Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 43:31-32

31 And he washed his face, and went out, and refrained himself, and said, Set on bread.

32 And they set on for him by himself, and for them by themselves, and for the Egyptians, which did eat with him, by themselves: because the Egyptians might not eat bread with the Hebrews; for that is an abomination unto the Egyptians.

The Egyptians viewed eating at the same table with the Hebrews as an abomination. According to Herodotus, the Egyptians also refused to mingle their cuisine with the Greeks, so this was not an exclusive rejection to only the Hebrews. The word “abomination” suggests that there is more at play here than simple prejudice, it makes it seem that this was a matter of religious principle.

In a few chapters we will also learn that the chief occupation of Abraham’s descendants, sheep-herding, was also considered an abomination to the Egyptians. This may be a clue to what the central concern was. The Hebrews may have been raising, killing, and eating animals that were deemed sacred by the Egyptians.

This makes me wonder about Joseph’s relationship to the Egyptians on the matter. He’s making a point of eating apart from his brothers, but also it sounds as if he is apart from the Egyptian servants in his own household. Does this mean that despite all the customs and manners that Joseph had adopted, and even though he was a ruler among them, that he was still an abomination at their table? Perhaps the status of being unclean was baked into his blood, no matter how he conducted himself now. Of course, he wouldn’t eat with his brothers either, because that would reveal that he wasn’t the bona fide Egyptian that he appeared to be. So he dines alone, a man caught between two worlds, an imperfect fit for both.

Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 34:5, 7-10

5 And Jacob heard that he had defiled Dinah his daughter: now his sons were with his cattle in the field: and Jacob held his peace until they were come.

7 And the sons of Jacob came out of the field when they heard it: and the men were grieved, and they were very wroth, because he had wrought folly in Israel in lying with Jacob’s daughter; which thing ought not to be done.

8 And Hamor communed with them, saying, The soul of my son Shechem longeth for your daughter: I pray you give her him to wife.

9 And make ye marriages with us, and give your daughters unto us, and take our daughters unto you.

10 And ye shall dwell with us: and the land shall be before you; dwell and trade ye therein, and get you possessions therein.

Shechem’s father Hamor showed just as much disconnect from his conscience as his son did. Never in his proposal did he offer any apology for what his son had done, and never did he acknowledge the abuse that Dinah had been made to suffer. Instead he sought to flatter them with arms wide open, welcoming them into the community like this was a joyous occasion.

And maybe that was typical of the cultures in that time, I’m not sure, but verse 7 makes abundantly clear how Jacob’s sons were seething at the offense. The Israelites were not here to be part of these godless, pagan cultures. They were called to be a “peculiar people,” distinct from all their neighbors, holding themselves to a higher standard.

Today it is the same. There are many philosophies that seek to minimize guilt for harmful actions, that try to laugh off serious offense, that tell us depravity is just how life is supposed to be. And as followers of the gospel we are meant to reject that emphatically, to hold ourselves apart as a “peculiar people,” to be bold enough to live better.

Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 16:4, 6, 7, 11-12, 15

4 And he went in unto Hagar, and she conceived: and when she saw that she had conceived, her mistress was despised in her eyes.

6 But Abram said unto Sarai, Behold, thy maid is in thy hand; do to her as it pleaseth thee. And when Sarai dealt hardly with her, she fled from her face.

7 And the angel of the Lord found her by a fountain of water in the wilderness, by the fountain in the way to Shur.

11 And the angel of the Lord said unto her, Behold, thou art with child, and shalt bear a son, and shalt call his name Ishmael; because the Lord hath heard thy affliction.

12 And he will be a wild man; his hand will be against every man, and every man’s hand against him; and he shall dwell in the presence of all his brethren.

15 And Hagar bare Abram a son: and Abram called his son’s name, which Hagar bare, Ishmael.

Hagar’s success in conceiving a son became a point of competition between her and Sarai, not an unusual thing in these Biblical records. When Sarai dealt harshly with her, Hagar ran away, but while out in the wilderness she was met by an angel who told her to return and pronounced the future of her posterity.

Ultimately Hagar was not to bear the covenant line. This was the Lord’s domain, and He had chosen to reserve the promised blessings for Isaac. But Hagar and Ishmael were not forgotten by the Lord, He had reserved a destiny for them as well.

Hagar and her son were to become vagabonds, their path would be fraught with hardship and competition, just as Hagar had competed with Sarai, but in the end they would become one of the most prolific cultures in the entire world. Today the Islamic way of life, which perpetuates from Ishmael’s line, is second only to Christianity, comprising about a quarter of the entire world population! Hagar may have met the angel in a very humbling circumstance, but a storied and epic destiny awaited her posterity.

Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 16:1-3

1 Now Sarai Abram’s wife bare him no children: and she had an handmaid, an Egyptian, whose name was Hagar.

2 And Sarai said unto Abram, Behold now, the Lord hath restrained me from bearing: I pray thee, go in unto my maid; it may be that I may obtain children by her. And Abram hearkened to the voice of Sarai.

3 And Sarai Abram’s wife took Hagar her maid the Egyptian, after Abram had dwelt ten years in the land of Canaan, and gave her to her husband Abram to be his wife.

The Biblical record comes from a very different culture than the one we have today, especially the Old Testament portion of it. A wife giving a servant to be a second wife to her husband is entirely incompatible with today’s social norms for a number of reasons.

While morals are constant, challenges and priorities do change, and with them our measure of what is socially acceptable behavior. I don’t think any of us can fully empathize with what it was like to live in the time and place of Abram and Sarai, and thus we are not equipped to judge their behavior. If they genuinely felt that they were being moral, then that is enough. Nor do we need to apologize for following a different behavior today. If we genuinely believe that we are moral, then that is enough.

I do think that there is something admirable to how Abram and Sarai are trying to do their part to make God’s promise a reality. This effort of theirs is ultimately not the fulfillment that the Lord has in mind, He intends to perform a miracle on their behalf just a little down the road. But they don’t know that yet, and so they are faithfully trying to help out how they can.

What Sort of Disciple Are You?- Personal Example

I spent two years of my life serving a mission in the Caribbean. It was a wonderful opportunity to see various countries and cultures, and be educated by the similarities and differences between them. One trend that stood out to me was how powerful of an influence one’s society could be.

For example, it was not uncommon to hear of individuals changing their religion after moving to another country. Hindus from Guyana might very well become Christians after moving out to the islands, to better fit in with those around them. Similarly, Christians from the islands might become Hindus after moving to Guyana.

I, myself, come from an environment where a single religion makes up the majority of the culture. Many that move here join the religion, and so long as one remains in this bubble it is far easier to maintain that faith. It is very easy to believe that we are the way that we are forever, that we would never embrace a different walk of life. But if you have never lived in a culture where you are a minority, then you do not realize how tempting it is to change yourself just to fit it in.

Our default tendency is to believe whatever we are surrounded by. It is possible to believe more deeply than this, but that requires conscious, intentional discipleship. Whatever your religion is, it may be helpful to ask yourself if you are that religion because it is convenient, or because you actually believe in it. For example, I am a Christian, but is that because I am surrounded by Christians, or do I really and truly believe that Christ is the only way to spiritual perfection. Do I really believe that his teachings will provide me peace and fulfillment that I cannot find in any other place? I do, but I had to do real work to obtain that belief.

Evolving Your Beliefs- Personal Example

On my mission I served in the country of Guyana, where I observed people with a far different culture than the one I had been raised with. I was able to clearly see how the principles that I was living compared to the ones that these people were. To say that either my culture or theirs was “better” than the other would be a gross oversimplification. They were different. There were some trends among the Guyanese that I thought were better, and some from America that I thought were better.

One area where I felt the Guyanese traditions were more in touch with Christ’s teachings was in treating everyone like a neighbor. When I came back to my own country, it stood out in stark contrast how few people met my eye and gave me a “good morning” as I walked down the street.

Another gap as wide as two cultures is that from one generation to another. Spend an evening surrounded by people 20 years older or younger than you, and it’ll feel like you’ve visited a new country! And while each generation usually claims that their way is better, once again this is an oversimplification.

Just from my own perspective, I believe that my generation has done better with seeing the inherent worth in everyone, and in maintaining love for the sinner. On the other hand, the prior generation is better at dividing good from evil, and they know that commandments are not just suggestions!

But what about two people from the same demographic? Same age, same culture, same race, etc? Well, I married a woman who was exactly that, and you know what? The differences between us were still just as stark as the ones between different cultures and different generations! Though both of us were already Christians, we had very different methods for following Him. And again, it would be an oversimplification to say that either of our ways were superior. Some areas she was further advanced in, and some areas I was.

We struggle to accept the idea that other people might be more advanced than us, though, even if only in part. We tend to think that our culture, our generation, and our family of origin were best. They can’t just have been good, they must be best. And we can spend a lot of time trying to convert people over to our unique perspective. In the end, though, it is not helpful for Guyanese to become Americans or Americans to become Guyanese. Millennials do not need to transform into the Gen-X mold, nor vice versa. My wife and I don’t need to remake one another in our own image.

Instead, all of us need to become more like Christ, and we can progress in that by learning from one another. We can view the differences between us and adopt all the good parts that each holds. There are things you can learn from different cultures, generations, and individuals. Several members, coming together in one body. There are even elements of Christianity that I’ve seen non-Christians get better than us! Your next lesson in discipleship is everywhere about you, you just need to look for the good.