I was reading last week in a perhaps not-so-frequented passage of scripture in 1st Chronicles chapter 7, and was literally stopped in my tracks at one particular verse. In the plethora of hard-to-pronounce names of men, grandsons and great-grandsons, an unexpected name in a paradoxical moment of history was revealed.
Describing the lineage of Ephraim, who was one of the twelve sons of Israel (aka Jacob), several sons and grandsons were named. It proceeds to mention two other sons, Ezer and Elead, who were killed by some of the locals in the city of Gath, when Ezer and Elead were trying to steal their cattle. Ouch!! What a shame– not only the great loss of two lives, but a black cloud of a less-than-scrupulous legacy to leave to their grieving families.
In fact, verse 22-23 recounts: “Their father Ephraim mourned for them many days, and his relatives came to comfort him. Then he made love to his wife again, and she became pregnant and gave birth to a son. He named him Beriah [which means “unlucky”], because there had been misfortune in his family.” Every time they called their new baby’s name, it would be painful reminder that their family was “unlucky”.
Bad stuff. Painful truth. Real life. Descendants of the great “Father Abraham”, Isaac and their grandfather Jacob, they probably felt certain of a hope-filled destiny, a proud heritage to uphold and continue. But now tragedy– and shame– hit like a tsunami.
However, the next verse- only one sentence in its entirety- struck me like the early morning ray of sunlight to sleepy eyes. Verse 24 says: “His daughter Sheerah, who built Lower and Upper Beth Horon as well as Uzzen Sheerah.” It’s as if, “Oh– Ephraim had a daughter, too, and her name was Sheerah (usually daughters or wives weren’t even mentioned- much less by their names), and she built several cities.” Wow!!
Tragedy has stricken most families, mine included. My sister Elizabeth, born two years after me, was a devoted single mom of five children. Liz was extremely talented, creative, intelligent, and feisty to the core. Tough as a boot- sweet as raw honey, full of faith in God. However, our world came screeching to a halt in June 2004, beginning with a nightmarish phone call from the sheriff.
Elizabeth had taken her five children, Amanda (13), Joseph (11), James (9), Michaela (8), and little Jeneva (aka “Jenny”, age 2) fishing at the Illinois River north of town. Our three nephews, Jonathan, Benjamin and Timothy also went along, celebrating the beginning of summer and school vacation. Young James didn’t care for fishing, so he amused himself catching crawdads and minnows in knee-deep water nearby. I didn’t know until years later that his mom had warned him three times not to get in the water.
When the strong current knocked James off his feet, Elizabeth did what any normal mother would do- she jumped in to save her son, swimming with all her might to reach him. The other seven children ran along the shore, screaming for help. People began to dive in to find Elizabeth, to no avail. Her body was found thirty minutes later, half a mile downstream.
Poor James told us later, “Angels got me to shore, but momma didn’t make it.” Elizabeth had shoved him toward a tree root and he was able to climb out. His brother Joseph watched as his mother “closed her eyes and went under… like she just passed out”. They watched their mother save their brother’s life, then they watched as her own life ended. (Get the “No Denying” CD with the song I wrote a year later for Liz’s kids, “Momma Would Be Proud”.)
It is likely that Sheerah’s brothers, in the bible account, were married and had children- possibly as many or more than my sister had. It is likely that they experienced the same shock and grief and anger and horror and all the other emotions that accompanied my sister’s death– her seeming “untimely” passage into eternity. I truly know that she is in Heaven, that she is very much “alive”– just not living where we are– yet. And I do not- we do not- grieve as the world grieves, who have no hope of eternal life– but we STILL grieve, deeply and painfully. A huge cavern exists in our hearts, that will not be filled and healed until we see her again in Heaven. We now gush with joy over Liz’s first-born grandbaby, Rachel Elizabeth, born in March 2010. We try to love her like Lizzie would- but nothing can make up for her absence.
The Bible doesn’t mention when Sheerah began building cities (whether before or after her brothers were murdered), but I’m venturing to guess that it didn’t happen until after. Perhaps the sting of shame, perhaps to give her grieving sisters-in-law, nieces and nephews something to feel proud about- or even to provide for their families (which was usually the “man’s job”)… we don’t know. Whatever her motivation, though, Sheerah turned her pain into purpose. No doubt she held a deep faith in God, as I do, and she experienced the divine help and guidance that only faith can provide.
Beyond the grief, we can truly find greatness and goodness.
Past the pain, we can find purpose… and providence.
Be encouraged today in your journey. My husband and I will be celebrating our 18th wedding anniversary in March. Both abandoned, divorced, and left with our own grieving children, it was a momentous day when two single parents blended our families for what we hoped would be a brighter future– and a “happily ever after”.
As my sister Liz described us, “God took two lemons and made lemonade.”
I pray that you’ll let Him do that for you today. Build a city, or at least a good legacy. Elizabeth did– Sheerah did– and I hope I will, too.