He just assumed that she shared her husband’s political views. Oops.
Jael’s action can be considered as an act of war, rather than murder. She was not permitted to fight openly on the battlefield, so she did what she could. Any of the soldiers on the battlefield would have been delighted to do the same, had they been given the chance.
The two disputing Israelite women, now reconciled, made their way down through the mountains of Ephraim. I sat alone under my palm tree now, awaiting the next case the Israelites would bring before me for judgment.
This was my favorite part, though: the moments in between. The moments of peace, where I could just listen to the wind whipping through the palm branches above my head. I closed my eyes, letting the breeze caress my face.
It is time.
My eyes flew open. The sound came to my spirit like a whisper, and yet I knew it as the voice of the Lord. My heart beat faster, because I knew what He meant, too: I had been pleading since my early adulthood, for the past twenty years, to deliver us from the oppressive hand of King Jabin of Canaan. We were the Lord’s people, and He had given the land of Canaan to us—and yet, due to our disobedience, He had allowed us to be oppressed by our enemies. We had not one spear or shield among forty thousand Israelites: not even the means to defend ourselves. We had no money to pay the men who risked their lives on our behalf. I had expected the Lord to provide both of those things before a military approach would be feasible.
And yet, with neither weapons nor money, and most of Israel still trembling in fear, God still told me, It is time.
“What should I do, Lord?” I asked aloud.
What came next was an impression, rather than words. I saw Barak, son of Abinoam from Kedesh, of the tribe of Naphtali. He was on Mount Tabor, with a sea of Israelite men, though I knew without counting that there were ten thousand of them. They were sons of Naphtali and of Zebulun. I saw Sisera, commander of Jabin’s armies, coming against him, his nine hundred chariots of iron all around him. The battle took place at the River Kishon. Despite the inequality of weapons and the fact that Sisera was not taken unawares, in my vision, Sisera’s entire army fell before Barak’s.
“You have shown this to Barak as well?” I asked the Lord out loud. I sensed that the answer was yes.
The next person I saw cresting the hill to where I sat was my husband Lapidoth, and our three children. They skipped like little lambs, and I stood up, grinning, to welcome them. Lapidoth had a basket slung over his arm, which I knew contained whatever food he was able to scrounge up for our midday meal. It was never much, but we never went hungry either. The Lord always provided.
“Busy today?” he asked me, as we all settled down to eat.
My eyes shone as I told him what the Lord had shown me. “Would you summon Barak when you return to the valley?” I asked. “I must speak with him today.”
Lapidoth did as I asked, and several hours later, just at the golden hour before sunset, I saw Barak cresting the hill, alone. He was a large, thickly built man, with a heavy brow and an expression etched in stone. He looked every bit the military commander.
“Has not the Lord God of Israel already told you what you are to do?” I asked him, and described what I saw. “Thus says the Lord: ‘I will deliver Sisera into your hand at the River Kishon.’”
Barak shuffled his feet, cleared his throat, and did not answer me immediately. At last he said, “If you will go with me, then I will go; but if you will not go with me, I will not go!”
I stared at him, not sure I heard him right. This man weighed as much as three of me. I was a wife and a mother! True, God had placed me as judge over Israel, though I had always wondered why He had chosen a woman for the position, when Moses had originally indicated that the job should be held by “able men, such as fear God, men of truth …to be rulers of thousands and rulers of hundreds… and let them judge the people at all seasons.” Men, he had specified. Yet, here I was. Was that because God could not find a man worthy to fill the role? Of course I never intimated these thoughts to my husband, who chafed enough that I held a position of leadership in Israel when he did not. But now I saw before me the man God had chosen to lead his armies, and yet he had so little faith that he would demand a wife and mother lead his troops into battle for him!
When I recovered my tongue, I said sternly, “I will surely go with you. Nevertheless, there will be no glory for you in the journey you are taking, for the Lord will sell Sisera into the hand of a woman.”
Barak looked less chagrined at this than I thought he should have. Truth to tell, he looked more relieved than anything else. I arose and went with him to his home of Kedesh, and he sent messengers to the tribes of Israel to recruit soldiers willing to obey the word of the Lord. I was appalled but not surprised when entire tribes refused: Reuben, Gilead, Asher, and Dan sent not a single man. We had a few from Ephraim and from Benjamin, but the bulk of the army, as I had seen in my vision, were from Naphtali and Zebulun. They arrived at Mount Tabor in the coming days bearing what weapons they could find: pitchforks and other instruments of harvesting, stones and homemade slingshots. My heart swelled with the pride of these men who did Israel proud, unlike their brothers.
Oh Lord, there are still some who believe in You!
Yes Daughter, I heard in my spirit. There are always a few.
Down below, Sisera had somehow gotten word that Israel had assembled troops against him—but that was all right. I had expected from my vision that he would. I felt the men grow apprehensive around me as they watched the chariots of iron assembling from Harosheth Hagoyim to the River Kishon. They looked from the chariots down below to their makeshift weapons of farming equipment, their expressions ranging from apprehension to terror. I suppressed a sigh of exasperation.
“Up!” I declared to Barak. “For this is the day in which the Lord has delivered Sisera into your hand. Has not the Lord gone out before you?”
I led the charge down the mountain toward the army below, though I had no weapon in my hand at all. As soon as Barak saw me move, he kept pace with me and soon outstripped me—his legs were much longer than mine. The ten thousand troops kept pace with him, and I soon found myself lost in the thick of the fighting men.
When we reached the River Kishon where Sisera’s armies awaited us, I was confused at first why he did not direct his chariots to surge forward to meet us. Then I saw that their chariots had been rendered useless to them, the wheels stuck in the marshy ground left over from the rain. Sisera’s army had alighted from their chariots to try to dislodge them when Israel descended upon them with a mighty war cry. In short order, the men of Israel had slain their first victims and stolen their swords, at which point they tore through the rest of the army. But I fixed my gaze upon one man, whose chariot looked more impressive than all the others. When it became apparent that he could not dislodge it from the marshy ground, and the first wave of Israelites defeated the front lines of his army, he alighted from his chariot and fled on foot. He ran in the direction of the terebinth tree at Zaanaim, where I suspected his allies were. Behind him, the Israelites slew every last man of his army. He alone escaped.
My eyes narrowed at the man. That, I knew, was Sisera.
My husband Heber was a traitor.
We Kenites had historically been allied with the children of Israel, as descendants of Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law. But Heber was an opportunist, and decided to ally himself with Jabin, the King of Canaan, instead. He would never fail to side with whoever would benefit him the most.
So we had moved away from the rest of the Kenites, away from everyone we had ever known, and pitched our tent at Zaanaim, where Heber could spy on Israel and report what he had learned to Sisera, Jabin’s military leader. Since Zaanaim was right next to Kedesh, Heber saw when Barak assembled his armies at Mount Tabor. It was he who had alerted Sisera to gather his chariots so that Barak’s army would not take him unawares.
Heber had gone early that morning, to watch what he expected to be the massacre of the Israelites from a safe distance.
Hours went by. I was grateful to have the day to myself at least, but I spent most of it fuming.
I hated King Jabin. I hated Sisera. I hated Heber.
I wanted to be an Israelite again. Or at least an ally to the Israelites. I wanted to belong to their God.
But I was no soldier. I was left out of all machinations, as I was only a woman. What could I do?
Suddenly I froze, hearing a noise I couldn’t quite make out at first. The sound slowly sharpened into the pounding of feet on the ground, and when it got close enough, I heard that it was accompanied by panting as well. Frowning, I approached the flap of my tent and pulled it aside.
Sisera stood before me, alone and on foot, streaming with perspiration.
“Please, my lady,” he gasped, dropping his hands to his knees as he caught his breath. “May I—trouble you for your hospitality?”
I blinked quickly, my mind whirring. Fortunately my mouth worked faster than my brain, and I at once affected womanly concern. “Oh, turn aside, my lord! Turn aside to me; do not fear.” I stepped aside to let the grateful commander pass into my tent. I knew already what I planned to do; I just did not yet know how.
“All of my men have been slaughtered,” Sisera confessed to me, eyes wild with fear. “I alone escaped on foot as you see, and I am sure that the Israelites are pursuing me too now!”
“Never fear, I will keep your secret,” I soothed, and gestured to our own bedding on the ground. “Rest from all your worries. You will need to sleep for a while to have your wits about you, for whatever comes next.” Whatever, indeed.
With no further prompting, Sisera collapsed onto the bed. I clucked my tongue as I pulled a blanket over him, and watched him close his eyes.
“Please give me a little water to drink,” he croaked, “for I am thirsty.”
“I will do better than that,” I cooed, “I have a jug of milk.” I went and retrieved it, and as if he were an invalid or a child, I lifted it to his lips. He drank greedily, the cream running down his chin. He wiped it away with his forearm and lay back down again with a sigh of contentment and relief.
“Stand at the door of the tent,” he begged, “and if any man comes and inquires of you, and says ‘Is there any man here?’ you shall say ‘No.’”
“I will, my lord,” I murmured. “Now close your eyes and rest awhile.”
He needed no further encouragement. Within a few moments, I heard the soft sounds of his rhythmic breathing, followed by occasional snores. I smiled, and went outside the tent, pulling up one of the tent pegs. I wiped off its dirt upon my skirts, and then went back inside, rummaging around for the hammer my husband had used to place it in the first place. Then, grasping the peg in one hand and the hammer in the other, I approached the sleeping commander. He still snored peacefully. Ever so gently, I placed the peg at his temple so as not to wake him. Then, heart pounding, I hammered it in. Straight through to the ground.
Only a woman, I thought, and smiled.
I wiped the blood on my skirts, right next to the dirt, and calmly walked to the tent entrance to wait for the Israelites whom Sisera had said would be hot on his trail.
I recognized Barak as the commander of the Israelite army by the way he was dressed, and flagged him down.
“Come,” I said “I will show you the man whom you seek.”
He followed me inside, and gasped. Then he let out an incredulous chuckle.
“‘The Lord will sell Sisera into the hand of a woman,’” he murmured, but to himself, as if quoting something. Then he looked at me. “I thought He meant Deborah!”
“Your judge?” I asked, confused.
Barak nodded. “I certainly never thought he meant the wife of our enemy!”
I stiffened. “Do not judge me with my husband. We do not see eye to eye, to say the least.”
“No, I can see that,” Barak agreed, with a glance at the dead man in my bed.
After Barak, waves of other Israelites followed, including the famous prophetess herself. Together, Barak and Deborah composed a song of worship to the Lord on the spot, singing about the great victory to the Lord had given them, both at the river, and here in my tent. I choked back tears when they sang about me. The rest of the Israelite soldiers learned the song as they composed it, singing along. I found myself singing along too.
What will Heber say, I wondered with fierce pride, to come home and find that his wife is now the blessed of Israel?
Today's meditation and retelling comes from Mark 8:22-26.
Preorder "Messiah: Biblical Retellings" here. (Published under my pen name, C.A. Gray)
This story gets only four verses, so of course I embellished a lot—we know nothing of this man’s name, family situation, or the circumstances surrounding his blindness. But we do know a little more about Bethsaida: in Matthew 11:21, Jesus rebukes it for the fact that they did not repent, despite the mighty works that had been done in the city. When Jesus fed the 5000, the wilderness was just outside of Bethsaida, so presumably many of those 5000 men, plus women and children, lived there.
While there are plenty of other examples of Jesus getting a person alone or putting away the crowds in order to perform a miracle, this story is unique in that it is the only time recorded where complete healing did not manifest on Jesus’ first attempt. In the case of the woman with the issue of blood, all she had to do was touch the hem of Jesus’ garment, and she was instantly healed. The Centurian’s servant was healed by a word at a distance. And yet Jesus had to take this man by the hand, lead him out of town, and then intentionally lay hands on him twice in order for his healing to fully manifest. The deficiency could not have been on Jesus’ side, so presumably the blind man himself was the problem. Since Jesus had rebuked the town of Bethsaida, and then told the newly healed man not to go back there, I assume that the town itself contributed to this man’s unbelief. We know from Jesus’ reception in his hometown that unbelief hinders mighty works (Mark 6:4-5), so this was probably why Jesus didn’t want this man to return there. Those who receive healing have to know how to stand when the devil tries to devour them again (1 Peter 5:8).
Bethsaida could not have been all bad, though: it was the home of Philip, Andrew, and Peter (John 1:44). And at least two people did have faith that Jesus could help this man, since it said “they” brought him to Jesus—but there is no indication that the blind man himself sought his healing. This was surely part of the hindrance as well. But he allowed himself to be led out of town by the hand by a complete stranger—that took faith. There were a few other people around besides him and Jesus, since he saw “men as trees walking.” Still, he probably felt vulnerable. What if Jesus left him out there? Could he find his way home again, stone blind as he was?
Why did Jesus spit on and touch the man’s eyes? He spit on the eyes of the man born blind also (John 9:41), but when Jesus had been holding his hand all the way out of town, why would he then need to do anything else? It might have been because the man’s faith had been primed to expect a healing touch (Mark 8:22). Jesus had intended to go to the Centurian’s house when the Centurian sent a delegation to say he believed that Jesus’ word at a distance was enough. The Syro-Phoenician woman likewise believed her daughter was healed when Jesus spoke the word only. The woman with the issue of blood put her faith in touching the hem of his garment. Jesus had said, “According to your faith be it done to you” (Matthew 9:29). So perhaps this man’s faith was that he would be healed when Jesus specifically touched him for that purpose.
In Mark 8:24, Jesus told the man to “look up” (anablepo in Greek). This was the same word used when Jesus “looked up” and broke bread before feeding the 5000, and it means not just looking up physically, but looking into the unseen realm, where there is “every spiritual blessing in heavenly places (Ephesians 1:3). This was the moment when the man could see clearly—in fact, the word “clearly” is telaugos, meaning shining, radiant, or in full light. Perhaps bolstered by the initial improvement in his vision the first time Jesus laid hands on the man’s eyes, he then had hope—and “faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). Now, he could truly see—in every sense of the word.
Healing of the Blind Man at Bethsaida
Before the accident, I had been a carpenter, with a specialty in fine furniture.
That was an understatement, actually. My name was synonymous with elegant wood carvings in Bethsaida, and even in the surrounding cities. I attracted only the wealthiest clientele. Young hopeful apprentices sought me out, hoping to learn from the master. I’d gruffly rebuffed them for years, even though I was pleased by their interest and flattery; I considered them to be more trouble than they were worth. As time went on, though, I had more clients than I had time, and I realized that it made good business sense to bring on an apprentice. I interviewed several, and chose Ugo, the most eager of the bunch.
That was the biggest mistake of my life.
Ugo worked hard, but he was always in a hurry when he wasn’t actually carving, and so he was accident-prone. I could not make him slow down, no matter how hard I tried. One day in his haste, he collided with a precarious pile of unfinished wood, sending a beam hurtling directly toward his head. On instinct, I knocked him out of the way.
I should have let it crush him.
When I came to, I thought at first that I was in a pitch dark room. Yet there were people all around me, commenting fretfully on my appearance. That was when I comprehended the awful truth.
“I can’t see,” I blurted. “Why can’t I see?”
“Shh, lie still, don’t overexert yourself,” the doctor soothed.
“Why can’t I see?” I bellowed, straining against his hands. “Will my vision come back? It’s only temporary, right?”
There was an awful silence. Finally the doctor murmured, “I really can’t say. But I’ve seen injuries like this before, and… usually not.” There was a long pause. I felt like he’d knocked the wind out of me. Then he murmured, “I’m so sorry.”
I lay back against the soft pillow under my head in shock. People moved about somewhere nearby, speaking to one another in low whispers.
“I’ll kill him,” I snarled at last. Then I shouted, struggling to my feet, “I’ll kill that foolish bumbling idiot! Where is he? Where’s Ugo? Put his neck in my hands, right here—!”
A collection of louder voices and large hands forced me back onto my bed, though I bucked and strained against them until I’d spent the last of my meager strength. I at last lay panting and sobbing until I cried myself to sleep.
In subsequent years, I grew used to my condition, at least. I had a new routine. I had done well enough while I worked that I was not yet beggared, though I knew the time would come when I would be, if not for the charity of my brothers’ families, who cared for me. From time to time, I wondered if I was already living off their charity, but I spared little thought for that or for anything else. My life was darkness, both literally and figuratively. I slept, ate, and sat, waiting for the days to end. I had neither joy nor hope. When I thought at all, I brooded over what I had lost. I gnashed my teeth when reports reached me of how prosperous Ugo had become. All my clients were now his. He had utterly ruined my life.
Oh, how I wished I could kill him.
One day I overheard my brothers talking about a young rabbi, whom they heard was a new prophet in Israel. I snorted.
“There are no more prophets in Israel. Not for hundreds of years. God has abandoned us.”
“What about John the Baptist?” my brother Jacob insisted. “People said he was Elijah.”
I scoffed. “Elijah did miracles. John never did. He wasn’t a prophet.”
“Well, Jesus does miracles, from what I hear. Lots of them!”
“I doubt it,” I muttered.
I knew what the reaction to this would be. Jacob got very stubborn when he was contradicted, and I contradicted him daily. He’d called me a curmudgeon even before my accident, and accused me of becoming ten times worse afterwards.
“You can doubt it if you want, but if he comes to Bethsaida, we’re taking you to him, whether you like it or not!” Jacob informed me.
I uttered under my breath, “I’d like to see you make me.”
But I thought about it later. A lot.
I started to casually ask Jacob, always in a mocking tone of voice, if he’d heard of any new miracles this Jesus had “supposedly performed.” Jacob always had an enthusiastic response for me, often of entire crowds receiving their healing at his hands. He particularly highlighted the stories of eyesight restored. I realized that I started looking forward to these stories as the highlight of my days. Then one night, I dreamt that I could see again. I hadn’t had a dream like this in many years.
I dropped the mocking tone after that when I asked for stories of Jesus. Then I started asking Jacob, as casually as I could, if he’d heard anything about Jesus coming to Bethsaida.
“Nothing yet,” Jacob told me, with a tone of sympathy I hated. “I’ll tell you as soon as I hear—”
“Doesn’t matter,” I said savagely, “It’s all nonsense anyway.”
Abigail, my sister-in-law, scolded me. “You don’t mean that. You’re just trying not to get your hopes up. But maybe you should! Maybe that’s exactly what you need!”
“What do you know about it?” I lashed out at her. “When have you ever been disappointed? When did you lose your entire life in the literal blink of an eye? Don’t you dare lecture me about hope!”
“That’s enough!” Jacob roared as I heard Abigail’s quick, light footsteps leave the room, “never speak to my wife like that again!”
I huffed, crossing my arms over my chest, turning away from the sounds of his voice.
“Sorry,” I muttered about five minutes later. I knew he was still there, as I hadn’t heard him leave. “I know she was just trying to help. But—really! No one understands!”
“If you’d take half a second to get out of your rut of bitterness, there might be a chance for you yet,” Jacob said quietly. “I didn’t tell you this, but before I knew anything about Jesus, he was already here in Bethsaida. And you know what he said about us? He said woe to us, that he did all these miracles and we didn’t repent of our sins and turn back to God. He said—this is what I heard, anyway—‘it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgement than for you!’”
I absorbed this, and then felt my whole body deflate. “Then he’s never coming back,” I croaked.
“There you go again, seeing the worst in everything!” Jacob snapped, “that’s not what I said, and that’s not what he said! My point is, he wants repentance! And your whole life now is a big ball of ‘woe is me,’ because something bad happened to you, and hatred for Ugo because you think it’s all his fault. Yes, something bad happened to you, and yes, it was Ugo’s fault,” he cut me off as I was about to protest, “but it was an accident, and you need to forgive him and let it go instead of letting it consume the rest of your life! Even if you never get your sight back! Then, maybe, if you ever do meet Jesus, you’ll be in a position where you can receive from him!”
I recoiled like he’d struck me. It was, possibly, the first time he had ever successfully rendered me speechless.
Jacob took advantage of the opportunity and stalked out after Abigail, leaving me to absorb his words.
We barely spoke for the next few days. Abigail brought me food, and left. I thought Jacob also came to check on me, but he never spoke to me. On the third day, when I heard footsteps, I called out irritably, “All right, fine! You were right! I’m sorry! …Are you happy?”
The steps came back. “What was that?” Jacob trilled, his tone all exaggerated sweetness.
I huffed. “You heard me.”
“Yes, but I’d like to hear it again. I want to savor this moment for ever and ever…”
“Shut up,” I muttered, but felt a smile tugging at the corners of my mouth. “I’m not saying I forgive Ugo, though. I will never forgive him. Not for as long as I live.”
I could hear the shrug in Jacob’s voice. “Suit yourself. It’s not doing him any harm.”
I heard another set of footsteps behind him. I recognized them as belonging to my other brother, Caleb. He sounded like he was in a hurry.
“Jacob, Jesus is in Bethsaida! Right now!”
“What?” Jacob gasped, as I caught my breath. “I haven’t heard that!”
“Because he just arrived! Come on, I know where he is!”
I had already leapt to my feet. Jacob and Caleb took me each by an arm, and hurried me forward a bit too quickly. I stumbled, and Caleb had to catch me.
“Slow down so I don’t fall over,” I muttered, hiding my almost painful excitement beneath my usual gruffness.
I hadn’t been truly out in a crowd in years. The sound of chatter, laughter, shouts, children, and animals assaulted my ears when we got outside. When I had first lost my vision, it had been very strange to know it was daytime, and yet still not perceive even light, as I once did through closed eyelids when the sun streamed down upon me. I was used to it now, though—the world was universal blackness. Now that there were obstacles everywhere, though, I felt terribly vulnerable. My brothers shielded me from the crowds on either side, and I heard them pressing through, apologizing, and from time to time murmuring to me, “Watch your step, down here,” or “careful, big rock next to your left foot, there you go.” Finally when we must have been close enough, Jacob cried out, “Jesus! Rabbi—let my brother touch you, please!”
My heart hammered, though I felt completely overwhelmed by all the sensory input I had lacked for so long. Jacob let go of my hand, and I felt a sudden wave of terror, even though Caleb still had me firmly by the other hand.
“This is your brother?” said a new voice. It was calm, steady, authoritative. Inexplicably, it set me at ease.
“Yes, Rabbi,” said Jacob, “and as you can see, he is stone blind. But if he can just—”
“Let me take him from here.” A new hand took my free one, and I felt Caleb let go too. The stranger began to pull me away, slowly enough that I did not stumble, but inexorably.
“Where… are you taking me?” I managed.
“Outside of Bethsaida,” he answered.
“Are my brothers with us?”
“No, I left them behind with most of my disciples to restrain the crowd,” the man answered. “There are a few still with us.”
I should have felt frightened by this, but somehow, I wasn’t. The murmur of the crowds behind us began to die away.
“Are you Jesus?” I asked at last.
I thought I could hear slight amusement in his reply. “Yes, of course. Did your brothers not tell you they were taking you to me? Did you think they would leave you with just anyone?”
I relaxed a little. “They did tell me. I was… just making sure.” Then I added, “Why are we leaving town?”
“Because you have enough of your own unbelief to overcome, without the influence of that town on top of it,” he said, a hint of a growl in his tone. “They are not a healthy influence at present. This is far enough,” he added to the other disciples. “Now.” I heard a sound I recognized as spitting, and then felt the unexpected sensation of wet fingertips on my eyelids. I almost recoiled, but then understood what must be happening. “Do you see anything?” he asked me.
I opened my eyes through the caked mud and gasped, blinking very fast. “Light! I see light!” I started to laugh. “I haven’t seen anything but darkness in five years—”
“What else?” Jesus asked patiently.
I turned my head this way and that, squinting from the sudden brightness. I saw one short form in front of me, probably crouching. Behind him, I saw three tall dark shapes moving.
“I see men like trees, walking,” I said at last.
The one in front of me—Jesus, I was sure—reached forward and touched my eyes again. “Look up,” he told me. “Not physically. I mean, look up.”
I looked up literally, because I didn’t really understand what he meant otherwise. But as I did, I thought back—not just to before my accident, but long before I was a master craftsman. I thought back to when I used to play with Jacob and Caleb in the fields when we were children, bathed in golden sunlight, laughing so hard my sides hurt. Not a care in the world.
I looked back, and saw the man before me. He was young, dressed as a rabbi, with dark hair and beard, and kind brown eyes. My own eyes filled with tears.
“I can see you!”
Jesus smiled, and one of his disciples behind him let out a low whistle. “Phew, I was starting to get worried!” the disciple said, in a joking tone. Another disciple smacked him on the arm. “Just kidding,” the first disciple protested. “You have to admit, that was a lot harder than usual…”
“Don’t go back to Bethsaida,” Jesus told me, ignoring the antics of his disciples. “Go your way, back to your home.”
“Are you kidding me?” I laughed, “I want to tell everyone!”
“You can tell your family, but not the people of Bethsaida,” Jesus warned. “They will make you doubt your healing. I want you to keep it.”
I blinked, sobered. “I want that too,” I murmured, a little confused. “I… guess I could start my business again in another town. Let Ugo—keep my clients here?” I choked on this last sentence, but it somehow felt right, as if a weight had been lifted from my shoulders. Jesus smiled and gave me a tiny nod of approval.
“Now, you can see indeed,” he affirmed.
You can get a copy of "Messiah: Biblical Retellings" here: my collection of retellings of the miracles of Jesus, published under my pen name, C.A. Gray
Today's retelling comes from Genesis 2:21-3:24.
Ugh. How heartbreaking it must have been for God, though He knew that this moment would come from the very beginning. Every good gift comes down from the Father of heavenly lights (James 1:17), and He had bestowed the best He had upon Adam and Eve, the crowning glory of His creation. But what He wanted was a real relationship with them, in which they chose to obey Him—not because they had no alternative, but out of love and respect. They had to have a choice in order to do this. So God placed the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil in the “midst” of the garden—presumably, right in the middle. They would have passed by this tree more often than any other in the garden. The choice was always right there, in plain view. But when they were innocent, they did not even notice it. Why would they? Every need had already been met. They trusted God implicitly.
Enter Satan, who would not be so called anywhere in the book of Genesis. Perhaps it was he who took the form of the serpent, or perhaps he would just inspire the serpent to deceive Eve. In his cunning, he overlooked every blessing, every ‘yes’ God had given Eve, and focused entirely on the one ‘no.’ It’s also interesting that he approached Eve instead of Adam. God had never told Eve anything about the tree directly—He had told Adam that it was forbidden, and Adam had relayed this to Eve. Her knowledge of what God had said about the tree was secondhand. Because of this, just like playing “telephone,” she got it just slightly wrong. She thought they had been forbidden even to touch the fruit of the tree. God never said this, which may have been significant. Perhaps when Eve touched the fruit and nothing happened, it convinced her that the rest was false also.
Satan also convinced Eve to question God’s character. Temptation to sin always includes some element of this. If she had never wondered whether there was a blessing that God had withheld from her, she never would have eaten the fruit (2 Cor 11:3).
Why was their nakedness what they noticed first after the fall? Andrew Wommack’s theory is that they were previously so dominated by their spiritual “sight” that they simply did not notice the physical. I don’t think this is entirely true, since everything else in the garden was physical—but it is true that they died spiritually as soon as they disobeyed God. It was not until after Jesus’ resurrection that spiritual rebirth became possible. The challenge now is to renew our minds so that we can see into the spirit, where we have every spiritual blessing available (Eph 1:3), rather than walking by sight (2 Cor 5:7).
Immediately after the fall, Adam and Eve experienced fear for the first time (Gen 3:10). Fear does not come from God (2 Tim 1:7); it only comes when we do not understand and trust in God’s perfect love, which casts out fear (1 John 4:18). But if they had understood God’s perfect love, they never would have obeyed the serpent in the first place. Punishment did come, but it was not for punishment’s sake. The world was now corrupted, and it was God’s mercy that expelled them from the Garden so that they could not eat from the Tree of Life and live forever in that fallen state! God did not want that for them: to be always decaying but never dying, always separated from Him, always in their sin. He wanted us to have eternal life, but spiritually, not just physically.
Once they became aware of their nakedness, they needed to cover it—which required death. They died spiritually the moment they fell, but physical death would come, for them, centuries later. To “cover” them until then, God had to kill an animal—a symbol of Christ’s ultimate atonement for all sin (Hebrews 9:22). (I chose a lion in this retelling because Christ is referred to as both the Lion of Judah and also the Lamb of God, but I figured a single lamb probably wouldn’t produce enough skin to cover both Adam and Eve unless God wove its wool into clothing, and the scripture doesn’t say He did that.)
When God pronounced that the Seed of the woman would crush the serpent’s head, this of course referred to Jesus. It’s interesting that part of Adam’s curse was that the ground would produce thorns, and Jesus wore a crown of thorns on the cross—a symbol of bearing the curse for us so that we could be redeemed from it (Gal 3:13). But Eve did not understand that the Savior would be many generations hence. When she gave birth to Cain, she said, “Behold, I have gotten a man, the Lord” (Gen 4:1, though some translations say, “I have gotten a man from the Lord.” The original Hebrew does not include the word “from”). She presumably thought this was the Messiah, come to redeem them already. Perhaps she hoped that through him, she and Adam would be able to return to Eden. Sadly, rather than becoming their redemption, Cain became the first murderer instead.
When Christ comes the second time, in the New Jerusalem, the Tree of Life will again be freely available to the redeemed (Rev 2:7), and its leaves will be for the healing of the nations (Rev 22:2). Then, restored to our original perfection, eternal life—body, soul, and spirit—will be ours once more.
I breathed in, and I was. The air filled every part of me with life.
This was the first thing I knew. Then I opened my eyes.
The Face I beheld was like light itself, though there was also light behind Him. I had no concept of anything until that moment, but that Face was the very definition of beauty. I gazed up at Him, rapturous. His eyes were like liquid love, bursting with color, their expression infinitely gentle.
“Hello, my dear,” said my Creator.
“Hello,” I murmured back in wonder, marveling at the sound of my own voice, at the feel of it vibrating in my throat. On instinct I reached for Him, but had not fully completed the action when I stopped, distracted by the wonder of my own limbs. I held them up before my face, wiggling my fingers and watching them obey me. My Creator chuckled, and the sound thrilled me with warmth. I shivered, every nerve humming with the sensation.
“We are Elohim,” the Creator told me. “You may call me God.”
“God,” I whispered, reaching again for His face. He did not repulse me, but let me caress Him, leaning in to my palm and covering it with His own. He grinned down at me, and I reflexively grinned back.
“Come. There is someone I want you to meet,” God said. He set me on my feet, and I marveled at the feeling of the spongy, dewy ground beneath my feet. As soon as I noticed the sensations, the words for them came to me. I marveled at that too: that I knew so many things I had never learned.
I looked up at God, and though before I had thought of Him as infinitely larger than I was, I found that he was only about a head taller. He held my hand in his. He shone like the orb overhead that bathed us all in its light. I turned my attention to it next, and then to all it illuminated. There was a canopy of green above us, the foliage of thick trees. I identified the sounds around us as flowing water and chirping birds. I turned to see the cheerful river behind us. Flowers of every color, shape, and size bloomed all around us, and living creatures hummed all around them: hummingbirds, butterflies, bees. Other creatures covered in fur or feathers roamed throughout the land too, each of them unique and lovely in its own way.
“What is this place?” I asked in wonder.
“Do you like it?” He asked, but the delight in his question made it clear He knew my answer already.
“I have called it Eden. I made it for you, Adam.”
I turned back, excited to hear my own name. “Am I called Adam, then?”
“You were taken from Adam, your husband. I have given him the task of naming all My other creatures, so I will give him that privilege with you as well. Until then, you too are Adam.” God gestured before us, under a palm tree. “This is your Adam. He is called a man.”
A new sensation stirred in me as I beheld the creature God indicated. The man had flesh instead of fur or feathers, like I did. My eyes traced the curve of his face. His strong jaw beneath his dark beard. My mouth fell open in awe. Like all the animals, he too was beautiful, but in a completely new way. His kind of beauty allured me in a way that none of the other animals had done. As I took all of this in, he sat up, as if waking from a deep sleep.
Then he saw me. His expression went slack, and I watched, gratified, as he drank me in as I had him. Slowly, he rose to his feet and took tentative steps toward me.
Beside us, God beamed, delighting in our admiration of each other as much as we were. He said, “Adam, meet your helper. I have fashioned her from one of your ribs. I trust you prefer to have it back in this form.”
Adam’s eyes filled with tears, as he turned to God, unable to speak, the gratitude obvious in his face. Then he looked back at me, and spoke. I could tell, even though I had never heard him speak before, that his voice was hoarse with emotion.
“This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called woman, because she was taken out of man.” When he got close enough, he reached for my face, in the same way that I had originally reached for God’s. I copied the motion, laying my hand on top of his when he touched my cheek.
“I will call her Eve, because she will be the mother of all the living.”
“Eve,” I repeated, trying the sound of my own name on my tongue. I liked it. I smiled at Adam and he smiled back at me. There was nothing more to say.
“I will leave you two to get acquainted,” God murmured, and took His leave. For a second the thought that He was gone alarmed me, but then Adam slid his hand from my cheek to my hand, entwining his fingers with mine. When I turned back to him, the expression on his face was so full of tenderness that I felt answering tears prick in my eyes.
“You… are… exquisite,” Adam whispered to me. The words filled me up almost the way that first breath had done. I had not known I wanted to be exquisite until my husband said it—but suddenly, it was all I wanted.
“Aren’t you going to show me around?” I teased, though I was very pleased that he could not seem to look away from me.
“I will try, but I cannot promise I will be able to walk without tripping over my own feet,” he replied in the same tone. “I’ll be too busy looking at you.” I giggled, marveling at that instinct too and delighting at the feel of it. Somehow, I knew what laughter was.
Adam led me through the garden by the hand, calling the animals to him by name and then showing them to me. I reached out to caress them all, from the elephant to the lion to the mouse, and they nuzzled me affectionately in return. I gestured to the lion to open his mouth for me, marveling at how sharp his teeth were. He let me poke them with the tip of my finger, patiently waiting for me to extract my hand before he went about his business. I watched as he used those sharp claws to dig up root vegetables hidden in the earth, so hard that I would not have considered them food. But the lion’s incisors tore into the vegetables with no trouble at all.
My own stomach growled as I watched the lion eat. Adam explained, “You are hungry. Here.” He plucked a bunch of berries from a tree, handing them to me. Then from another, he plucked something very hard and brown. I frowned at it, unsure how it might turn out to be food like the berries, until Adam showed me how to remove the outer shell to reveal the soft meat inside. Nuts, he called them. When I tasted them both, my face lit up wth delight as the flavors exploded on my tongue: tart and sweet and savory, all at once.
“What about that one?” I pointed at a tree that bore round fruit that looked like burnished gold.
“You want one of those?” Adam grinned, trotting over to the tree and plucking two of the golden fruit. He returned and handed me one, taking a bite out of the other himself. “I think this one is my favorite too. God called it the Tree of Life.”
“So many different kinds of food!” I exclaimed, looking around the garden to see if I could distinguish all the fruits around me from the flowers.
“God gave us all of the green herbs and fruits with seeds for food,” Adam explained, “except for the one in the middle, the one that makes those sort of oddly shaped reddish brown fruits, see it?” He pointed at the tree next to the Tree of Life, and I nodded.
“Why not that one?” I asked.
“He said it is called the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, and He said that we shall not eat it, for the day that we eat of it, we shall surely die.”
For the briefest second, I felt an ominous shadow pass over my heart at these words. Die? What did die mean? But then it was gone. I shrugged. We had plenty of other trees to choose from. I saw no reason to bother about the one forbidden tree.
The day began to wane and the light changed from white to golden before we had finished our tour of Eden. I pointed up at the sky with a slight questioning frown, though I wasn’t concerned so much as confused.
“It is called sunset,” Adam explained. “Day and night lasts a total of twenty-four hours. It’s not precisely twelve and twelve hours of day and night, but close. God says the ratio between the two will change with the seasons.”
“What are seasons?” I asked, wide-eyed.
Adam shook his head. “I don’t exactly know, I haven’t seen them yet. But God says it’s when weather changes, and the sun and celestial bodies change their positions throughout the year.”
I thought about how I knew that twelve and twelve made twenty-four. This too delighted me. But I forgot all about addition when I watched as the colors changed across the sky, from golden light to pinks and golds and purples. I gasped, clapping with delight.
“God!” I called out to Him, suspecting He was not far away. “Good show!”
He emerged from the trees in the cool of the day, strolling unhurried, and beamed at us.
“Thank you, my dear,” He said, sitting down on the marshy grass beside us. We sat too, and I leaned into his gleaming white robe, nestling my head on one of His shoulders. God stroked my long dark hair away from my face. I sighed with contentment. Adam sat down on God’s other side, interlocking elbows and also leaning into Him. The three of us watched as the sun descended below the horizon, and then suddenly the darkness was not just darkness.
“What are those?” I exclaimed in wonder, pointing up at the tiny pinpricks of light in the dark sky. “And that?” I pointed at the large glowing orb spangled with shadows.
“The moon and the stars,” God explained. “The moon is to govern the night just as the sun governs the day. Stars are just like the sun, but much, much further away in outer space.”
“What is outer space?” I asked, wide-eyed.
“It is where the earth is hung, and there are other planets also, though not exactly like earth. Earth is very special,” He told me with a tender smile, touching the tip of my nose affectionately. Satisfied, I nestled back against Him, yawning.
“Why do I feel so tired?”
“Because it is time for you to sleep,” God whispered, lowering me down to the spongy ground beside my husband, who automatically wrapped an arm around me. “It restores your energy so that you will be fresh again tomorrow morning…”
I did not hear the last of God’s words before I drifted off.
The first rays of the sun filtered through my eyelids the following morning. They fluttered open and I sat up, mouth agape in wonder yet again as the same colors from sunset danced across the sky at sunrise as well. I glanced at Adam, who somehow managed to continue his slumber despite the light. A little family of squirrels slept on the ground near us, and beside me, a bear stretched its sharp claws, yawned, and took a swipe at the fruit on a nearby tree. I skipped over to him and stroked his fur in good morning. But then I jumped back—not from the bear, but from something living in the branches of the tree beside us that I had not seen before. It looked like one of the branches itself, but it seemed to slither. My eyes scanned until I found first its tiny legs, and then its face. The eyes sharpened upon me, and it opened its mouth.
“Good morning, Eve,” it hissed.
I had not heard any of the other animals in the garden speak besides Adam, myself, and God. But everything was new to me, so I thought nothing of it.
“Good morning, serpent,” I greeted it, remembering the name Adam had given the creature.
I was just reaching for the same fruit the bear had breakfasted on, when the serpent said, “You don’t want to eat from this tree. The fruit is very bitter.”
“Oh,” I hesitated. But then I shrugged, and turned to a vine nearby, bearing clusters of juicy-looking red grapes. But the serpent’s words stopped me again.
“You know which fruit tastes more delicious than all the others?” I looked at him, curious, and he gestured with his head toward the center of the garden. “That one.”
“The tree of life?” I asked, delighted. “Yes, Adam and I sampled it yesterday, and it was my favorite so far!”
“No, not that one, the one beside it,” the serpent hissed. “The one with the reddish brown fruit.”
I frowned. “The one from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil?” The serpent nodded, and I said, “But… Adam said God forbade that one.”
“Is that right?” the serpent hissed, slithering its head closer to me. “Has God indeed said, ‘You shall not eat of every tree of the garden?’”
I frowned, trying to puzzle out the meaning of this phrase. The negatives in it confused me. When I finally worked out its meaning, I said uncertainly, “We may eat the fruit of the trees of the garden; but of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God has said, ‘You shall not eat it, nor shall you touch it, lest you die.’” I thought that was what Adam had told me. It had been something like that, anyway.
“Ah,” hissed the serpent, his fork-like tongue flicking out toward me as he spoke. “You shall not surely die. For God knows that in the day you eat of it, your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
I blinked at the serpent, then turned to look at the tree. I tried to process the serpent’s words. He was saying… God… lied to us? That He was withholding a blessing from us out of… jealousy? The thoughts felt clunky and unfamiliar. They made no sense. God was perfection. Our only experience of Him was that He was good and kind and wonderful. He loved us.
I had paid almost no attention to the tree of the knowledge of good and evil before. Yet now that the serpent pointed it out to me, I noticed that the fruit, strange looking though it was, did look enticing. And the serpent said—even God had said—that the tree would make us wise, as God Himself was wise. And after all, if God had not wanted us to eat of it, why did he put that particular tree in the midst of the garden, I reasoned? I took a hesitant step toward the tree, and then another and another until I stood right in front of it. I reached out and touched one of the reddish brown fruits, cringing for half a second—but nothing happened. It was just like touching any of the other fruits in the garden. I laughed, exultant, and plucked the fruit from the branch, all hesitation now forgotten.
“What are you doing, Eve?” I turned to see Adam standing beside me, a note of alarm in his voice.
A new emotion of defiance rose up on the inside of me. I had just proven that what Adam told me God said about the tree had been false, hadn’t I? I had touched it and had not died! I plucked a second fruit from the tree and tossed it to Adam. Then, before he could stop me, I opened my mouth and took a bite.
“Eve, no—!” Adam shouted, reaching out as if to dash the fruit from my hand—but it was too late.
I chewed, savoring the delicious burst of sweetness across my tongue. For a brief second, I relished the thought that the serpent was right—the fruit was indeed the best I had yet tasted. But just as quickly, a bitter flavor overtook the sweetness. I made a face, dropping the remainder of the fruit to the ground and staring at it. I had a sudden urge to wash away the taste.
“You shall die,” Adam croaked. His expression cut me to the heart. Suddenly I felt another new emotion come over me: horror. What had I done?
“It was only one bite,” I whispered back. Suddenly the wind whipped around my body, and I looked down. A hot wave of shame passed over me as I realized—I was naked! I dropped to a crouch to cover myself, a sudden impulse from an instinct that I had not had before. How had I not noticed? How had Adam not noticed? He was naked too, yet he still stood unashamed, displaying himself before me and all of the creatures in view. We had been naked even before God Himself!
Adam’s focus was not on his body, though; it was on the fruit I had given him.
“If you must die, then I must die with you,” he murmured, raising sorrowful eyes to me. “I do not want to live without you.” Then he opened his mouth, and despite the look of disgust, also took a bite.
He chewed and swallowed, then dropped the remains of the fruit on the ground as I had done. He stared at it with sudden revulsion. Then he looked down at his body, and I saw his cheeks color as he realized what I had realized a second before. He moved both hands to cover his nudity.
“How did we not know?” he moaned. “Oh! How shameful!”
“All the animals have fur or feathers, but we—” I agreed, wincing. “What are we to do? We must at least cover ourselves somehow before God returns…”
Adam shrugged, biting his lip. He gestured with his chin to the leaves of the tree from which we had just eaten, unwilling to move his hands away from his genitals. “I’ll try to sew together some of the leaves,” he said, “but I’ll need to use my hands to do it, so you have to promise not to look.”
“You have to promise not to look at me, either!” I declared.
Adam gave me a sad smile. “But you are so beautiful.”
I narrowed my eyes at him, not in the mood. He sighed.
“All right, I promise. Turn around.”
I obeyed, but since we had promised not to look at each other anyway, I decided I might as well make myself useful, and approached the tree where I had seen the serpent. Both serpent and bear were gone now, so I began to pluck leaves from that tree, wondering how Adam intended to weave them into clothing. I collected a pile of leaves, and then stripped some of them to just the stalk that ran down the center of the leaves, thinking that would somehow serve as thread. I started to knot some of them together, and then poked holes in the remaining leafy part of the other leaves, so as to thread the knotted leaf stem through them. It was slow work, and many of the leaves tore before I could connect enough of them to do any good. I finally managed to make myself a little apron to at least cover my genitals, but it was a poor covering indeed, and hid very little. I realized I'd have to connect many more leaves to cover my breasts, and the sun was already past peak in the sky. I decided instead to try to find something sticky, so that they could adhere directly to my body. I tried clay, but that lasted all of two seconds. Then instead I used a bit of sap from a tree. This worked better, but it meant everything else I touched adhered to my hands—
“Eve!” Adam hissed, and I perked up my ears, at once understanding what he meant. We both heard the sound of footsteps, and knew they belonged to God. My poor leaf apron fluttered to the ground as I fled, hiding with Adam among the underbrush. The branches poked at us, but I hardly noticed, my heart pounding so hard with fear that we would be seen. Once in the bushes, I tried to wipe the remaining sap off of my hands on its leaves, but found that it would not go.
“Stop it, He’ll hear you!” Adam hissed, stilling my fidgeting hands.
Just then, we saw God enter the clearing from between the branches of our hiding place. I suddenly envied Him His gleaming white robe. When His face turned so that we could see it from our hiding place, I saw His puzzled, slightly concerned expression.
“Adam! Where are you?” God called out.
I looked at Adam, shaking my head sharply, but I saw that he intended to reply.
He opened his mouth and called back, “I heard Your voice in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked, and hid myself.”
Now God turned and looked straight at the bush where we hid. Adam stood up only so high as to expose his chest, still kneeling to conceal the rest of him. God’s expression grew stern.
“Who told you that you were naked?” He demanded. “Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you that you should not eat?”
Adam trembled, and then pointed at me, still fully crouched beside him. “The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I ate.”
My mouth fell open, indignant. But then I realized that I could not truly protest. His statement was quite true.
God turned to me. “What is this you have done?” He demanded.
It took me a moment to find my tongue. When I did, I blurted, “The serpent deceived me! And I ate.”
God waved His hand, and the serpent appeared from nowhere on the ground between Him and us. The sky grew dark, and God said in a terrible voice to the serpent, “Because you have done this, you are cursed more than all cattle, and more than every beast of the field; on your belly you shall go—” and as He pronounced this, the serpent’s legs dissolved into nothingness, until he was all tail, “and you shall eat dust all the days of your life. And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel.”
Even as God spoke it, I saw its fulfillment in my mind’s eye. My Seed would be my son. He would conquer the serpent. He would redeem Adam and me from what we had done. He would be the Lord Himself…
No sooner had God finished speaking, though, He turned to me. I was compelled to look at His face, and I saw at once mingled anger and heartbreak. It made me want to weep.
“I will greatly multiply your sorrow and your conception; in pain you shall bring forth children; your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.”
I bowed my head, accepting God’s punishment. Since I got us into this mess, it was only fair that I should labor and travail to bring forth the Savior who would get us out of it. And Adam was right—it was my choice to disobey God, not his—at least not originally. If I had listened to my husband, none of this would have happened.
Then God turned to Adam, who trembled under God’s gaze.
“Because you have heeded the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree of which I commanded you, saying, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground for your sake; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life. Both thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you, and you shall eat the herb of the field. In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for dust you are, and to dust you shall return.”
Adam buried his face in his hands and wept. God’s expression sank into sorrow as well, all His anger now spent.
“Lion,” he called out, and summoned the creature I had met the morning before. The great cat bounded toward the Lord, frolicking around Him playfully and swishing its tail this way and that. The Lord caressed its mane tenderly. Then, with one swift jerk, a horrible crack sounded. I screamed, and the lion slumped, lifeless.
I could not stop screaming, even though Adam hushed me as best he could. Even God wept openly now.
“The wages of sin is death,” He said to us, a terrible grief in His voice as He removed the lion’s skin and knit it together into tunics to clothe us. When He had finished, he approached the bush where we both shied away from Him, and deposited both tunics upon the top of the bush, turning away from us. Adam shimmied into his first, standing up fully for the first time once he was covered. Then I did the same, standing beside him.
We heard Elohim say to Himself, “Behold, the man has become like one of Us, to know good and evil. And now, lest he put out his hand and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live forever—” He turned back to face us, tears still flowing freely. “You must leave the garden now,” He said, “and go out into the wilderness to make your way as best you can. To live forever in your current state would be a fate far worse than death.”
Fresh tears gushed on to my cheeks at this word. “But—you said my Seed would crush the head of the serpent!” I blubbered, hardly able to make myself understood. “He will redeem us, surely?”
“Yes, daughter, He will,” God assured me, “but not for what to you will seem a very long time.”
So Adam took my hand, and led me through our lush home for the last time. Beyond it lay nothing but desert. We would survive, of course—I must bring forth a man, so we must survive somehow. Death, it turned out, was not immediate. And yet, leaving the garden and leaving the Lord God behind us was a kind of death. For the lion, death had certainly been immediate, I thought with a pang of sorrow. And the poor lion had done nothing wrong. It died for our sin, to cover our nakedness.
I turned around to look back at the garden one last time. A ring of creatures that looked like the Lord in luminescence stood before the tree with the golden fruit, bearing swords that shone like the sun. Then I turned away again, looking out into the wilderness that was to be our new home.
“But we will still return one day,” I whispered to Adam as we walked out into the desert. “Right?”
“One day,” he whispered back, and squeezed my hand.
Today's podcast is a meditation on a concept found throughout scripture of walking by faith and not by sight (2 Cor 5:7) but we jump around a LOT on this one.
Today's podcast is a meditation on Psalm 37. God is still on the throne!
Background music courtesy of bensound.com
You can get a copy of "Messiah: Biblical Retellings" here: my collection of retellings of the miracles of Jesus, published under my pen name, C.A. Gray
Today's podcast is a meditation/retelling of the first Passover, and Moses parting the Red Sea found in Exodus 11-14.
Here's the transcript:
You can get a copy of "Messiah: Biblical Retellings" here: my collection of retellings of the miracles of Jesus, published under my pen name, C.A. Gray
Today's retelling of Jesus healing the demon-possessed man from the Gadarenes comes from Matt 8:28-34, Mark 5:1-20, and Luke 8:26-39.
This story happens immediately after Jesus calms the storm at sea. Everywhere Jesus goes, he’s mobbed by people who want to hear him teach and to be healed. He could theoretically have stayed where he was, and ministered to thousands of people. Instead, he crosses the stormy see from Galilee to the wilderness of the Gadara—interesting for several reasons. First, it’s not part of the Jewish nation; this is one of the ten cities of the Decapolis, east of the Jordan river, and according to Josephus, it was inhabited mostly by Greeks. Jews would not have kept a herd of pigs, as they considered them to be unclean, so these were definitely Gentiles.
Second, the only thing Jesus does when he gets there is to heal this one demonized man. Immediately afterwards, the people are so terrified that they beg him to leave. It appears Jesus traveled all this way, through the storm, just for this one guy. To me, this seems like an illustration of Jesus’ three parables: of the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost (or prodigal) son. One man is worth all of this time and effort on Jesus’ part!
We see a bit of the reason for this as soon as Jesus arrives. Despite the fact that he played host to a “legion” of demons (at least two thousand apparently!), the real man is still down there, wanting to be free. We know this because when he sees Jesus from afar, he runs toward him, falls at his feet, and worships him (Mark 5:6). All the dialogue listed appears to be between Jesus and the demons, so the man may not at that point have had use of his vocal cords. But he had enough control over his body that he could run toward the Messiah, which no doubt was exactly the opposite of what the demons wanted him to do. When he got there, the demons begged Jesus not to torment them. They knew they’d had it now.
How did the man know who Jesus was, anyway? He lived naked and alone among the tombs, and the other Gadarene people obviously kept far away from him. He wouldn’t have heard any rumors about Jesus from them. So presumably he knew who Jesus was because the demons knew. They recognized him in the spirit, and called him “Jesus, son of the Most High God”. No humans had even received this revelation yet! So perhaps the man “overheard” the demons discussing who Jesus was in his mind.
How would this produce faith in him to run to Jesus, though? Satan’s very name means "false accuser”; surely the demons would have told the man all the ways in which he was not worthy. They might have lied about Jesus’ character, and told the man that he would be tormented if he approached the Son of God. The only thing that makes sense to me is that the Father must have broken through the influence of that legion of demons, and given this man a revelation of who Jesus was (his character and his love, not just his title). Nothing else would have induced him run to Jesus and fall at his feet. That was the man’s act of faith. It was all he could do, but it was enough. Praise God that no matter how bad off we are, we are never outside the Father’s reach!
The subsequent interaction between Jesus and the demons peels back the veil between worlds, and gives a fascinating glimpse into the inner workings of the spirit realm. Jesus commands the demons to leave, and instead of just doing it, they argue with him: “I adjure you by God that you torment me not.” The Greek word adjure (horkizo) means “to command under oath with a threat of penalty.” They think Jesus is breaking the rules, that God gave the demons authority until a set time which had not yet arrived (Matthew 8:29). When Adam obeyed Satan in the Garden, he made Satan the god of this world (2 Cor 4:4). From that point on, outside of God’s later covenant of protection which covered the Jewish people only, the fate of individuals legally was in Satan’s hands (Job 1:12). This man is not a Jew; he had no covenant to protect him. So the demons think that even if Jesus has the power to cast them out, as God, he should not have the authority to do so: the earth isn’t His anymore.
What they don’t understand is that the earth and everything in it was given to mankind to subdue in the Garden (Gen 1:28). It’s as though God owned the property, earth, but leased it to mankind. Men then “sub-let” the property to Satan, yes—but the official authority to act upon the earth still belonged to mankind. Jesus was now a man. He had not yet died and risen again to become the “last Adam,” redeeming us from the curse we brought upon ourselves (1 Cor 15:45), but as God wrapped in a human body, he did have legal authority on earth, in a way that God the Father did not. He was basically a Trojan horse. The demons didn’t get this: they thought God the Father was intervening before the “earth lease” had run out, and they cried foul.
But whether the demons understood the source of Jesus’ authority or not, they still had to obey his power. They didn’t want to go back to the abyss, or Sheol, and asked Jesus’ permission to go into the herd of pigs instead. Presumably they needed to inhabit physical bodies in order to remain on earth. Jesus granted this. But the demons’ new home didn’t last long, of course: once the pigs lost their minds, ran off a cliff and killed themselves, the demons presumably had to go back into the abyss anyway!
Whoever owned those two thousand pigs was no doubt very unhappy, as the herd would have represented a substantial investment. The scripture says the people were afraid because of the miracle Jesus had performed, though, so this was the primary reason that the Gadarenes begged him to leave their region, rather than because of the loss of the pigs. (Interesting that they weren’t afraid of the naked guy roaming around the tombs, cutting himself and wailing and unable to be bound by any chains. But once he’s clothed and in his right mind, now they’re terrified.)
The man begged to follow Jesus after he had been set free, but Jesus did not allow him to do so. Instead, he gave the man an assignment: to go back and tell his friends and family what God had done for him. Perhaps this was the reason Jesus did not allow the man to come with him—or perhaps it was because his primary ministry was still to the lost sheep of Israel. Bringing a Gentile with him might have been an impediment to this. Regardless, the man’s testimony was evidently effective, because the next time Jesus went to the Decapolis, crowds turned out to hear him and be healed (Mark 7:31-37, Matthew 15:30).