A Close Encounter

It was an encounter that forever changed my life (Gen 31-32).

Ever since I can remember I’ve known that I was destined for greatness. When I was a kid, not a day went by that my mom didn’t remind me that God had marked me out for a special purpose. And while that purpose wasn’t entirely clear as a kid, I knew it had something to do with my grandfather and the legacy that he passed down to my dad. I also knew that it was not good news for my older brother…although we were twins, he still narrowly beat me out of the womb. And as the older brother, he had the obvious right to all that belonged to my grandfather and father through his birthright and the expected blessing that would be bestowed on him by my father, including this unbelievable covenant with God. That was going to be a problem. Somehow I had to get my hands on both the birthright and the blessing.

So as time went by, I waited and looked for opportunities to gain the advantage over my brother.  Now my brother was an excellent hunter; but he was never particularly bright, so acquiring the birthright was a snap. The blessing, however, was more difficult…mainly because it involved deceiving my dad.

The idea was actually my mom’s. She knew that my dad intended to bless my brother, and it looked like my chances of realizing the destiny that she had promised me were in jeopardy. A plan was hatched and pulled off to perfection, and I left my father’s tent with his blessing. Only when my older brother returned to meet with my dad did my dad find out that I had tricked him. I felt bad about it, but it would be a small price to pay for greatness.

My brother was fuming mad, so my mother sent me to stay with her brother and find a wife among her relatives. On the way there, I met the most beautiful girl I had ever seen and found out she was my cousin, my mother’s brother’s daughter! I fell in love, and agreed to work for my uncle for the right to marry her. Seven years seemed like only a few days, but then I learned something about my uncle that I had somewhat expected…he wrote the book on deception. He tricked me into marrying his eldest daughter, and then for another seven year stint, he allowed me to marry the girl of my dreams. Fourteen years. Then he asked me to stay on to tend his flocks. We determined my wages, and I turned the tables on him. Six years later I was the master of most of his livestock, and it was clearly time to go.

My family and I fled from my uncle, but he caught up to us. We had words, but parted in peace. Now it was time to reenter the land that had been promised to my family by God.  I remember when I left the land, I saw a vision of angels ascending and descending and called the place Bethel. Now as I neared the border, I again saw angels. Preparing to meet my brother, I sent a gift to try and dissuade him from taking retribution on me. I had planned to spend the night alone, but I encountered a stranger and wrestled through the night. As the day was dawning, he tried to pull away, but I wouldn’t let him. Then he touched my thigh, and all my strength left me. I clung to him and asked him to bless me. He asked my name…curious. I told him, and he gave me a new name, saying that I had wrestled with men and with God and had prevailed. What! At that moment, I knew that somehow the man I had been wrestling with was God! And I named the place Peniel (face of God) and limped away.

Reflecting back on that episode I realized something. That wrestling match was a metaphor for my life up to that point. Even though God had promised great things for me, I always felt the need to fight for myself. I had lived up to my name, “heel grabber” (Jacob). All my life I had been grabbing the heel of my brother, my father, my uncle and of God. But God changed my name, and my outlook changed as well. My new name was “God fights” (Israel). And now God would be the one who would fight for me. The ironic thing is, He had been fighting for me all along, but I never realized it. Twenty plus years of struggling to make things happen for myself…broken relationships, lies, deception…but now a new chapter. And my prayer for you this new year is that you will cease striving and recognize that God is the one who wants to fight for you. It doesn’t mean that you don’t have a role to play in the working out of His design, His destiny for your life. But it does mean that you need to trust Him with all your heart and not yourself, acknowledge Him in all your ways, and He will direct your paths.

Until next time…stay salty.

Advertisements

The More the Merrier?!?

Can you ever have too much of a good thing? My son Luke would answer with a resounding, “Yes!” Luke loves sweets, and on more than one occasion when we’ve let our guard down, he’s eaten himself sick. Afterwards, it’s with the same resolve that he says, “I’ll never do that again!” only to stuff himself with ooey goodness once more. Ah well. Another guy who can testify to the demerits of overindulgence is Jacob. However his “sweet tooth” has nothing to do with candy.

Genesis 29-30. After conspiring with his mother, Rebekah, to deceive his father, Isaac, into giving him the blessing, Jacob has to run for his life as a hot-tempered Esau plots to kill him. He spends a night in the field where the LORD appears to him in a dream. Jacob sees a ladder with its top reaching into heaven and angels ascending and descending – access between the physical and spiritual planes (Jesus will use the same imagery with Nicodemus in John 1 to describe Himself as the bridge between heaven and earth – the only way to the Father). God officially pronounces the Abrahamic blessing over Jacob, making him the undisputed heir of the Covenant. The next morning Jacob departs for Haran.

Upon arrival in Haran, Jacob meets Rachel and falls…hard. His love for her is the stuff of legend, a romance writer’s dream. Laban, Jacob’s uncle and Rachel’s father, offers Jacob Rachel’s hand in marriage for seven years of service, a very steep price for a bride (more than double what would have been customary), but Jacob doesn’t seem put off at all. In fact, Moses tells us that the seven years seemed but a few days to Jacob because of his love for Rachel. And just when we thought that they would live happily ever after…there’s a wicked twist in the plot.

Jacob soon learns that he and his mother are not the only ones in the family skilled in the art of deception. He meets his match in Laban. Not only is Laban able to extract twice the bride price for Rachel, he switches out her sister Leah at the wedding feast. Jacob, who deceived his dad by pretending to be his brother, is deceived by Leah pretending to be her sister at the direction of her father. And then before Jacob can protest too profusely, Laban again offers Rachel…for another seven years.

So Jacob finds himself with two wives and a vicious rivalry ensues between them. Leah, the more fertile of the two, jumps out of the gate with four sons. The sad thing is that the names of the first three (Reuben, Simeon and Levi) all indicate her unrequited love for Jacob. It’s not until Judah is born that she is able to put her focus on the LORD. Meanwhile, Rachel, realizing that she is barren (barren and beautiful just like Sarah and Rebekah), resorts to the same remedy that Sarah did – she gives her maid, Bilhah, to Jacob as a surrogate bride. And she has two sons. Not to be outdone, Leah also gives her maid to Jacob; and two more sons are born. Then Leah has two more sons and a daughter of her own. And finally Rachel has a son of her own and names him Joseph, saying “May God give me another son.”

The competition in this section would be comical if it wasn’t so heartbreaking. For in the midst of all the “good” – wives that seem to love him and many, many sons – Jacob’s family is a mess. Seeking to accomplish God’s purposes using their own wiles has resulted in an absolute mess. Although the consequences would make for a riotous reality TV show, the lesson is not unique for Jacob and clan. It’s been a repeated pattern in the lives of the patriarchs. Operating according to their own understanding results in pain and confusion and frustration for themselves and those around them, but operating according to God’s direction results in the uncomplicated realization of His promises (I find a similar truth at work in my life.). But God will bless them in spite of themselves, and through their line all the families of the earth will be blessed.  May God give us the grace to trust Him more and more with all our hearts and not to lean on our own understanding, in all our ways acknowledging Him so that He may direct our steps.

Until next time…stay salty.

A Questionable Blessing

I’m the father of three boys. They are great fun and such a blessing to me. They truly are my pride and joy in many respects. But I don’t know that a day goes by that there isn’t at least one fight…usually multiple ones. It usually starts with a friendly (or not-so-friendly) competition that quickly devolves into an all-out brawl. It drives my wife crazy, especially when I tell her it’s normal for boys (I had five brothers, and we fought constantly). She’s convinced that we are doing something wrong as parents, but that much testosterone makes for a potent combination. When I talk to other dads, my suspicions are confirmed. Sibling rivalry is a part of our DNA.

Genesis 27-28. Esau has already given up his birthright. As the eldest son (even if only by a few moments), he had a right to a double portion of the family inheritance. The birthright was both a privilege and a responsibility. The double portion gave the eldest son the means to care for single women within his household, as well as to conduct the family business. In the case of Abraham’s clan, it would also theoretically identify the heir of the Abrahamic blessing, the one through whom the nations/families of the earth would be blessed. In trading his birthright for a bowl of stew, Esau takes himself out of the line of blessing. Jacob now has the birthright. And having secured the birthright, Jacob proceeds to acquire his father’s blessing as well.

Normally the birthright and the blessing went together, and both would have gone to the eldest son. But in this case, even though Esau had given up his birthright, he was still in line to receive his father Isaac’s blessing. The scenario in Genesis 27 is a curious look into the dysfunction of the family of promise. Before Esau and Jacob were born, Rebekah was told that Jacob would be the heir. It’s unclear from the narrative whether this information was shared with Isaac or not. If it was, Isaac’s decision to bless Esau would be in direct rebellion against what God had said, and Rebekah’s actions in orchestrating the deception are a direct response to safeguard God’s choice in light of Isaac’s rebellion. If not, then Isaac is oblivious to the prophecy, and Rebekah takes matters into her own hands to benefit her favorite son. Again, the narrative isn’t clear, but we are told that Esau was Isaac’s favorite, while Jacob was Rebekah’s.

It’s a familiar story. Isaac asks Esau to hunt game and prepare a meal for him so that he can bless him. When Esau heads out, Rebekah, having overheard the conversation, devises a scheme whereby Jacob, posing as Esau, will trick Isaac into giving him the blessing instead of Esau. The deception is quite elaborate, and a convincing disguise succeeds despite Isaac’s suspicions. Jacob receives the blessing seemingly in the nick of time as Esau comes in from the hunt. Esau is understandably upset when he learns that Jacob has stolen his blessing. Afterwards, learning of Esau’s murderous intents toward Jacob, Rebekah asks Isaac to send Jacob away to find a wife from her relatives. Isaac complies and repeats the Abrahamic blessing over Jacob, who is now the confirmed heir of the promise.

Looking back over the story, God’s purposes are accomplished…He had foretold that Jacob would be the heir…but at what cost. The carnage left behind in attempting to bring about God’s purposes in their own ways destroyed the family. Instead of trusting God, Rebekah trusts herself. Instead of obeying God (assuming Isaac is aware), he is ruled by his appetites. Thinking back to Abraham’s journey, it’s easy to come to the conclusion that deception and self-reliance are family traits. I would agree, but that I think that they are family traits that we can trace back to the garden. They are characteristics that infect us all. This story of Esau and Jacob reminds me that God can and does use dysfunctional, messed-up people to accomplish His perfect will. As one of those, I’m glad He does.

Until next time…stay salty.

A Promise Repeated

What happens to great organizations when their founder – the guy or gal with the original idea and the burning passion to see that idea realized – is no longer around? Whether it’s a company like Apple or a service organization like Star Bucks or a church like Willow Creek, how do those who follow maintain the vision and momentum in the void left by such charismatic personas as Steve Jobs (Apple), Jerry Baldwin (Starbucks) or Bill Hybels (Willow Creek Community Church)? Without a strategic plan in place and a strong personality to follow, the idea fades and the organization becomes a shadow of its former self.

Genesis 25-26. Abraham had come to the end of his journey here on planet earth. The amazing promises that God had made to him were only just beginning to be realized (albeit to a limited extent). And now the great patriarch fades into the background. What will happen to the Abrahamic Covenant, and more specifically that through him all the nations of the world would be blessed? Enter Isaac. Moses gives us the briefest of sketches of this man’s life, but the picture he paints of Isaac makes it clear that this is God’s choice of Abraham’s successor.

We find Isaac at Beer-lahai-Roi, when Abraham’s servant and Rebekkah come from Paddan-Aram, a place whose name reminds us that God sees, the same place we find him as he prays for Rebekkah’s infertility. He exhibits the faith that marked Abraham’s life in building altars to worship. He listens to God’s voice and follows His direction (at times). And the events of his life mirror some of the same experiences that Abraham lived through…barren wife, nomadic lifestyle, great wealth, respect of others/acknowledgment of God’s blessing, deception involving his wife, choice between sons, and the LORD’s pronouncement of the covenant. And so Isaac, the son of promise, will be the bearer of the hope of Genesis 3.15 and the blessor of the nations for a new generation.

One thing that stands out from the Isaac narrative and those that follow: God is the One who safeguards the promise. He is the One who will provide the Genesis 3.15 Seed of the Woman. He will involve folks like Adam and Noah, Abraham and Isaac, and others along the way, but ultimately He Himself will bring about deliverance by sending His Son who will give His life in crushing the serpent so that all those who believe in Him may have an eternal relationship with Him.

Great organizations come and go. This side of eternity, not a one of them will last. But praise God His kingdom continues on in His church, and He will bring final salvation and restoration to a fallen and broken world.

Until next time…stay salty.