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).

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journey of faith

Have you ever been on a road trip when you got lost taking a wrong turn? I remember back in college after finals I drive home for the holidays. Back then I did not have a GPS or cell phones. I had a few college buds with me along for the ride via Chicago. I drove while the 13-hour trek while the one sitting shotgun navigated with an old Randall McNally map. When we reach Indianapolis we got on the I-465 beltway. It was sometime after midnight, we were getting tired. With the windows cracked, Mountain Dew running through our veins, the music cranked to DC Talk, and sunflower seeds all over the car seats we made our way around the beltway. I do not think any of us were paying attention to the road signs and detours because of the construction on the beltway. We missed our exit. For the next 2-hours we drove around and around the Indy beltway before we realized that we were just going in circles.

I am sure you have been there, right? Sometimes life can be like that too. You seem to be going somewhere and then you find yourself lost, spinning in circles, and delaying the journey. Life is a journey, especially if you are living a life of faith. Abraham is on that journey of faith. His journey of faith might not be that much different than yours.

DIRECTION FROM GOD FOR THE JOURNEY: A Call to Faith [Genesis 12:1-9]

God calls Abram out of a sinful people and nation to go to a place he does not yet know. As Abram goes, God makes a promise to him that He will make him a great nation. At this moment Abram is 75 years old, without an heir because his wife is barren, and attached to his father’s possession. Abram does know how God is going to fulfill His promise, but in faith he goes. When he reaches Canaan [a dead end for a nomad] he sets up an altar of worship for God will give him this land. As Abram and his family settle in the land they face a series of obstacles that from the human perspective seem like major detours.

DETOUR #1: Making up your own story is not part of God’s story [Genesis 12:10-20]

As Abram settles in Canaan, another challenge arises for Abram and his family. There is no food. So Abram, being the man of his house, takes action and heads south to Egypt. Afraid that he will lose his beautiful wife he crafts a story, “Sarah, babe, those Egyptians are going to think you are a smokin’ hot! Surely they will kill me to get you. Let’s pretend you’re my sister.” Lying is never part of God’s plan; truth is always the best option. Truth is part of God’s plan.

Indeed, when Abram and Sarai roll through town, Pharaoh’s prince’s gawk at Sarai—like men whistling at a passing girl next to a construction sight. They ran back to the palace bragging about her beauty to Pharaoh. And what Pharaoh wants, Pharaoh gets. Lucky, for Abram, Pharaoh is feeling particularly nice and spares Abram’s head. Unlucky for Pharaoh, he and his house get stuck with a plague. Knowing something is wrong he calls for Abram, “You have some explaining to do? Everything was groovy around here until you can around. Is there something you want to tell me about this woman? Why did you lie to me?” God had his hand on Abram. He should have been executed for lying to the ruler of Egypt, but God had grace on him through Pharaoh. Abram must have learned a valuable lesson that day: speak the truth and let God deal with the possible obstacles.

DETOUR #2: Sometimes the most obvious choice is not the right choice [Genesis 13]

I am not sure Abram and Sarai did much talking on the way home from Egypt. So Abram worships at the altar [13:4, maybe seeking forgiveness; cf. 12:8] and then goes back to work with Lot among their herds. Both men have large herds. Their herds are so large that their workers were not getting along [over turf, pooper scooper duties, etc.]. As a peacemaker, Abram asks Lot to leave, but gives him first choice of the land. Lot chose the greener grass, eastward [towards Sodom].

I am sure this was a hard decision for Abram. God gives him a nephew—possible heir—but they are forced to separate. Could Lot be the seed God was promising? According to Abram, the choice was not working out as he planned. He sits and sulks about his conflicted family separation, but God is working out His plan. In fact God says to Abram, “Lift up your eyes and look from the place where you are, northward and southward and eastward and westward, for all the land that you see I will give to you and to your offspring forever. I will make your offspring like the dust of the earth [i.e. countless], so that if one can count the dust of the earth, your offspring can be counted. Arise, walk through the length and the breadth of the land, for I will give it to you.” [13:14-17; cf. 12:7] God has a different choice for Abram’s seed in mind, but He also reaffirms His promise to Abram it will happen,

DETOUR #3: Expect unexpected challenges with unexpected results [Genesis 14]

A great war breaks, Lot’s city is taken captive, and Lot becomes a prisoner of war. Word gets to Abram through an escapee, and he pulls together 318 of his own men who are trained warriors. This gives you an idea of the wealth of Abram that he had his own personal army and defeated those holding onto Lot. Abram was not alone in this battle. He ultimately won this battle by the blessing of God who promised to protect him and curse those who cursed him [cf. 12:3]. Abram then praised by kings [i.e. Melchizedek, more on him next week] who also recognized that it was God who won the day [14:20].

COURSE DIRECTION FROM GOD: The Seed will come from through Abram [Genesis 15]

Following these three divine detours God sheds some light onto the path for Abram. God tells Abram in a dream that the promised seed would come through his seed. There is just one major problem: Abram has no children and he’s really old. Notice For the first time Abram speaks up, and asks God a question, “What about Eliezer?” God responds and reaffirms His covenant with Abram, “I will not use Eliezer [a non-related heir], but one of your own children.”

Again, with radical faith, Abram believes God [15:6; cf.12:4], and God “counted it to him as righteousness.” Genesis 15:6, becomes central to Paul’s doctrine of justification by faith [Romans 4:3; Galatians 3:6]. Also, James quotes this verse to teach that true faith in God results in good works in life with God [2:23-24]. God’s covenant with Abram was confirmed with a sacrifice and the shedding of blood, which foreshadows the New Covenant confirmed with Jesus’ sacrifice of His own life on the cross and the shedding of His blood.

DETOUR #4: Ignoring the possibility of the impossible [Genesis 16]

Sarah is not mentiond in the promise [cf. 15:1-6]. Abram does not even consider Sarai. Sarah is old and barren, and too old for it to be humanly possible for her to carry a child. They had waited a long time on God to come through with His promises. What options did Abram have? Taking matters into his own hands, he logically concludes that Hagar—one of his servant girls—is a prime candidate to carry his seed. Of course, Sarai spearheaded the faithless idea. So Abram slept with Hagar and she bore him a son [Ishmael, the son of Islam].

Is Abram immoral? Is he doing what he thinks God wants him to do? Impatience on God is never right the option.[1] If you are unsure waiting on God is always the best option. Ironically, Sarai bitterly blamed Abram for the split in their family because he slept with Hagar, and Hagar flees from the Sarai’s fury. Again, God intervenes.

COURSE DIRECTION FROM GOD: God gives a sign and specifics to His covenant [Genesis 17:1-18:21]

God reaffirms who He is and how He will fulfill His promises through Abram. Abram immediately worships [17:3, maybe seeking forgiveness; cf. 12:8; 13:4]. First, God confirms his covenant by giving Abram a new name and give a symbol for the covenant between God and Abraham, circumcision.[2] Second, God confirms his covenant with Abraham through Sarai by giving her a new name and saying the promised seed will be born through her barren womb. In one moment, God’s promise becomes very specific to Abraham and Sarah. And with a miraculous divine intervention God will open Sarah dead womb at 90 years old and give her a son who will be the living Seed of Promise [cf. 21:1-7].

DETOUR #5: Failing to see trials that purify your faith [Genesis 19-21]

In short, God sends His wrath upon Sodom and Gomorrah for their perverse sexual sin, which leaves a salty crater where the cities once stood [Genesis 19]. Lot and his daughter are not much different than the community he lived and farmed [19:30-38]. Again, Abraham lies and gives Sarah away to another man, almost identical to the situation with Pharaoh [20:1-18; cf. 12:10-20]. God in His grace and sovereignty intervenes preventing Sarah from getting pregnant by another man. Then tensions stir between Hagar son, Ishmael, and Sarah’s son, Isaac. Ishmael is the one favored by everyone in the passage, except Sarah; however, God does not favor him in relationship to the covenant promise, but cares and provides for him. These detours are looking more like construction zones where God is at work growing your faith.

FINAL COURSE DIRECTION FROM GOD: God uses sacrifice as the proof of faith [Genesis 21-23]

25 years after the promise and nearly losing his wife twice, God gives Abraham and Sarah a son. He finally has his boy. They name him, Isaac, meaning laughter, which is fitting for a boy born from an old lady. Isaac is the promised seed. However, in a climatic twist God tests Abraham’s quarter century churned faith. God asks Abraham to sacrifice his one and only son.

Up to this point in the narrative, Abraham has seen God fulfill promise after unbelievable promise and made a womb that was dead-dead alive. Echoing his call [12:1-3], he immediately responded in faith. Was he really going to kill his son on the altar? I think so. I think he knew God would raise his son to life because He has already done it through Sarah’s dead womb.

God answers by providing a sacrifice caught in the thicket. In doing so He fulfills all His promises just as He said. What about the land? The last promise that we do not see fulfilled is the land promise. In an obscure way, Sarah’s small and insignificant burial plot was the only property Abraham own in the Promised Land [Genesis 23]. The land that was promised to his heirs would not arise as a nation until God would call another man, Moses, who would take God’s people to the Promised Land [cf. Exodus & Joshua].

In Hebrews 11:8-12, Abraham went where God asked, even though he did not know how God would work it out, but his faith believed God would work it out. God blessed his faith then and offers it to you now through His Promised Seed—His Son—Jesus Christ. The story that climaxes with Isaac, ultimately climax with Christ:

  • Isaac and Jesus were both sons promised many years before their birth.
  • Isaac and Jesus were both born to women who could not have conceived apart from a miracle.
  • Isaac and Jesus were both firstborn sons.
  • Isaac and Jesus were both loved by their father/Father.
  • Isaac and Jesus both carried wood to their sacrifice.
  • Isaac and Jesus both willingly laid down their lives to their father/Father.
  • Isaac and Jesus both laid down as a burnt offering for sin.
  • Isaac was resurrected figuratively and Jesus was resurrected literally.
  • Isaac was just a man, but Isaac was the God/Man who came to save mankind.

[1] Abram marries Hagar while married to Sarai. The result of this polygamy is truly tragic, as is the case with other instances of adultery and polygamy in Scripture. God’s intention is that each man would have one wife [Genesis 2:18; Matthew 19:4-6]. The first man to take more than one wife was the godless man Lamech [Genesis 4:19-24]. Two women is two too many. Polygamy is wrought with favoritism, fighting, jealousy, and mistreatment [i.e. Genesis 25:28, 27:1-45, 35:22, 38:18-28; 2 Samuel 3:2-5, 13:1-29, 15:1- 18:33; 1 Kings 11:1-4]. In the New Testament church elders serve as the pattern for Christian families are to be one-woman-men [1 Timothy 3:2,12].

[2] It is uncertain why God chose circumcision as the sign of the Abrahamic Covenant. Possibly the seed comes from the male organ and/or Headship is an important concept to God. God used symbols to convey his covenant with mankind [i.e. a rainbow was a sign of covenant between God and Noah; Genesis 9:14]. Throughout the rest of Bible the concepts of covenant and circumcision are built upon to include Christian who are the descendants of Abraham by new birth. Circumcision points to the circumcision that God brings to our hearts through His covenant relationship with us [Deuteronomy 10:16, 30:6; Jeremiah 4:4; Ezekiel 44:7-9; Romans 2:25-29; 4:1-12; Colossians 2:11; Galatians 3:6-8].

a map of true follower

Before you take any trip you have to map out where you are going or you might get lost and watt a lot of time and money. It is also the same with discipleship in the church. Before you guide another on the journey of transformation you must consider the keys to the map.

Being a follower begins and ends with God, not man. God calls us into a relationship with Him by following Him. In Jesus day students would usually ask their Rabbi’s if they could follow them, but with Jesus that Master of all He asks us to follow Him. God initiates the relationship. He is the starting point of our relationship with Him [Rom.8:29-30].

Being a follower means knowing Christ personally and intimately. Is a relationship with God personal. Yes, it is really personal. It is not just knowing facts about Jesus, but a lifelong commitment. When a student would ask a Rabbi to be a mentor it was a life long commitment. The same for a relationship with Christ. He asks us to commit for the long haul. Knowing what the Bible says about Jesus is not enough. Jesus is the living God [John 1:14].

Being a follower has to do with the image of God. We were created in God image and likeness. We are dominioneers [Ge.1:27]. This gives and eternal and valuable aspect to our following Christ, the King of the dominion of man. Discipleship is not our agenda, but Gods, “teaching them to observe all I commanded” [Matt.28:19-20].

Being a follower means God is for us, not against us. Do not believe in the god of your own opinion, but the God of the Bible. The way we view God, can be on of the biggest distraction to our spiritual growth. A little view of God can mean little growth.  God is not a gregarious ogre, He is a Rescuer, Savior, Lover, Helper and Care-giver.

Being a follower starts and end with God. If we think we have any part in changing a person we are prideful and overly arrogant. Give God the credit and glory for what He can do in a followers life. Followership is not a program, behavior modification, a magical formula seen in Scripture, or a sacred system that works for every person. It is a daily delightful relationship with the God of the universe. This is the journey to discovering the life of a true follower.