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When Tragedy Strikes

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Dannah Gresh: Do you ever feel like your life hasn’t unfolded according to all your hopes and dreams? Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth says God can take your disappointment and use it to tell a good story.

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth: Don’t think that your impossibility keeps God from writing His story or keeps God from fulfilling His promises. We can know that the end of the story—our story and His story—will not disappoint.

Leslie Basham: This is the Revive Our Hearts podcast with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, along with Dannah Gresh, for September 23, 2019. 

Dannah: It’s so easy to trust God when life is going great, but what about when tragedy strikes? Last Friday we had Kerry Tittle as our guest on Revive Our Hearts, and we heard her terrifying story of losing her husband and two daughters instantly when a tornado hit their town. 

If you missed that story and how Kerry trusted God through all of that disappointment and devastation, be sure to listen at ReviveOurHearts.com. Today Nancy will open God’s Word to reflect on the type of tragedy that Kerry went through. It’s all part of this series titled “You Can Trust God to Write Your Story.” Today’s message is “When Tragedy Strikes.”

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth: I wonder how many of you have had the experience of deciding, “I’m going to read through the Bible this year.” So you start in Genesis, Exodus . . . those are great stories. You may get into Leviticus, and you find all kinds of laws and sacrifices and things, and you think, Oh, this is hard, but you make it through.

And finally, you get to 1 Chronicles and then I think that’s where a lot people who didn’t give up in Leviticus give up. Because the first nine chapters are lists of names: genealogies, tribes, places where they lived. It’s just long, long lists with a lot of names that are hard to pronounce.

We talked about a genealogy earlier in this series from Matthew chapter 1. We’re going to look at another one today in 1 Chronicles chapter 7. I want to give you some background before we get there. These genealogies, these lists of names of people that we didn’t know and we don’t know much about, they do teach us something important about trusting God to write our story.

We’re going to look at an example of that from 1 Chronicles chapter 7, but some background and context before we get there, because the whole Bible is a story. We’ve been talking about that over these last days. It’s God’s story. It’s the story of God making provision for the salvation of the world.

Remember, we talked days ago about Creation, Fall, Redemption, and then the New Creation? God created this world, and then there’s the Fall, and God set in motion a plan that He had from eternity past to bring redemption to the world. And a big piece of that we see, beginning in Genesis chapter 12, where God calls a man named Abram (his name would be changed to Abraham) and his wife, whose name was Sarai (which would be changed to Sarah). 

Now, at the time, Abram was seventy-five years old. I say that because, don’t think that you’re too old for God to call you or use you or use you as part of the story that He’s writing.

So God says to Abram in Genesis chapter 12, “I have a whole new chapter for your life!” (Well, that’s my paraphrase.) What He says is, “I will make of you a great nation” (v. 2). He’s telling this to a seventy-five-year-old man who’s probably not looking for more mountains to climb at that point.

“And I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing” (v. 2). So God makes this promise, “You’re going to be a great people; I’m going to bless you so that you can be a blessing.” And as this promise unfolds, God tells Abram that the promised Savior—the Messiah—is going to come through this line that is going to start with a seventy-five-year-old man. And this line—the people of God, the Jewish people—will be intended to be a light for the nations and salvation for the world. 

That’s God’s plan! He’s bringing about redemption to rescue and redeem fallen humanity. But there are a lot of plot twists along the way! For starters, God has told Abram, “I’ll make you a great nation,” but Genesis 11:30 says, “Now Sarah was barren.” Abraham’s wife Sarah was barren; she had no child. 

So God’s saying to a seventy-five-year-old man—whose wife is barren—“I’m going to make a great nation out of you.” How is this possible!? Genesis chapter 15:1–2, God makes His promises; He keeps reminding Abraham of them.

After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision: "Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great." But Abram said, ‘O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless? 

The story isn’t coming about the way I thought it would or the way that it seems like You promised!

Verse 3: “You have given me no offspring.” The implication there is, “So, how is there going to be a great nation? How am I going to be a blessing, a light to the nations? I have no offspring.”

Behold, the word of the Lord came to him . . . He brought him outside and said [God to Abram], "Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them." Then he said to him, "So shall your offspring be." [And then, I love verse 6.] And he believed the Lord! (vv. 4–6).

God makes this promise to this seventy-five-year-old man who is past child-bearing years and his wife has never been able to have children. God says, “As many as the stars, if you can count them, that’s how many your offspring will be!” And Abram believed God! 

He knew that only God could make this happen. He exercised faith. He trusted God to write his story. But still, there was no child—and no possibility of having a child! So how would he ever have offspring as many as the stars? It was impossible, right? Don’t think that your impossibility keeps God from writing His story or keeps God from fulfilling His promises. 

Then we come to Genesis chapter 17:

When Abram was ninety-nine years old [nearly twenty-five years after the initial promise] the Lord appeared to Abram and said to him, "I am God Almighty . . . Behold, my covenant is with you . . . I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make you into nations, and kings shall come from you" (vv. 1, 4, 6).

He’s saying this to a ninety-nine-year-old man whose wife (have I mentioned?) could not have children! And still, God is making this promise that on the face of it seems absurd! Impossible! Verse 8: 

“And I will give to you and to your offspring after you . . . all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession, and I will be their God.”

Trust the promises of God more than you trust what you can see or what you experience or the impossibilities around you. Now, we can’t make up promises, but God has made promises that we can believe. We must believe that He is more true than the circumstances we can see around us.

And, in fact, in fulfillment of His promise, God supernaturally opened Sarah’s womb, and she conceived a child. Amazing! Supernatural! Abraham and Sarah gave birth to Isaac, who had a son named Jacob. Jacob had twelve sons; the eleventh one was named Joseph who was sold into slavery in Egypt. (We’re going to come back to that story a little bit later in this series.)

And while Joseph was in Egypt, he had two sons. He named the first Manassah and the second, Ephraim. The Hebrew word “Ephraim” means: “making fruitful.” And when naming his second son, Joseph said: “For God has made me fruitful in the land of my affliction” (Gen. 41:52). 

All of this was a continuation of the promises of God that from Abraham there would come a family, there would come a nation, that would bless the world. The way they were going to bless the world, ultimately, was through the gift of the Messiah, who would come through this family line. That’s why this lineage is very important. Both of Joseph’s sons, Manasseh and Ephraim, were given an inheritance along with Joseph and his brothers.

Joseph got a double portion because of all the suffering and affliction he had been through. So, in fact, God did make Joseph fruitful in the land of his affliction because you know that two of the tribes of Israel are Manasseh and Ephraim.

Now, we come to 1 Chronicles. In chapters 1–9 is a genealogical record from Adam to Abraham and the patriarchs (who we’ve just been talking about) up to King David through the kings of Israel, the people taken into captivity by Babylon and those who returned from exile. So that’s what we read about, all those names in the first nine chapters of Chronicles. 

There are a lot of unexpected twists and turns—unexpected by man, that is, not by God. There were times when it seemed that God’s promises would not and could not possibly come true.

So we come to 1 Chronicles chapter 7, beginning in verse 20. We’re going to look at a paragraph here that my guess is, you’ve never heard a message on. I’m sure I haven’t.

But I’ve been meditating on this passage. Here’s a family, a descendant of Abraham, part of the line through which the Messiah would come, a family who had experienced great pain and loss (as we’ll see in just a moment). And this family’s story was part of a bigger story that God was writing.

It’s hard to trust God to write your story when tragedy strikes, because the tragedy seems like it has thrown God’s promises off the rails, like it’s going to keep God’s promises from happening. When your hopes and your dreams are dashed, how do you trust God to write your story then? I think we get a glimpse of that here in 1 Chronicles chapter 7.

Let me begin in reading in verse 20, where we’re seeing a list of the descendants of Ephraim—Ephraim, this son of Joseph who was born in Egypt, born in the land where the Israelites would become slaves for four-hundred years. Scripture says, 

Ephraim’s sons: Shuthelah, and his son Bered, his son Tahath, his son Eleadah, his son Tahath, his son Zabad, his son Shuthelah, also Ezer, and Elead (vv. 20–21 CSB).

Now, these last two—Ezer and Elead—were either sons of Ephraim (going back to the beginning) or they were male descendants of Ephraim. We don’t know which. But they were descendants, either immediate or generations later, of Ephraim. Then continuing,

The men of Gath [we’ll come back in a moment to who they are], born in the land, killed them [who did they kill? Ezer and Elead] because they went down to raid their cattle. Their father Ephraim mourned a long time, and his relatives came to comfort him.

He slept with his wife, and she conceived and gave birth to a son. So he named him Beriah, because there had been misfortune in his home. His daughter was Sheerah, who built Lower and Upper Beth-horon and Uzzen-sheerah, his son Rephah, his son Resheph, his son Telah, his son Tahan, his son Ladan, his son Ammihud, his son Elishama, his son Nun, and his son Joshua (vv. 21–27 CSB).

You say, “Whew! There’s a name I recognize!” (laughter) All the rest of those . . . who in the world are they?” Now, I will grant you, this is an obscure passage, and scholars and commentators differ about the details. The fact is, there’s a lot we don’t really know for sure about this passage. We don’t know exactly when this took place in Israel’s history. 

We don’t know for sure who all these people were, how they’re all related, who killed whom or why. But what we are told reminds and encourages us about the story God is writing in the lives of His people, including my life and yours today. Because 1 Corinthians 10:11 tells us that all these things—these Old Testament stories—they took place as examples for us, to encourage us in the faithfulness of God. 

So we see in verses 20 and 21 the descendants of Ephraim, the son of Joseph. And then we see that the men of Gath, born in the land, killed these two sons (or male descendants) of Ephraim because they went down to raid their cattle. Now, Gath was the home of someone whose name you are familiar with in the Old Testament. Do you remember? Goliath. The giant, Goliath.

Gath was one of the five main Philistine cities, and the Philistines were a fierce, war-like people. The men of Gath and the descendants (or the sons) of Ephraim could not have been more different! They were from different ethnicities, different religion, different history, different culture, different heritage. 

They were different, and there was this contention between the men of Gath and these sons of Ephraim. Now, it’s not clear in the passage . . . I’ve looked and looked, and people just disagree about it. It’s not clear who was the aggressor in this situation, whether it was the men of Gath or the sons of Ephraim.

It’s not clear what motivated the attack, but it is clear that there was a fierce conflict between the men of Gath and the sons of Ephraim. This conflict resulted in violence and tragedy. It resulted in bloodshed and loss of life among Ephraim’s sons, and it resulted in the elderly patriarch being heartbroken.

So here’s Ephraim, and he’s part of this family that God has said, “I’m going to bless you. I’m going to make you a nation. I’m going to make you a multitude. I’m going to bring kings out of you. I’m going to make you a blessing to the world.” This is also that the world could be blessed by the Messiah. And here, right in the middle of it, these men of Gath killed Ephraim’s sons. The sons were part of the promise!

The sons were the hope of the future, the sons were the means God was going to use to get to the ultimate salvation of the world. So what do you do when your story is being written and all of a sudden there’s this tragedy that strikes, and it seems like the story is done, it’s over, it can’t go on . . . because tragedy has struck!

The men of Gath, born in the land, killed Ephraim’s sons because they went down to raid their cattle. There was some conflict that resulted in the men of Gath killing these sons of Ephraim. And verse 22 tells us that, “Their father, Ephraim, mourned a long time.” You would, too! Some of you have lost children. You get that.

And you’re thinking you had hopes for your children and their children, and you wanted to be not only a mom but a grandmom. You had hopes of how God would use your children and how He would be glorified through them. Then, they’re gone! Maybe through their choices, maybe through somebody else’s sin, maybe through just the result of living in a fallen, broken world. 

But as a mom, you still grieve, you mourn. And Ephraim mourned a long time. Loss and sadness came to this family. The loss was great, and Ephraim grieved for an extended season. By the way, can I just say, it’s not sinful to grieve and to mourn our losses. Sometimes grief lasts a long time

I think it’s a mistake when we say to Christians, “So you’ve had this great tragedy in your life, but you know, God works all things together for good to those who love Him . . . so, be happy.” Now, we wouldn’t say that, but I think sometimes we can lead people to believe that that’s our theology.

God is good. God uses suffering. It’s all true, but sometimes we just need to be with people in their grief, just to care, just to mourn the loss, because death isn’t what God intended for this universe. That’s an enemy! Now, Jesus has overcome that enemy, but still there’s grief, there’s mourning.

And at the time, all Ephraim could see was the present disaster. In our times of mourning and grief and loss or tragedy, all we can see is the chapter of the story that we’re living in at that moment. Maybe we can’t even see the whole chapter. Maybe we just see one paragraph or one sentence or one line.

But the truth is, we can’t see the bigger, longer story that God is writing or the ultimate outcome or how He’s going to use this tragedy or how He’s going to be glorified in it. We can’t figure that out, and if we try to figure out God’s providence in these situations, we may lose our minds!

But here’s what we can know for sure: we can know that God will give grace for this difficult season—tailor-made grace. We’ll see that in Ephraim’s life in just a moment. We can know that what we see now is not the whole story, and it’s not the end of the story. There’s more, there’s much more!

Our story, even this hard part, is a part of God’s bigger, great story of redemption that He is writing . . . and nothing is going to stop it from happening! I feel like I keep coming back to these themes in this series because we need to learn how to have this perspective on all of life. 

It doesn’t make us happy clappy happy, but it does make us have perspective that we can walk through this with grace in a way that those who don’t belong to Christ really don’t have that kind of resource. We can know that the end of the story—our story and His story—will not disappoint! And I think that we see that illustrated here.

Now, there’s no explicit reference to God in this passage, but it’s clear that God is active, as He always is. He’s giving grace to Ephraim in his long season of mourning. And that grace came to him—as it does to us—through different means. Verse 22 says that his relatives (ESV says “his brothers”) came to comfort him.

So God sent grace to Ephraim through the comfort of other family members, much as we sometimes receive comfort from family members, from the family of God, in times of our losses. And, by the way, you can’t experience comfort if you never experience heartache. When did he receive the comfort? When he was mourning, when he needed it, when he had the loss, right?

That’s when he received the comfort. There’s comfort from God and from God’s people that you will experience in a new way once you have mourned, once you have had heartache. Now, when those close to you are suffering, it’s easy to feel, “What can I do to help? I can’t bring the kids back. There’s no way I can change it, there’s no way I can fix it.”

But remember that God may want to minister grace to that hurting person through the comfort that you can bring as a member of their blood family or a member of their family of God. So God sent Ephraim’s relatives to comfort him. And then let me say, if you’re in Ephraim position, don’t let your grief keep you from receiving the comfort that God wants to give you in the middle of that grief.

That doesn’t mean it all goes away, that it’s all better. It doesn’t bring the kids back. But it means God wants to give you comfort and He will do that, so be willing to receive the comfort even while you’re grieving. Now, it could have seemed that Ephraim’s family line was wiped out forever. He had no control over these circumstances; it could seem like the end of God’s promises for Ephraim.

But God had a plan, and the men of Gath could not stop the plan of God. Death could not stop the plan of God. In time—here’s another means of grace—God gave Ephraim more children. We see that in this passage. That didn’t bring back the ones he lost, but it’s a reminder that his loss was not the end of the story . . . and that our losses are not the end of our story!

God was writing this story. Look at verse 23: “He slept with his wife [this is Ephraim], and she conceived and gave birth to a son.” I’m sure all his sons were precious to him, but don’t you think this one was especially precious? “So he named him Beriah [the word means “gift,” “God’s given me a gift!”], because there had been misfortune in his home.” 

Another translation says, “disaster had befallen his house.” So in the midst of disaster and misfortune striking his home, God sent him a gift. God sent people to comfort him and God sent another child, a son, who was a gift to him. 

And then, verse 24, God sent a daughter. Her name was, “Sheerah,” and she, “built Lower and Upper Beth-horon and Uzzen-sheerah.” God gave him a daughter—now this may have been a granddaughter or a female descendant; in these genealogies sometimes you can’t tell how many generations there are. 

But there’s evidence that this is a woman who was unusually gifted and productive. She, or possibly her descendants, built three cities. How unusual and uncommon would that have been for a woman in that era! That word “build”—to build those cities—it could mean “to rebuild” or “to restore” or “fortify.”

But somehow, she was a pioneer. She was an entrepreneur. She was fruitful. She was productive. She had accomplishments. She did something that would help Ephraim’s family have a greater future and hope . . . through a daughter! How unusual was that in this period of time. That was a means of grace. 

His son, the gift; his daughter, the productive city builder or rebuilder. And then another son (at least another one,“. . . his son Rephah, his son Resheph. And you read these other sons, all the way down to verse 27: “. . .his son Nun, and his son Joshua.” 

In his season of tragedy and loss and pain, Ephraim had no way of knowing that generations later one of his descendants would be chosen by God to serve as an assistant to the great leader Moses . . . and then to be Moses’ successor!

Joshua’s name means “Yahweh is salvation.” The death of Ephraim’s sons didn’t keep God from bringing salvation. He would lead God’s people into the Promised Land and go before them into battle to take conquest of the land. Ephraim had no way of knowing that Joshua, his descendant, after all this tragedy, would be a forerunner and a prototype of another Son (capital “S”) who would be born hundreds of years later. This Son named “Yeshua” (the Greek translation for “Joshua”) would be sent from God to bring salvation and deliverance to His people and to lead them into the Promised Land. 

And when the men of Gath killed his sons, Ephraim had no way of knowing that one day a young Israelite named David would be raised up to slay Goliath, the fearsome giant of Gath . . . and that hundreds of years later David’s greater Son, Jesus, would be slain and then would rise again to slay that fearsome enemy and giant whose name is Satan.

See, all of this was a pre-telling of the gospel. Ephraim had no way of seeing that the way we can see it looking back. So, misfortune, calamity, tragedy came to Ephraim’s house, but that wasn’t the end of his story.

And misfortune, tragedy, calamity will come to you, to your house—to me and to my house—but that’s not the end of our story. God was writing a story that was bigger than Ephraim and his immediate family. He is right now writing a story that is bigger than you and your immediate family. 

You can’t see it, but here’s what you can do: you can trust God to write your story, knowing that in the end the gospel will go forward, salvation will come (because “Jehovah is salvation”). No loss or tragedy can kill His plan. He brings comfort; He brings hope; He brings a future. The gospel story, the story of redemption, will move on even through those tragedies. 

You can trust God to write your story!

Dannah: When your story takes a tragic turn, you can keep trusting God. Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth has been showing you that amazing truth. She and her husband Robert also write about this in their new book, You Can Trust God to Write Your Story; Embracing the Mysteries of Providence. This book helps you explore how God can use the most tragic parts of your story to give Him glory. 

During the month of September, we would love to send you a copy of this book. It’s our way of saying thank you when you send a gift of any amount to help us encourage people in hard times through this very program.

You can make your donation when you visit ReviveOurHearts.com, or give us a call at 1–800–569–5959. When you make your gift, be sure to ask for Nancy and Robert’s new book. And one more thing: today Nancy gave us the background of a biblical character, Joshua. 

Did you know that Nancy taught an entire series on Joshua here at Revive Our Hearts? You can listen to those archives at ReviveOurHearts.com.

Now, if you or someone you know is caring for parents with Alzheimer’s, be sure to listen tomorrow. I’ll be interviewing my dear friend Holly Elliff. She’s a very familiar voice to our Revive Our Hearts family. Did you know that her story includes both her mother-in-law and her own mother suffering from dementia? Holly tells her story with so much encouragement.

I’m Dannah Gresh. Be sure to be back for Revive Our Hearts!

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth wants to help you trust God, even through the tragic chapters of your story. Our program is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

All Scripture is taken from the ESV unless otherwise noted.




 

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