Jacob: coming home [part 2]

Jacob left home a 40-year old virgin and now he returns with two wives, twelve children, and countless wealth. Jacob is content settle in Schechem, but God speaks to Jacob and says, “Get up, go to Bethel and live there.” And like Abraham [cf. Genesis 12:4], he obeyed. God not only wants Jacob to leave his place of comfort, but also to cleanse his home of impurities. God point out that their home was filled with spiritual lethargy and idolatry. Jacob surprisingly responds with obedience.

This is the first time we see Jacob rise up and become the spiritual leader of his home. After cleansing his household Jacob worships God.[1] In response to his faithfulness God protects Jacob’s family as they pass through the land. When Jacob enters his homeland God blesses him and reminds him of his new name [Israel, cf. 32:28], His creation mandate [35:11; cf. 1:28], and the covenant promises of land and lineage given through his father and grandfather.

Why does God repeatedly ask Abraham [12:1-3], Isaac [17:4-6], and Jacob to “be fruitful and multiply”? Does God simply love babies and enjoy the families? Yes, but there is more to it than that. God begins with a promise, “I am God Almighty” [El Shaddai, 17:1] and ends with the command to fill the earth. He is not God Almighty merely in general, but Almighty in relation to Israel. His Almightiness is there for Him and His children. The promise enables the command, “You can be fruitful and multiply because I am God Almighty. I am the covenant God of Abraham and Isaac. My Godness and my Almightiness are covenant Godness and covenant Almightiness. And if you will trust me as God Almighty, you can and you will be fruitful and multiply. And companies of nations and kings will come from you.”

The promise God mentions here, Paul the Apostle later extends to the Gentiles. Through Jesus Christ the Gentile Christ followers inherit the blessings of their father Abraham [cf. Romans 4:16-18; Galatians 3:6-8,16,29]. This is the very same logic that Jesus uses in Matthew 28:18–19 when He says, “All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations.” In other words, “I am Christ Almighty; go and be fruitful and multiply my disciples.” Our confidence to share the message of Christ comes from the authority and the Almightiness of Christ.

As Jacob’s life comes to his final refrain we are now seeing a rhythm of regular worship and intimacy with God that was lacking in his life. This new foundation of faith would be tested as his beloved wife, Rachel, dies giving birth to his son Benjamin, and as his youngest son Reuben has an affair with his stepmother [Bilhah]. This great sin against his father cost him his position as the firstborn son [Genesis 49:3-4; 1 Chronicles 5:1]. In God’s sovereignty He uses this sin of Rueben to open His promised line through the line of Judah.

Finally, after at least twenty long years away from home Jacob alas returns to see his father Isaac. Jacob’s sons got to meet their grandfather just before he dies at the age of 180 years old [35:28-29]. His two reconciled sons Esau and Jacob bury him. And the genealogy listed at the end of Genesis 35 through chapter 36 illustrates that God will keep what He promised to Jacob. The names of Jacob’s 12 sons roll off our lips with ease [Ch.35], but the sons of Esau are unfamiliar to our ears [Ch.36]. God is faithful to follow though and bless those He calls. Bank on it, if He is your God He will do all that He says He will do.

Jacob Comes Home and God Comes through Just as He Had Said.

[1] Note: Jacob builds an altar in Schechem to honor the God who appeared to him, he builds an altar after God cleanses his home, and he builds an altar and pillar at Bethel because God has provided, protected, and fulfilled all His promises. Jacob once a wanderer is now a worshiper.

Jacob: coming home [part 1]

Have you ever been away from home for more than a few months? Or long enough that you miss home sweet home? I have. I remember going to college in West Virginia and being a long way from my family in Wisconsin. I did not get home other than Christmas or summer breaks. After final exams, I would hop into my car and sometimes drive through the night to get home. The last hour always seemed the longest. I was so close, but not there yet.

Jacob must have felt the same way. He had just met his brother on his way home. He reconciled their relationship, which was mangled by lies and deceit. Now after 20 years away from home he can almost see it. He can taste in his mind his mothers home cooked meals. He can smell the farm. He can hear the breeze that carries his father’s voice. Jacob was so close, but not home yet. He decided to settle in Schechem. However, his decision to stay there was as devastating as Lots decision to stay in Sodom rather than traveling on to Bethel [cf. Genesis 13-14].

Jacob’s journey of faith has not ended. The last hours before coming home are still yielding lessons of faith. It is a reminder to all that God is not done with you until He is done with you.

Jacob’s faith has dramatically changed [cf. Genesis 32–33], but his son’s faith would remain nonexistent [Genesis 34]. They were deceitful [34:8–24], murderous [34:25–26], greedy [34:27–29], and proud [34:31]. There were probably characteristics passed down from their parents. However, despite Jacob’s new faith, new name, and found distress over his son’s bad behavior [34:30], Israel could not change his boys. God would have to bring them to a crisis of their own, as we will see later.

Jacob had eleven sons and only one daughter named Dinah. One day Dinah went out to visit other women in the region her parents lived. While out and about the son of the man who ruled that area saw her. He wanted her, but could not have her legitimately. Therefore he raped or seduced her. His act defiled and took her virginity dishonorably. To make matters more complicated he was pagan and he desired to marry her. Intermarriage between believers and unbelievers is condemned throughout Scripture.[1]

Jacob kept the situation a secret until Dinah’s brothers came home. Like protective brothers, they were grieved, disgusted, and furious over the vile action done by an idolatrous man. Dinah’s brothers devised a plan to seek revenge by creatively using the covenant of circumcision [cf. Genesis 17]. Like father like sons these boys learned to be tricksters. They told the men of Schechem a strategic lie, “You can happily intermarry our women and share our great wealth, but you will need to be circumcised.” The men were determined to get beautiful foreign women as brides that after three days all were circumcised.

Two of Dinah’s brothers, Simeon and Levi, were perturbed by men’s swift response. They were certain they would not buy into their plan. So out or rage and intensified revenge they strapped their swords to their sides and entered Schechem to slaughter every man and deliver their sister home safely all the while they looted the entire city, taking all the women and animals. Seeing what his sons had done, Jacob rebuked them for putting his family in danger of attack from the surrounding Schechemite allies. However, the brothers replied praising their heroics and took sides with their sister saying, “Should he have treated our sister like a prostitute?”

Why didn’t Jacob do anything? Is he a passive father? First, it is clear that Jacob hated his wife Leah, and Dinah was the daughter of Leah [30:19-21]. Jacob’s silence and indifference during her defilement indicates that he was not much of a loving father. Second, Jacob’s leadership was filled by the devious plans of his sons. Third, Jacob’s response to his son’s question has a selfish overtone that states on only “me” and he makes no mention of his poor daughter. Like his forefathers we see his imperfection after transformation—we see yet another mini-fall not unlike Adam, Noah, and Abraham. However, in God’s gracious sovereignty He uses Jacob’s sin for His purposes and preserves the line of the covenant family from intermarriage with the Schechemites through the murderous actions of Simeon and Levi.

Faith is not inherited paternally, but only through a decision personally.

Also, this is a reminder that faith—unlike the temporary blessings that passed from Abraham to Isaac to Jacob, and then to Jacob’s sons—is not passed down genetically. You cannot be born a Christian. Even though you may have godly parents, be part of a great church, and have good Christian friends you still have to encounter Jesus yourself. God encounters people individually, and people must place their faith in Him individually. Like their father, Jacob’s sons committed their own sins and like Jacob they would have to make God their own God. You cannot inherit faith; you must get it from God. There is no other way.

This journey home for Jacob is a rough road that paves the way for a future of faith in God’s promises. He is not there yet. Likewise God is not finish with you either. The pressures of life and family struggles are opportunities for you to trust in the promises of God. Next week we will see more about how God keeps His word and journey with Jacob to his home sweet home.

[1] Abraham was worried that Isaac would marry outside of the covenant as Ishmael had (Genesis 21:21, 24:3-4), and Esau’s intermarriage with the unbelieving Hittites which was a source of great trouble (Genesis 26:34-35, 27:46, 28:8).

Jacob’s Journey—from recluse to reconciliation [part 1]

Jacob is not the poster child for godly examples to emulate. He is 70 years old, single, jobless, a total momma’s boy, and is now homeless on the run from his brother because he ripped off his birthright and father’s deathbed blessing. Jacob is literally between a rock and a hard place, but mostly from his own trickster tactics. The only glimmer of hope is a dream he is given from God on his first night alone away from the comforts of home. In the dream, God passes the torch of covenant promises given to Abraham and Isaac to Jacob and also promises to be with him until he comes back to the Promised Land.

Today we are going to walk in Jacob’s sandals and see how he moves from being a recluse to reconciling with his brother. Jacob’s journey is Hollywood script or screenplay material. His story is full of adventure, romance, drama, and with twists and turns has sort of a happy ending. We begin immediately following Jacob’s dream as he enters the land of Laban, his uncle [Rebekah’s brother].

Sowing and Reaping: Jacob—the trickster—gets tricked into marrying two sisters [Genesis 29:1-20]

As Jacob arrives at Laban’s sheep farm, he gets a glimpse of the beautiful bombshell, named Rachel [which just so happens to be Jacob’s first cousin]. Immediate Jacob gets to work to impress this gal. Since, Jacob comes to Laban empty handed he is asked to work. In exchange, Jacob bargains for a bride—the beautiful Rachel [meaning lamb/ewe].

Now Rachel had an older sister, named Leah [meaning wild-cow]. She had a crazy lazy eye. Both girls were unmarried probably because Leah was not much of a looker. And Jacob, like all the other guys in town, wanted to marry red-hot Rachel. Laban made Jacob work for seven years to earn the right to marry Rachel. And in one of the most romantic verses of Scripture, “Jacob served seven years for Rachel, and they seemed to him but a few days because of the love he had for her.” Isn’t that so sweet and sappy?

Ironically, Jacob reaps what he sows [cf. Galatians 6:7-8]. After tricking his brother Esau he seems to think his life is prospering: he has escaped the hand of his brother, God promises to bless him, and he is about to marry the woman of his dreams. The big day arrives and Laban throws a wedding feast. Obviously, Jacob has a few too many glasses of wine at the wedding to notice that Laban pulled a switcheroo and gives away Leah rather than Rachel. The next morning when Jacob rolls over in bed he stares into the wandering eyes of his new wife Leah. I can only imagine Leah smiling at Jacob with a crooked buck-toothed grin.

Jacob confronts Laban deceptive plan, but Laban gives a lame yet legitimate reason, “It is customary for the oldest child to be provided for before the younger.” Though true, it is still a low blow. Jacob, the persevering romantic, loved Rachel so much that he was will to work seven more years for Laban. God is using Laban to chisel at Jacob’s character. When Jacob finally works fourteen years to marry Rachel he expresses his love for her over Leah. This begins another sad story of favoritism that will rip apart this family.

A Family Fiasco: 12-Tribes of Israel are Born [Genesis 29:31-30:24]

Jacob gets what he wants—Rachel, but as soon as he marries her God closes her womb. Like Jacob’s mother and grandmother, Rachel is barren. Since, Rachel is barren, Leah sees this as her gateway to Jacob heart. Leah gets pregnant, all the while hoping, Jacob would finally love her because she would make her hubby a daddy. It did not quite work out as she planned. Three baby boys later she was sure Jacob would fall for her. Yet Jacob had no love for Leah. She has four-and-no-more until she gives praise to God. It took four pregnancies for God to finally get a hold of Leah’s heart.

Rachel, like any sibling wants babies too. She sees her sister and becomes jealous. So in an overdramatic outburst she demands Jacob, “Give me children or I shall die.”[1] Jacob responds in anger that it is God whom controls her womb. Could Jacob be growing in his faith? I think not! For immediately, like Sarah giving her servant Hagar to bear child, Rachel gives her servant Bilhah to Jacob. It does not look like Jacob is trusting God as his father Isaac did by turning to God in prayer. Rachel also takes matters into her own hands and Jacob did nothing about it. In fact, he went along with the adulterous sin. Rachel’s servant Bilhah gives birth to two boys, Dan [meaning judge] and Naphtali [meaning wrestle]. Their names are fit to Rachel’s sibling jealousy and lack of trust in God.

Not to be outwitted, outplayed or outsinned Leah in turn gives Jacob her servant Zilpah to sleep with. Leah brags about it when Zilbah who gives birth two boys and names them Gad [meaning luck] and Asher [meaning happy]. Leah, like Rachel, forgets to see that the blessing of children is from God. Doesn’t this family seem a little redneck? They would more accurately be dubbed, rebellious. The story gets stranger as Jacob’s firstborn son Reuben finds some mandrakes [an herbal aphrodisiac]. He gives them to his mother Leah. Rachel is a freak for mandrakes and she trades bedtime with Jacob to Leah—paying her as like a prostitute. Jacob-the-pimp doesn’t question the ethics of his wives and sleeps with Leah. She gives birth to two more sons, Issachar [meaning hire/wages] and Zebulun [meaning honor].

Somehow Leah resorts back to having babies out of jealousy—always a bad idea. And somewhere Rachel prays to God, He graciously answers, opens her dead womb, and gives her a son. They name him Joseph [meaning may he add]. Joseph was the youngest boy until Rachel later had Benjamin [cf. 35:18]. Add up all the boys from four momma’s and Jacob is the proud papa to a bakers dozen—12 boys + 1 girl, Dinah.

Through this dysfunctional, jealousy-ridden, polygamist family, God would safeguard His covenant in Jacob’s sons. This family would become the initial branches of the twelve tribes of Israel through whom Jesus would be born and heal the human sin problem, which was so evident in Jacob’s family. By God’s grace alone He saves this family from themselves. Revelation 21:1-14 reveals how these twelve sons who came from the four conniving women in Genesis will mark the gates of heaven where Jesus is awaiting those He has also saved by His grace.

It Never Fails: God keeps His promises [Genesis 30:25-31:55]

According to Jacob, it was about time to move out on his own. He is 90 years old, has two wives, and twelve children from four different women. What his mother thought might be a few day flee from Esau ended up being twenty years working for free for Laban [his father-in-law]. He built for Laban a sizeable ranch that pulled in some fat-cash.

Through demonic divination Laban learns that he has been blessed with wealth and power because Jacob has the covenant blessing of God upon him. Jacob desires to return home to the Promised Land to his father Isaac, however, Laban like a crooked used car salesman seeks to keep Jacob around the ranch by offering to finally pay him a reasonable salary. Jacob, like his father [Isaac] and grandfather [Abraham] rejects the gift and entrusts himself to God in faith. God honors Jacob’s faith and makes him a very wealthy man. Though it may seem like Jacob is taking advantage of Laban the truth is God is making right a wrong by giving Jacob what he earned during twenty years of faithful and fruitful labor for Laban.

God is big on keeping His promises. He has promised to be with Jacob and get him back to the Promised Land. God calls, “Return to the land of your fathers and to your kindred, and I will be with you.” [31:3; cf. 12:1] Jacob responds immediately in faith. His wives also respond in faith [note: Rachel steals the household idol]. Jacob loads up the kids in the camel caravan and leave Laban’s home in secret while he is out giving the sheep a haircut. They leave undercover possibly out of fear that Laban would come up with a sly way to keep Jacob working around the ranch.

When Laban finally found out that his daughters and grandchildren were gone he and his relatives pursued Jacob for seven days until they caught up with him. Ironically, the same Laban who tricked Jacob into marrying both of his daughters became rich because of God’s blessing upon Jacob. He cheated Jacob by changing his wages ten times and complained that Jacob had been deceptive with him. However, God protected Jacob by appearing to Laban in a dream and commanding him not to harm Jacob in any way. Laban only accuses Jacob of stealing his household idol, but he was unaware that his wife Rachel stole them and was sitting on them.

Jacob honors God by praising Him for all blessing he and Laban have received [31:42]. Then Jacob and Laban shake hands and agree Jacob will take no more wives. They built a monument to remember the covenant. Laban kisses his daughters and grandchildren goodbye and the men part—Laban went back home and Jacob to his old home in the Promised Land. This set the stage for a story for Jacob to meet his brother Esau for the first time in twenty years [come back next week to find out what happens].

[1] These words would later proved to be prophetic and tragic; Genesis 35:16-19.

tale of twin brothers

I am one of six. I have three brothers and two sisters. I am at least 10-years older than my closest sibling. If you have siblings then you know what it is to have a rival. Since most of my siblings are much younger than I am our battles were either unfair or annihilation’s. I was more of the big-brother-built-in-babysitter, but now as my siblings are getting older I get my fair share of beat downs. Mostly verbal onslaughts related to my balding scalp and growing belly.

Today we will peer under the roof of a family with twin brothers who were all boy and at times bad to the bone. Most siblings can relate to these two dudes. However, what their story unfolds is a story that opens up a greater story of redemption and reconciliation, which we will discover over the next few weeks.

Two boys are born [Genesis 25:19-28]

Isaac [the promised son] married Rebekah [the prayed for wife], but come to find out she is barren. This is not a good thing for a family that is promised to bear the Seed of Hope [the promised Son—Jesus]! However, Isaac learned from the story of his mother and father. Instead of taking matters into his own hands he prayed to God who can open wombs as He did with his mother’s womb. God answered with a miracle bringing to life Rebekah’s dead womb.

Rebekah was blessed with not just one, but with two rambunctious boys. Even before her boys breathed their first full breath of oxygen they were picking on each other. Inside their mother’s belly the boys were like to UFC brawlers throwing fists and feet, but instead of a rope and ring they were using the walls of their mothers womb. I have seen my wife’s reaction when our little girl got moving. I could not image two burly boys bouncing around.

Rebekah does not understand why this is happening so she asks God. Isn’t this family something great? Two parents seeking God on behalf of their children. God responds to Rebekah’s inquire with historic news. The two boys within her would be two nations, two divided people, one [Jacob] stronger and the other [Esau] a servant to the younger [cf. Romans 9:10-13; 2 Samuel 8:13]. This is an incredibly important oracle, which would come to play later in the life of the twin brothers.

The first boy to be born was Esau [also called Edom]. He was red and hairy with a coat of fur like Elmo or Clifford the big red dog. The second boy to be born was not far behind. In fact, on the way out he was holding onto his hairy brother’s heel. They named their heel grabbing son heel [or trickster], which in our language is translated Jacob. As they grew Esau became the man’s man always out in the field hunting and gathering trophy game, while his brother Jacob was more of the homebody hanging out with his mommy.

As great as this family started out to be—building a foundation of prayer and faith—there was another foundation being laid of partiality and favoritism. Since, Esau hunted meat his dad favored him, and since Jacob was at home cooking and cleaning with his mom, she favored him. This unbalanced foundation, if left unchecked, will lead to some major conflict in the home, which we are about to see [cf. 37:3].

Buying his brother’s birthright outright [Genesis 25:29-34]

Esau is the firstborn son. There are major perks for being the firstborn. Being the first born Esau was entitled to the family birthright, which would make him the inheritor of a double portion of his father’s estate, leave him as the head of the family when his father passed away, as well as enable him to receive a special blessing from his father. In Abraham and Isaac’s case the one who possesses the birthright inherited the Abrahamic covenant. Esau wielded a lot of power and promise as the firstborn son.

However, Esau did not treat his birthright with that kind of importance. On an ordinary day,  Esau, probably after a long day of hunting came hungry to his brother Jacob who was cooking a yummy smelling pot of stew or spaghetti. Esau was exhausted and wanted something to eat. So Jacob being the trickster got his brother to trade his birthright for a meal. Quite the unfair trade, but as crazy as it was Esau accepted. At the bottom of Esau’s trade was an indifference towards God’s covenant promise to bless all nations through the descendants of his grandfather Abraham, which would ultimately bring forth Jesus Christ. Instead in a moment of flippancy he gave up God’s covenant for the munchies.  Later when he realized what a dumb and dishonoring thing he did it was too late [cf. Hebrews 12:16-17].

It is interesting to note this struggle between two brothers in the womb would continue well into the future. In fact, many years later it reached its climax when King Herod—a descendant of Esau—sought to slaughter all firstborn sons, which included Jesus Christ—a descendant of Isaac [Matthew 1:1-2, 2:13].

God reaffirms promises to the twins father [Genesis 26:1-5ff]

Similar to God speaking to Abraham, God speaks to Abraham’s son Isaac. The major similarities are God’s covenant promise to be with Isaac, bless him, and give him descendants and land. God blesses Isaac because his father Abraham “obeyed My voice and kept My charge, My commands, My decrees, and My laws.” [26:5; cf. Deuteronomy 11:1ff]

Throughout the rest of Genesis 26 are a number of similarities between Abraham and Isaac unfold:
•    Both men received God’s call and promise. Both lived during a period of famine.
•    Both men dwelt in Gerar both men had lovely wives. Both men were cowards in the face of possible harm.
•    Both men lied and said their wife was their sister. Both men were spared the consequences of their sin by God’s mercy.
•    Both men were rebuked by good Gentiles for their lying schemes. Both build altars to worship God.
•    Both men were pursued by Abimelech for a covenant [two different Abimelech’s but both related].
•    Both men were a blessing to their neighbors. Both men trusted God and lived peacefully with their neighbors.

Like Abraham, God redeemed Isaac’s unbelief. Isaac was blessed only because of God’s grace to him. God uses imperfect people and keeps His covenant promises. The chapter concludes with a brief note about Esau. Like Isaac, Esau marries at the age of 40. However, unlike Isaac he married two godless women without the counsel of his father, which following the birthright fiasco shows his foolish heart. Esau is a type of prodigal son who becomes a “source of grief to Isaac and Rebekah.”

Blindsiding big brother to get father’s blessing [Genesis 27:1-28:9]

Isaac was becoming old and senile. Therefore he called for his eldest son to give him a blessing. This is an important moment in the life of a son—often a life-changing and course-directing moment. Before Isaac offers Esau the blessing he sends him out to hunt a juicy steak.

Rebekah, like Eve and Sarah, took matters into her own hands. Since she favored Jacob over Esau she devised a deceitful plan to rob her son Esau of his blessing. Could this be where Jacob learned his trickery? So Rebekah cooks up some goat meat to Isaac’s liking and dresses Jacob in Esau’s hunting clothes and pads his neck and hands with fur to match to texture of his brother’s man-sweater. Then she sends Jacob into Isaac’s tent and unbelievably the sinful scheme works as schemed. Isaac is duped and Jacob steals Esau’s special deathbed blessing.

Esau comes to his father shortly after with his hunt, but learns he is late and missed the blessing because of his younger brothers trickiness. Isaac becomes furious. Esau weeps, turns bitter towards his brother, and plans to comfort himself by killing him [cf. Genesis 4]. Rebekah catches wind of Esau’s plan and sends Jacob to Laban until Esau cool’s down out of fear that she might lose her both sons over her sin, but a few days ended up being 20-years. This family’s firm foundation of faith and prayer is quickly crumbling, and beginning to look more like an episode of the Maury Povich Show.

Before leaving for Laban’s, Jacob is blessed by his father and commanded to marry only a woman who belongs to God so that the promises of the covenant would continue through his family line. To spite his parents, Esau intentionally marries another godless wife in addition to his other wives that had brought nothing but grief to his parents. Both boys do not appear very godly or worthy of the family blessings promised through Abraham.

Jacob, Jacob, Jacob…How does his story fit into the “Big Story?”

First, a look at Jacob gives you a glimpse of yourselves. He was struggling for power, even from birth through lies and strategic steals. Showing how sly and stealthy we are at sinning to get ahead. Second, his story gives us unusual insight into the Gospel and how God works. Despite his sin and imperfection God uses Jacob as the “covenant carrying” son of Isaac. Just like he uses sinful Jesus-followers to bear the message of good news to a darkened world. God is gracious and merciful!