From Amram To Zelophehad

Lengthy genealogies may seem boring, but there are connections worth making.
amram zelophehad

“The sons of Kohath were Amram, Izhar, Hebron and Uzziel,” says the Book of Exodus, and “Kohath lived 133 years” (Ex. 6:18 NIV). Passages such as these these tend to make most churchgoers’ eyes glaze over like Krispy Kreme doughnuts.

For me, though, the name Amram begins to tumble around in my head like a pair of pants in a dryer. I repeat it incessantly: Amram Amram Amram. Writers are drawn to strange names, I think.

Try substituting the names listed in any biblical genealogy with, say, the inscrutable ingredients listed on a shampoo bottle, and the reading will prove equally impenetrable. “And Polysorbate begat Methylisothiazolinone … .”

Which prompts the question: Why read such passages? Why not just skip them? While the psalmist writes of hiding God’s word in his heart, I’m betting a cardiologist wouldn’t find Exodus 6:18 lodged in either of his ventricles.

When I resolved to read the Bible in a year, I knew my journey would include slogging through names like Mephibosheth and Maher-Shahal-Hash-Baz. But did I really need to pay close attention to every name I came across? Did that information actually matter? It soon occurred to me that if God loved even me, He surely loved the people in His Word. As much as my reading was from Genesis to Revelation, I saw it also as an A to Z journey—from Amram to Zelophehad.

One name in particular led me down a genealogical rabbit hole: Levi, son of Jacob, brother of Joseph. In Genesis 34, when Levi’s sister Dinah visits the town of Shechem and is raped by “Shechem the son of Hamor the Hivite,” Levi and his brother Simeon retaliate (Gen. 34:2). They con the men of Shechem into subjecting themselves to circumcision, then slaughter them while they are still suffering the procedure’s aftereffects (and without ice packs, no less).

While the psalmist writes of hiding God’s word in his heart, I’m betting a cardiologist wouldn’t find Exodus 6:18 lodged in either of his ventricles.

Displeased with the severity of his sons’ actions, Jacob has harsh words for Simeon and Levi when he blesses his 12 sons at the end of his life. “Cursed be their anger, for it is fierce; and their wrath, for it is cruel. I will disperse them in Jacob, and scatter them in Israel” (Gen. 49:7).

In the Bible, the individual is part of an ongoing story that includes his or her forebears and also descendants. Perhaps I should not have been surprised, then, to see green shoots of the Lord’s grace sprout from Levi’s family tree, despite Jacob’s deathbed pronouncement. Remember Amram, son of Kohath? Levi was Kohath’s father. With that in mind, consider Exodus 6:20: “Amram married his father’s sister Jochebed, and she bore him Aaron and Moses.” Moses and Aaron—strange fruit for a family tree that has been cursed.

Although Aaron made the golden calf that inflamed the ire of God in Exodus 32, Yahweh still promised the priesthood to him and his offspring. Furthermore, while the Levites do not inherit land like the other tribes of Israel, instead finding themselves scattered as Jacob foretold—living as priests throughout Israel—the tribe has a relationship with God unlike any other. Instead of granting them land, God offers Himself to the Levites as an inheritance (Josh. 13:33).

So even though Levi sinned greatly, his lineage receives unexpected and undeserved blessings. Had I glossed over every name I encountered, I never would have considered any of these things. Paying attention to the minutiae in Scripture led to a cosmic game of connect the dots that helped me see how God worked in one family to demonstrate His grace. In the story of Levi and his descendants, the Creator acted in a way that foreshadowed a future dispensation of grace through another lineage: that of King David and ultimately Jesus Himself.

After learning what I did about Levi’s family line, I read the other genealogical portions of the Bible with new eyes. Sure, a lot of it remained about as riveting as a phonebook. But instead of thinking of these passages as dry or difficult and nothing more, I began to imagine them as stretches of desert dotted with possibilities—spots where I might find buried treasure, if only I would be bold enough to dig.

By Chad Thomas Johnston

Our Way Or God’s Way

Exodus 2:11-25

Whenever challenges come into our life, there are two ways we can respond: God’s way or our way. Moses is an example of a man who, on separate occasions, tried out both options. In today’s passage, we see him taking matters into his own hands. Although his motives were pure—namely, the relief of one Hebrew man’s suffering—his method was wrong. Moses made three mistakes.

1. He focused on the difficulty. How often have you and I done the same thing? The unfairness or pain of a situation grabs our attention and in our desire for a solution, we forget our all-powerful God.

2. He relied on his own strength and understanding. When a problem arises, the most natural response is to do what we can to make it right. However, God wants us to rely on Him, not on ourselves.

3. He acted impulsively. If a situation seems urgent, fixing the problem as fast as possible becomes our top priority. In our hastiness, we forgo waiting on the Lord.

Our way can look logical at the time, but let’s consider how effective Moses was in achieving his goal. An Egyptian man was killed, and the Hebrew people didn’t react favorably. Pharaoh, learning of the event, tried to kill him, and Moses had to flee Egypt.

We’ve all followed Moses’ example at some point and suffered the consequences of self-reliance. But God didn’t reject Moses or cancel His plans for him. Instead, He refined the future leader’s character through trials and gave him another chance. The Lord will do the same for us.

The Awesome Word

“Princes have persecuted me without a cause: but my heart standeth in awe of thy word.” (Psalm 119:161)

This stanza of Psalm 119 is rich in descriptions of the way God’s Word envelops the believer in awe and wonder. This initial focus is of the heart rather than the mind. Our minds are key to growth and maturity in Christ (Romans 12:1-2), but the heart must be engaged in our relationship with our heavenly Father (Luke 10:27).

The psalmist rejoiced in the Word of God “as one that findeth great spoil” (Psalm 119:162). Peter taught that the Word “liveth and abideth for ever” (1 Peter 1:23). It is far more than written text; it is the very God-breathed words by which the Lord Jesus will ultimately judge the world (John 12:48).

Love for the Word of God can cause the godly to “hate and abhor lying” (Psalm 119:163) and begin to recognize the way that God exercises His “righteous judgments” (v. 164) on those who dare to flaunt their wickedness. Nothing, the psalmist noted, “shall offend them” (v. 165). That mature perception brings praise “seven times a day” (v. 164). It also brings “great peace” (v. 165), the “peace of God, which passeth all understanding” (Philippians 4:7).

Reveling in the wonder and awe of the Scriptures brings a stable “[hope] for [our] salvation” (Psalm 119:166), which in turn produces an open obedience to the commandments of God and a “soul” commitment to guard the Word (v. 167). This godly lifestyle is assured by those who understand that “all [our] ways are before thee” (v. 168). “Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man” (Ecclesiastes 12:13). HMM III

We Are Not Alone

Have not I commanded thee? Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the LORD thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest. —Joshua 1:9

We are each like a little child lost in a crowded market, who has strayed but a few feet from his mother, yet because she cannot be seen the child is inconsolable. So we try by every method devised by religion to relieve our fears and heal our hidden sadness; but with all our efforts we remain unhappy still, with the settled despair of men alone in a vast and deserted universe.

But for all our fears we are not alone. Our trouble is that we think of ourselves as being alone. Let us correct the error by thinking of ourselves as standing by the bank of a full flowing river; then let us think of that river as being none else but God Himself. We glance to our left and see the river coming full out of our past; we look to the right and see it flowing on into our future. But we see also that it is flowing through our present. And in our today it is the same as it was in our yesterday, not less than, nor different from, but the very same river, one unbroken continuum, undiminished, active and strong as it moves sovereignly on into our tomorrow.

Thank You, Lord, that I can have confidence in Your unchanging Presence. Yesterday, today and tomorrow, I know I am not alone. Amen.

God Revealed Himself

I saw also the Lord… then said I, woe is me! for I am undone. (Isaiah 6:1, 5)

I often wonder how so many people can live with a continuing hope that they will in some way be able to commune with God through their intellectual capacities. When will they realize that if they could possibly “discover” God they realize that with the intellect, they would be equal to God?

Isaiah is a dramatic example of God’s revelation of Himself to mankind. Isaiah could have tried for a million years to reach God by means of his intellect. But brainpower is not the means by which we find God!

Brethren, it is true that all of us would still be far from God if He had not graciously and in love revealed Himself to us. In the space of a short second of time, the Lord who loves us can reveal Himself to the willing spirit of a man or woman. It is only then that an Isaiah, or any one of us, can say with humble assurance, “I know Him!”

A committed Christian, then, should have upon him an element that is beyond psychology—beyond all natural laws and into spiritual laws!

Better have two lights than only one

Better have two lights than only one. The light of creation is a bright light. God may be seen in. the stars; his name is written in gilt letters on the brow of night; you may discover his glory in the ocean waves, yea, in the trees of the field; but it is better to read it in two books than in one. You will find it here more clearly revealed; for he has written this book himself, and he has given you the key to understand it, if you have the Holy Spirit. Ah, beloved, let us thank God for this Bible; let us love it; let us count it more precious than much fine gold.