Posts Tagged ‘promises’

Genesis 43

11 Then their father Israel said to them, “If it must be, then do this: Put some of the best products of the land in your bags and take them down to the man as a gift—a little balm and a little honey, some spices and myrrh, some pistachio nuts and almonds. 12 Take double the amount of silver with you, for you must return the silver that was put back into the mouths of your sacks. Perhaps it was a mistake. 13 Take your brother also and go back to the man at once. 14 And may God Almighty[a] grant you mercy before the man so that he will let your other brother and Benjamin come back with you. As for me, if I am bereaved, I am bereaved.”

“May God Almighty grant you mercy before the man… [and] as for me, if I am bereaved, I am bereaved.”

Jacob Wrestles with an Angel

What a moment.  I wonder if this is the moment that Jacob the deceiver, now Israel who struggled with God, has finally quit struggling.

This man’s name relates directly and explicitly to his determination to wrestle with God.  His history is one of friction, terse ambition, and conflict.  Yet he is the one who is favored.  His name will be the name of a nation of people.  His name will be known for thousands of years beyond his own life.

The picture I’ve linked to- it’s called “Jacob Wrestling with an Angel” by Gustave Dore.  I love it.  I don’t know much about painting, or criticism.  I have no idea if it’s any good, or if it’s trite.  But I love it.  So I guess it’s good.  I love how Jacob is on the lower ground, and his body looks tense, like he’s really working, but the angel has his wrists in his hands.  And his face is totally … blank.  Like he’s not really exerting himself.

Though he struggled, fought, schemed, managed, and argued, he was the recipient of favor.  There was struggle and contention within the womb of his mother.  He “grasped” his brother’s heel, even at the moment of birth.  Rather than emulate his older brother, he actually turn away from his brother’s habits and pleasures- while Esau would hunt, and boy scout about, Jacob would stay near the house, and learned more … domestic arts.

He seemed opportunistic, taking any chance to gain something for himself.  Like a claim to birthright.  Like a blind father’s blessing.  He wanted that badly enough to stand in front of a blind man and lie right to him.

When that plan turned bad, he ran away from home, fleeing to his uncle’s home several days journey from his angry brother.  There he attempted to gain a wife, and was in contention with his uncle, turned father-in-law, when his bride turned out to be somebody other than he’d agreed to.

Then his wives were in struggle between themselves, each straining for the favor of her husband.  And then his children- they too struggled between each other, jockeying for favor.  Jockeying for position in the line of succession, the line of blessing.

In all this- the story of his life up to this point, is like holding up a mirror to the race of humanity.  Struggle.  Against.  God.

And now… there’s no more energy to fight.  No more energy to struggle.  Joseph is gone, Simeon is gone, all of their food is gone, and now he struggles to protect Benjamin from a similar fate.  But there are no more alternative routes.  No more victories.  So he finally gives in.

May God grant you mercy and if I am bereaved, then I am bereaved.

I think it is more than appropriate to say that Jacob/Israel, as much as anybody, can serve as an adequate representative for the race of humanity.  And the gem is less in how Israel represents us to God, but rather how God relates to him in spite of the struggle, in spite of the constant friction.

God chose Jacob to be a special kind of conduit to the people of the world.  He blessed Jacob abundantly, taking a poor man with a knap sack and a strange dream in the desert and giving him 2 wives, at least 13 children, and more goats than you could shake a stick at.  Important to distinguish between the children and the goats- though it’s an easy mistake to make.  Both climb everything, eat grass, crap where ever the spirit moves them to, and do nothing but bleat all the time.  Moving along.

God was determined to make a way.  He had made a promise to Eve that somebody would come along who would take back the life she’d given away.  He had promised Noah that he would be a blessing to the whole world.  He had promised Abram a family that rivaled the stars in the sky and the sands of the deserts.  He actually promised Abram much more- He promised that He himself would be torn and shredded if He did not keep His promise to Abram.  God promised Jacob that he would never be alone.  Ever, no matter what.  God had a stack of promises.  Promises He initiated, promises that He was bound to.  Promises that He was BOUND to keep.

All of His promises were connected to the abundance of LIFE.  And not the striving, stressed out life that was usually happening- but a LIFE that was better.  God makes promises to us that we will gain something awesome from living His LIFE.

What we learn too, is that sometimes God’s promises, as solid and true as they may be, aren’t necessarily what we expect, or when we expect.  Abram was promised a nation of families- but it took decades.  Decades of years passed before Isaac was born.  And Isaac was only one child.  But then Isaac had a child.  Two.  And they fought.  But then Isaac had a grandchild.  And another.  And another.  And then…

Passages like this one, and those around it, can seem baffling when taken out of the context of the whole book.  Or even out of context of the whole Pentateuch.  But what I see, having combed through everything leading up to this point, and knowing what’s coming- is a God that can be trusted even when I can’t be.

God is building his answer to the first promises and like any good builder, He’s building it carefully, using the materials He has, and the place that He has them.  And He has a plan.  The boards are warped, and full of knots.  The ground is rolling and far from flat.  The rocks are shaped in peculiar ways, and don’t stack well.  The nails are different lengths, different guages, and piled up loosely in the bottom of a cracked pail.  But this will be a mansion with many rooms when God is done.  A city of mansions.  Filled with Jacob’s who finally stopped struggling, and called on the mercy of God.  And when the struggling stopped, and the calling began, the blessings just kept coming, as they always had.  But now, all the dams were broken, all that blocked and slowed and diverted the flow of God’s word and work were cleared away, and they could finally move.  Finally run, without bends, turns, oxbows or reservoir.

On the surface, these stories appear to be about Joseph, or about his brothers, or about Jacob.  But really, this whole book, and every story in it, is about God the Father, the Creator, the Promiser, the LIFE lover, and Busted-Stuff-Repairer.  Sometimes, you just have to back up a little bit to see it.

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Genesis 31 

3 Then the LORD said to Jacob, “Go back to the land of your fathers and to your relatives, and I will be with you.”

42 If the God of my father, the God of Abraham and the Fear of Isaac, had not been with me, you would surely have sent me away empty-handed.

There is a well known poem, hung in picture frames, embroidered into doilies, screen-printed onto refrigerator magnets, mirror hangers, and bookmarks all the world over that embodies the message in today’s passage.  It’s known as Footprints.   

It’s interesting that it’s so easy for me to measure my life by the things I gain or lose, the things I accomplish or quit.  Of course it’s easy.  They’re practical- tangible.  Measurable.  I require no faith for these things.

What’s so great about faith, anyways?

Jesus tells his disciples several hundred pages, and a thousand years to the right, that they could not heal simple diseases, not because they lacked power, or strength, or wisdom, but rather because they lacked faith.  He said that with as much as a mustard seed’s worth of faith, there is all the things necessary to speak to a mountain and cause it to move.  Or to part the sea.  Or to heal illness.  To raise the dead.  To cause trees to wither or bear fruit.

“Your faith has healed you.”  Jesus says this to a woman who reaches out merely to touch Jesus shawl as he passes through a throng.

“No greater faith have I found in Israel!” He exclaims to a group of watchers when a Roman stands humbly in front of Jesus seeking health for a cherished worker.

A thief, bleeding, in more pain that he has ever known possible- panic-stricken, in shock and dying on the shame-smeared and saturated Roman crux, yells across a stony plateau “Remember me!  Jesus, REMEMBER ME when you come into your Kingdom!”  No theology, no life of good acts, just a declaration.  Of faith.

“Today, you will be with me in Paradise.”  Built on the small stone of a single statement of faith that Jesus has a kingdom.  Not much of a foundation.  Or is it?

Jacob had a pocket full of these stones.

20 years he endured, removed from his parents and his ancestral grounds.  He suffered the scorn of his father-in-law, Laban, who must have known something about the predicament of Jacob’s history.  Because he took advantage of Jacob, changing the terms of their agreements at a whim.

The story has Jacob telling his wives that Laban has changed his wages 10 times, unexpectedly and unilaterally.  We remember just like it was yesterday Laban agreeing to give Jacob one daughter in marriage in exchange for 7 years of work, and then giving him the other daughter on the sly, and then agreeing to give the same daughter again, for another 7 years.

Now, those 7 years paid twice, and another 6 years, and Jacob has “earned” by virtue of their agreement much of what Laban once owned.  And now Laban’s own sons are plotting and grumbling.

Imagine what the holidays were like at that house.

But he endured.  I don’t imagine he really knew if all the things he felt were “his” would stay “his” in the end.  I suspect he felt like the rug could get yanked out from under his feet at any time.  If not by Laban, then perhaps by one of Laban’s grumbly sons.

But he endured.  In fact, by appearances, he not only endured, but he rose above the circumstances, being careful to be found above reproach (which is a new trait for Jacob if we’re calling a spade a spade).  He says that he never brought back mangled or damaged sheep, but took that burden onto his own flock.  He always paid for ever stolen item out of his own wealth.  It sounds to me like Jacob has done more than his fair share.  Never really knowing what he was actually investing into, and whether he’d see a positive return on that investment.

I think it all hinged on a solitary dream in a remote place.  I wonder if after 20 years the whole journey from his childhood home might have seemed more a dream than the dream he had?

God’s promise to Jacob is revisited when God appears again to Jacob and tells him to return to Canaan.  And just as before, the only promise that stands out is the one that is repeated  “… and I will be with you.”   Somehow that is enough for this deceitful schemer.  That in itself seems amazing to me, because  as Bono said, “Every poet is a thief,” and “it’s no secret that Liar won’t believe anyone else.”

 

What is awesome to me is how little God really requires!  He says “I will be with you.”  And then all that’s left is for us to believe that God’s promise is good.

The person Jacob began as can su If rvive 20 years of uncertainty and shifting ground on a dream and a promise inside a dream- I’ve got something to gain from this.  God’s way is making promises.  And he delivers for Jacob.  He delivers for Abraham.  He saved Isaac from the fire with a Ram stuck in a thicket at the very last minute.  He made a 90 year old woman pregnant and nursing.  And able to deliver a baby.  He held back the flood long enough for an old man to build a huge boat.

And he delivered a man to make good on a promise to a couple in a garden.

He promises to us that He will be with us to the end of an age.  It’s hard to measure a promise.  Really there’s only two ways to measure them; fulfilled, and not-yet.  If you’ve ever, ever seen a promise of God fulfilled- ever, you must know; there’s no unfulfilled promise.  Only not yet promises.

Genesis 27 :

6 Rebekah said to her son Jacob, “Look, I overheard your father say to your brother Esau… Now, my son, listen carefully and do what I tell you: 9 Go out to the flock and bring me two choice young goats, so I can prepare some tasty food for your father, just the way he likes it. 10 Then take it to your father to eat, so that he may give you his blessing before he dies.”

19 Jacob said to his father, “I am Esau your firstborn.

33 Isaac trembled violently and said, “Who was it, then, that hunted game and brought it to me? I ate it just before you came and I blessed him—and indeed he will be blessed!”
 34 When Esau heard his father’s words, he burst out with a loud and bitter cry and said to his father, “Bless me—me too, my father!”
 35 But he said, “Your brother came deceitfully and took your blessing.”

It’s hard to make sense of this passage.  There.  I said it.  A few pages to the left, Rebekah’s seeming barrenness is broken when Isaac prays for her.  But then she has a really troubled pregnancy, and she prays to God seeking solace.  He reveals to her that the reason for her great discomfort is that twin boys are jockeying for position in her womb, and that they will be contentious rivals.  God reveals to Rebekah that contrary to the cultural standard of the day, the younger brother will rule and dominate the older.  And with that thought, when the babies are born, the younger brother follows the older, grasping onto his foot, signaling the usurpation that is to come.

Sometime later, after the boys have grown some, Esau comes in from a hard day of hunting, completely famished from his work.  Jacob, who has been preparing soup is home when Esau arrives and demands a portion of the stew Jacob has been making.  Shrewdly, Jacob offers to trade the food for Esau’s claim as first-born son- in short, the entirety of Isaac’s legacy and possessions, as well as the right to determine and decide in all matters as eldest son.  And rashly, Esau, not seeing the long-term value of his title as first-born, sells it for one bowl of soup.

But now- now we see Jacob and Esau’s mother conspiring.  She is eavesdropping on a pivotal conversation in Isaac and Esau’s life- one where Isaac indicates that he sees the end of his life approaching and wants to bequeath a blessing on Esau and effectively prepare him for Isaac’s eventual death and Esau’s ascension to head of the family.  So Rebekah schemes and tells Jacob to participate with her in deceiving the old man- a move which Jacob initially resists, but then appears to accept fully.

Maybe Rebekah never told Isaac about the Lord’s prophecy to her during her pregnancy.  Maybe Esau and Jacob never told the old man about the soup.

Or maybe they did.  Maybe Isaac had learned of the prophecy, knew about the soup.  But didn’t get it.  Maybe he knew that God wanted to use Jacob, but Isaac wasn’t all the way onboard.  Maybe someday we’ll actually know.  Till then, we just have “maybe’s”.

I don’t see a moral here.  I don’t see a lesson to be learned really.  Nothing that I can apply to my life in order to be a better, happier, more productive person.  If anything, I see scheming, distrustful, and manipulative personalities working overtime here.

But I see something else- God said Jacob would be the greater.  Circumstances were stacked against it, but it happened.  It was impossible, but it happened.  So I can see that even when God appears to be making impossible promises, promises that my every experience with our reality denies feasibility to, they still happen.

Are you an Esau?  Men crave the affection and approval of their dads.  Most of them probably have it, but really struggle to see it, or believe it.  Their inability to see their father’s love for them drives them to great lengths, possibly even to the degree that their desire for their father’s approval (or anybody else’s I suppose) becomes their highest pursuit, their greatest good thing- an idol.

Or maybe you’re a Jacob, craving power, never satisfied with what you have.  Maybe you always want one more thing.  Or maybe you think that the only way you can “be something” is by stealing what belongs to somebody else.  Maybe you don’t think you have value, just being you.

Esau showed himself to be rash, and careless.  He was quick-tempered.  Maybe he failed to really throw himself on the strength and mercy of God to be cared and provided for.  

Jacob was easily tempted to do things he knew was wrong.  He was inclined to being opportunistic.
Perhaps these qualities are what showed God how things would be, that he would say the younger would be served by the older.  God’s intimate understanding of Esau’s character and rash behavior, as well as his understanding of Jacob’s quick thinking, and devious nature would somehow create this cultural abnormality, where the younger brother presides over the older.  I don’t really know.

But I know that I can completely trust what God says.  He is not fickle, and he’s never ever misguided.  The only real mark on his character that can be spoken of has to be the company he keeps.

Maybe you already know this, but I homeschool Boy#1. We’re about half-way though kindergarten. You know, the truth of the matter is the hardest part about homeschooling is just picking which of the bo-zillion curricula you’re going to use.

We went to a seminar for homeschool educators and there was of course, a vendor’s hall, and numerous demos during the seminar. But I only needed a few minutes hearing about one mom’s experience with My Father’s World and I was a slobbering pile on the floor.

What I loved about it was how it managed to make a comprehensive and interesting collection of lessons to teach a child how to read and write, and every lesson tied back to the promises of God in Jesus using illustrative passages of scripture each week from both the Old Testament and the New.

This week, we are discovering about the letter “e.” “E” like for elephant. So there’s a flashcard, and a smaller, business size card- both with a drawing of an elephant, and a short phrase that the child memorizes. Then throughout the week, as we learn about elephants, we will come back to this card, and see the letter, see the elephant, and then recite the memorization phrase.

Aside from their tremendous size, and apart from their huge, ivory tusks, elephants are characterized as having amazing memories. So Monday’s lesson incorporates as much encyclopaedic information you can present about elephants, and a brief written “moral,” composed to help the teacher wrap the beauty of the elephant, and it’s amazing memory into a faith-component. The phrase this week?

“When I see an elephant, I remember all the wonderful things God has done for me.”

So what?

The thing is, what do you do then? So I asked him. “Tig (named after the bouncy tiger from 100 acre woods), what do you do when somebody does something wonderful for you?”

“I thank them.”

“Okay. How?” Silence. Eyeballs. He’s apparently used to my method of questioning. This is the part, I guess, where I explain what I’mreally getting to. So being his mother’s son, he’s not going to waste anymore time “playing.” His eyeballs and flat expression speak: “Okay- I’m ready.”

In an effort to change up my M.O. (I hear that variety is good for keeping kids interested), I stare back at him. (I know, it’s just delicious, isn’t it?).

“How do you thank someone?”

“I say “thank you,”

“AWESOME!” I reply. But he’s not buying it. He’ll just wait till I’m done. It’s like he can hear the words lining up in my brain. “But you know what? God doesn’t want us to simply look at him and say “thank you!”” He says that doing His will pleases Him. That having a heart like his is more important that manners!”

How do we “remember”? Is remembering strictly a cognitive act? Is it something in our minds? Remembering is tied to action in the bible. Jesus said that when we eat and drink in communion, that we would be remembering him.

The meal they sat to eat that night was itself a remembering. The Passover meal, when they remembered the bread of their affliction, their slavery and suffering in the house of slavery, in Egypt.

When we are baptized, we sacramentally remember Jesus’ death, and his resurrection. And we take part in it.

And when we feed the poor, and speak for the voiceless and oppressed we remember that we were once poor- though dressed in society’s finest, our hearts were wretched.

When we live in our homes with compassion and forgiveness for those who cross us the most, for those who routinely take the most from us, and offer the least in return (at times, I’m saying) then we remember how we have taken and not returned in kind.

How do we remember? How do we thank?

“When I see a sinner, I remember that I have been forgiven, and still need to be.”

“When I see a blind man, I remember that I am a led man.”

“When I am cursed, I remember that I once cursed.”

“When I see a drowning man, I remember that I myself have but my face above the water.”