Is it a Set Up or a Hook Up?
Over a year ago, during a telephone conversation with my mother, she asked me about how a particular situation in my life was going. All I heard come out of my mouth was “mom, I think God has set me up!” Immediately, we both burst out in laughter, I more so to keep from crying, and I went on to explain to her how I didn’t understand why after much prayer, meditation and waiting, the Lord had led me on the wrong path.
I am sure I have quite a few witnesses who would agree with me here. The fact is that sometimes it seems the Lord sets us up rather than hook us up. For those who are not clear on the colloquial expression, a “set up” is when someone positions you for a downfall, as in a temptation where they know you will not be able to overcome, a clandestine arrangement that will lead to your arrest in case you are doing something illegal, or an orchestration of events that will surely cause you great difficulties or even embarrassment or shame. A “hook up”, on the other hand, is a favorable positioning as in an arrangement to get a good job or promotion, a wonderful mate, a connection to a great network that will yield a valuable advancement in your social, professional, or personal life.
We expect the Good Lord, our Father who is in heaven to lead us not into temptation, but to deliver us from evil. But why then does it seem and feel that even with our focus and devotion to God and the things of God, even with prayer, meditation, fasting and even with waiting on him and clearly hearing His voice and seeing His hand direct us to a certain path, when we enter that path, we find that this is not a good path for us at all, that this is not a path on which we are thriving, but one on which we are stressing, suffering, fighting for survival. So we cry out loud, we weep silently, complain bitterly and wonder why after our pursuit of God’s voice and direction, He has led us on a thorny and painful path. He has set us up!
In the Old Testament’s book of Ruth, Naomi, the mother-in-law of Ruth, once felt that the Lord had set her up. A true woman of God, Naomi sojourned with her husband and sons in search of greener pastures at Moab, but in the course of time, not only did they lose all their wealth, but her husband and sons died as well leaving her with nothing with the exception of her two daughters- in-law, Orpah and Ruth. Naomi declared to her daughters-in-law that “the Lord’s hand has turned against me” (Ruth 1: 13). With no prospects in Moab, Naomi returns to Bethlehem with Ruth, who refuses to be separated from her. Upon her return, a despondent Naomi tells her welcoming friends not to call her Naomi, but rather Mara (the meaning of Naomi is pleasant while Mara means bitter.), for “I went away full, but the Lord has brought me back empty”…The Lord has afflicted me; the Almighty has brought misfortune upon me” (Ruth 1:21).
As we witness here, Naomi’s experience has changed not only her outlook on life where life is no longer pleasant, but it has also affected her sense of self and identity. The devastation of the loss of wealth, security, and the lives of her husband and sons have left her empty and bitter. To Naomi, God has not dealt well with her. But what Naomi perceives as a set up is indeed a hook up. It is nearly impossible to see the bright side of such devastation. We might ask, what is the purpose of losing one’s home and resources and what is the purpose and benefit of a woman losing not only her husband but her children as well? And how could a loving and kind God who is supposed to deliver us from evil allow such calamity to befall us? But what this story affirms is the mysterious ways of God, for God wanted to bless Naomi in a very special way that would not have been possible had she not returned to Bethlehem. The Lord had in store and had determined even before the birth of Naomi herself that she would be established in the genealogical line of King David and Jesus Christ, our Savior, an invaluable honor and blessing.
It took the Lord taking Naomi and her family to Moab to acquire Ruth as a daughter-in-law, Ruth who it is said of that she “is better than seven sons” (Ruth 4:15). It is only understandable to God why He had such favor on Naomi and Ruth and why that favor was to be realized through such devastation. Thus, with the eventual marriage of Ruth to Boaz and the birth of their son Obed, the women celebrate and affirm to Naomi that God has indeed hooked her up as they say, “blessed be the LORD, which hath not left thee this day without a kinsman, that his name may be famous in Israel. And he shall be unto thee a restorer of thy life, and a nourisher of thine old age…” (Ruth 4:15-16). Naomi’s tears are wiped away for not only has she been redeemed, but she has also been promoted because of God’s favor upon her life.
In one of his sermons, Bishop T.D. Jakes said, “favor ain’t fair.” What Bishop Jakes expressed is that sometimes, it isn’t because of what you know, but who you know that will bring about your blessing, your hook up. In other words, you may not be the most qualified person for a position, but because of God’s favor on your life, you will ascend to places that you never expected, and even exceed the expectations of those who know you. And so with the story of Joseph, Jacob’s favorite son, we learn that favor indeed isn’t fair. First, the favor Jacob had for Joseph was so unfair to his brothers that they hated him. The favor that God also had for Joseph and therefore his future, revealing through dreams that Joseph would be the greatest of all his brothers and that even his parents would bow to him, was so unfair and even objectionable to his brothers that they wanted to kill him, but instead sold him into slavery. What had Joseph done to deserve such favor and, even more, what had Joseph done to deserve such disdain? God’s and Jacob’s favor towards Joseph caused him a lot of pain.
The set up is the pain and cruelty he suffered, that a young teenager who is in the will of God should be separated from those he loved and be made a slave. Yet, because God’s favor was on Joseph even as a slave, he became a great man in a foreign land. And yet again, even when he lived in this favor, he was once again set up as he was falsely accused and imprisoned simply because he wouldn’t sin against his God. One would ask, where was the favor of God upon Joseph when he had to spend years in prison for something that he didn’t do? But the set up, as painful as it was, was a hook up, for the Lord, wanting to position Joseph in an even higher place than his former role, reserved a prison cell for him, and it is from this cell that he emerged to his next promotion as second in command in Egypt. And it is while serving in this role that he is able to save the very brothers who sold him into slavery.
We can refer to other biblical experiences such as David’s own. In the book of 1st Samuel, minding his own business in the field and quite satisfied as the shepherd of his family, David was thrown into turmoil when the Lord sent the Prophet Samuel to hook up David by anointing him king to replace Saul. But what sort of hook up was this? This seventeen year old shepherd now had to run from cave to cave, wilderness to wilderness, in fear for his life, because of a jealous and murderous Saul. For thirteen years, David was pursued and throne less until Saul finally died. Was he set up? One would argue that he was. But then again, in the mind of God, He was hooking David up.
Two weeks prior to writing this article, I was catching up with a friend I had not spoken with in two years. She also asked me about that particular subject that I mentioned my mother inquired about. I confessed to my friend that sometime back I believed that the Lord had inexplicably set me up. But after months and months of questioning God and praying, the Lord directed me to 1st Samuel. I told her how repeatedly around 3 to 4 o’clock in the morning, the Lord will wake me up and direct me to read 1st Samuel. In the beginning, I would refuse and stubbornly stay in bed, although unable to fall asleep again. When I did obediently rise up from the bed and go to my prayer room and read, it took me a while after repeatedly reading that book before I understood what God was communicating to me. He was revealing to me that like David, though He had directed me on a certain path, my blessing was not to be gained overnight. It would take some time of struggle, frustration, and even tears before this hook up completely comes to fruition.
Interestingly, as soon as I got off the phone with my friend, the Lord dropped in my heart that this subject was one to write about and share with others and at that moment, He also provided the title, “is it a set up or a hook up?” So here it is and here I stand. I stand understanding that the Lord truly works in mysterious ways. I stand understanding that the Lord’s favor rests on His children even when we don’t seem to see or feel it. I stand understanding that even with Naomi, Joseph, David and many others, the love of God and the promises that God Himself has determined for us will come to pass. Sometimes, it might appear that you have been thrown off course. It might appear that God has turned against you, that He has set you up. But then we have to pause and seriously question, is it really a set up or a hook up?