Episode #23: Important (and overlooked!) Key to Prayer (+What is the deal with putting your hand under somebody’s thigh to swear an oath?!) (Rated PG)
Today we are reading through Genesis 24, Nehemiah 13, Matthew 23 and Acts 23. Yesterday’s discussion topic included dung, and today’s discussion topic is also a little questionable, but the prayer part is going to have some great encouragements from lots of people, including our old friend Charles Spurgeon, so stick around for that. Maybe tomorrow’s reading won’t have anything in it that would make my wife blush. You just never know about Genesis, though – there is always something interesting going on in Genesis! Speaking of…in today’s Genesis chapter, we see Abraham preparing to die, and sending his servant out to find a wife for Isaac. Interestingly, Abraham makes his servant swear an oath in a most unusual (to us!) way. Then Nehemiah 13 sees our titular character go WWE style crazy on some of his fellow Israelites who have disobeyed God’s commands. He beats them, curses them, and pulls out some of their hair. This is an interesting form of pastoral discipline that is rarely practiced today in most places. At least, I rarely practice it. (Though one time I picked up another pastor and threatened to power bomb him, but I think he deserved it. Or maybe not – it was all in good fun.) Matthew 23 shows Jesus as an emotional and passionate powerhouse, displaying all of the energy and vigor of Nehemiah, but doing it in a tender and broken-hearted way as He confronts the Scribes and Pharisees. Finally, Acts 23 sees Paul before the Sanhedrin – the Jewish ruling council – charged with disregarding the law of Moses and bringing a non Jewish person into the Temple. There is not a single chapter in the Bible that is not God’s Word, nor devoid of application to the Believer, but these four chapters are even more full than normal – today is a day of rich Scriptures to meditate on and ponder throughout the day!
Shoutouts to Todd Hitt from Arkansas for leaving an encouraging comment on the website, www.Biblereadingpodcast.com and to Pastor Brian Branam in Georgia for leaving a very kind review on iTunes! Thank you both so much. When you are doing a daily podcast, It is a great encouragement to hear from people, and I am very grateful for you. On to Genesis.
So – question number 1: WHY did Abraham require his servant to swear an oath in such an unusual way? It is worth remembering here that modern Americans, at least, often swear an oath with uplifted hand, or a hand on the Bible, or a hand on our heart. It is also worth remembering that New Testament Christians are to be people of such absolute integrity that we don’t swear oaths at all. When we give our word on something, it is as if we have sworn an oath – there is to be no flippant lack of integrity in followers of Christ!
12 Above all, my brothers and sisters, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or with any other oath. But let your “yes” mean “yes,” and your “no” mean “no,” so that you won’t fall under judgment.James 5:12
It was different in Abraham’s time – they were under the Old Covenant, and Abraham wasn’t sinning by requiring this oath from his servant, nor was Jacob sinning when he required a similar oath – in the exact same ‘hand under thigh’ manner – with his son Joseph. So -what gives here? Well, the first thing you should know here (and this is mildly PG) is that it is very possible -perhaps even likely, that the word ‘thigh’ here is a euphemism for the reproductive organs. Consider this claim from Drs. Freeman and Chadwick:
The word thigh—Hebrew, yarek—is a euphemism; that is, a mild or indirect word that is substituted for one that is considered too harsh, blunt, or offensive. Without question, the servant’s hand was placed beneath Abraham’s procreative organs (these words are also euphemisms). Whether the placement of the hand had to do with the act of circumcision instituted by God, and thus gave a covenant solemnity to the oath, is not known. It has been said by some that it had reference to the long-range effects that the servant’s mission would have upon Abraham’s descendants, or that it symbolized that even his yet unborn children would avenge any violation of the act. But neither of these explanations seem to fit Israel’s request to his son Joseph to take his body out of Egypt and bury it where his fathers are buried, when the same manner of swearing an oath was used (see Genesis 47:29).James M. Freeman and Harold J. Chadwick, Manners & Customs of the Bible (North Brunswick, NJ: Bridge-Logos Publishers, 1998), page 34
In elaborating on this viewpoint, the excellent website Gotquestions.org explains things a little further:
“The thigh was considered the source of posterity in the ancient world. Or, more properly, the “loins” or the testicles. The phrase “under the thigh” could be a euphemism for “on the loins.” There are two reasons why someone would take an oath in this manner: 1) Abraham had been promised a “seed” by God, and this covenantal blessing was passed on to his son and grandson. Abraham made his trusted servant swear “on the seed of Abraham” that he would find a wife for Isaac. 2) Abraham had received circumcision as the sign of the covenant (Genesis 17:10). Our custom is to swear on a Bible; the Hebrew custom was to swear on circumcision, the mark of God’s covenant. The idea of swearing on one’s loins is found in other cultures, as well. The English word testify is directly related to the word testicles.”https://www.gotquestions.org/hand-under-thigh.html
So, this oath was made under delicate circumstances to say the least. We swear oaths on our hearts, or on our Bibles, and Abraham and His offspring, by doing this action, were swearing oaths on the promise/covenant of God to make Abraham into a great nation. One caveat: While Freeman and Chadwick seem overwhelmingly convinced that the Hebrew word for ‘thigh’ here is absolutely a reference to the loins/reproductive organs, I would just say that the grammatical evidence is not so convincing. While we certainly have passages were yarek is used for loins:
26 All the persons who are coming to Jacob to Egypt, coming out of his thigh, apart from the wives of Jacob’s sons, all the persons [are] sixty and six.Genesis 46:26 Young’s Literal Translation
You’ll note there that I had to go to Young’s Literal Translation because almost every other modern translation – even the NASB – translates this passage as ‘Jacob’s descendent’s rather than persons coming out of Jacob’s yarek, which is the more word for word translation. Obviously here yarek doesn’t denote ‘thigh,’ but rather loins/reproductive organs. But there are other Scriptures where yarek obviously does refer to the thigh, and not the reproductive organs:
21 Ehud reached with his left hand, took the sword from his right thigh, and plunged it into Eglon’s bellyJudges 3:21
25 When the man saw that he could not defeat him, he struck Jacob’s hip socket as they wrestled and dislocated his hip.Genesis 32:25
Ehud had his sword strapped to his yarek – obviously his thigh/hip and the Angel of the Lord dislocated Jacob’s yarek or thigh/hip and not his reproductive organs, which wouldn’t make sense in that context. So – we have some ambiguity here, and that’s okay. We can’t be definitive and say for 100 percent certain where Abraham’s servant put his hand on Abraham, or what that meant exactly. What we do know, and what is the important part, is the fact that this was obviously an intimate and extremely important pledge that was made and honored by the servant. I’m glad we do it differently today!
Of more importance to us spiritually, I invite you to notice what the servant did when God clearly and unmistakably answered his prayer:
26 Then the man knelt low, worshiped the Lord, 27 and said, “Blessed be the Lord, the God of my master Abraham, who has not withheld his kindness and faithfulness from my master. As for me, the Lord has led me on the journey to the house of my master’s relatives.”Genesis 24:26-27
This is a great reminder to me personally. Sometimes I have been guilty of praying hard for something and when God has answered my prayer abundantly – I don’t always thank Him with the same vigor that I sought His favor. But Abraham’s servant did. His response was not merely a thankful sentence or two uttered in haste, but a whole-body act of worship, submission and prayer! We talked about this passage tonight at our church’s prayer meeting and was reminded of the time that Jesus healed 10 lepers in Luke 17. 9 of the lepers, upon discovering that they were healed miraculously, went on their merry way and lived their life, but the other leper sought Jesus ought and loudly thanked Him. We must be like the one Samaritan leper and Abraham’s servant, who both gave of themselves to offer to God a real thanksgiving for His divine work on their behalf, and not like the ungrateful 9 lepers.
Here’s a few great quotes on thankfulness to help us:
- “A sensible thanksgiving for mercies received is a mighty prayer in the Spirit of God. It prevails with Him unspeakably.” –John Bunyan
2. “Be thankful. God has commanded it—for our good and for His glory. God’s command to be thankful is not the threatening demand of a tyrant. Rather, it is the invitation of a lifetime—the opportunity to draw near to Him at any moment of the day.” –Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth
3. “No duty is more urgent than that of returning thanks.” Ambrose of Milan
4. “If you search the world around, among all choice spices you shall scarcely meet with the frankincense of gratitude. It ought to be as common as the dew-drops that hang upon the hedges in the morning; but, alas, the world is dry of thankfulness to God!….I put it in another shape to you who are God’s people—most of us pray more than we praise. You pray little enough, I fear; but praise, where is that? At our family altars we always pray, but seldom praise. In our closets we constantly pray, but do we frequently praise? Prayer is not so heavenly an exercise as praise; prayer is for time, but praise is for eternity. Praise therefore deserves the first and highest place; does it not? Let us commence the employment which occupies the celestials. Prayer is for a beggar; but methinks he is a poor beggar who does not also give praise when he receives an alms. Praise ought to follow naturally upon the heels of prayer, even when it does not, by divine grace, go before it. If you are afflicted, if you lose money, if you fall into poverty, if your child is ill, if chastisement visits you in any form, you begin to pray, and I do not blame you for it; but should it be all praying and no praising? Should our life have so much salt, and so little sweet in it? Should we get for ourselves so often a draught from the rock of blessing, and so seldom pour out a drink-offering unto the Lord Most High? Come, let us chide ourselves as we acknowledge that we offer so much more prayer than praise!” – Charles Spurgeon
5. “If there was ever a secret for unleashing God’s powerful peace in a situation, it’s developing a heart of true thanksgiving.” –Lysa Terkeurst
Matthew 23 word for word as portrayed in the Matthew Video (The Visual Bible):