Saturday, September 26, 2009

Jacob’s Dream -- Genesis 28:12-15


And he had a dream, and behold, a ladder was set on the earth with its top reaching to heaven; and behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. And behold, the LORD stood above it and said, "I am the LORD, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie, I will give it to you and to your descendants. Your descendants will also be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and in you and in your descendants shall all the families of the earth be blessed. Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you."

Asleep on his rock pillow under the stars and perhaps also under a tree, Jacob has a dream. He sees a ladder stretching from the ground upwards into the heavens. He saw angels ascending and descending on the ladder to/from the earth and heaven. I do not know what ladders looked like in those days, but if angels were going up and down it, this ladder was either wide enough for movement in two directions or some angels were going up one side of the ladder and other angels were descending opposite them on the other side – each being careful not to interfere with each others’ steps. On the other hand, perhaps the angels did not even require to actually touch the ladder as they went up and down. It really does not matter, for this was after all, a dream.

The text tells us that the Lord Himself stood above the ladder at the top, in heaven, and He spoke to Jacob. As He had done to His father Isaac and his grandfather Abraham before him, God very clearly identifies Himself to Jacob. While in Jacob’s case the text clearly says God appeared to him in a dream, this was not true for his father Isaac. In one case, “the Lord appeared to him and said,” (see Genesis 26:2) and in the other, “the Lord appeared to him the same night” (Genesis 26:24). Whether or not Isaac was sleeping at the time, we do not know. In the case of Abraham, we know the Lord simply “said to Abram” (Genesis 12:1), “the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, saying,” (Genesis 15:1), “the Lord appeared to Abram and said to him,” (Genesis 17:1), “the Lord appeared” (Genesis 18:1), and “God tested Abraham, and said to him,” (Genesis 22:1). When we put all this together -- the dream of Jacob, God coming to Isaac in the night, and the vision of Abraham -- we can safely say that one way God spoke to His people in those days was through dreams.

And God tells Jacob that He will give him and his descendants the land he is sleeping on. Furthermore, his descendants will grow in such numbers that they will spread out in every direction from there. Finally, because of Jacob and his descendants all the families of the earth will be blessed. Sound familiar? It is the continuation of the covenant God had made through Jacob’s grandfather Abraham, and then his father Isaac, and now Jacob himself. Clearly, this was the lineage through which God intended to fulfill His covenant with Abraham. For decades now, the world has been witness to the situation in the Middle East between Israel and the Palestinians. As I watch it unfold with no apparent end in sight, I often reflect on this very promise God made to Jacob. Knowing that all aspects of the promise will eventually come to pass, I often wonder exactly how and when Jacob’s descendants will bless the Palestinians (as one of those ‘all the families of the earth’). I believe that aspect of the promise will be ultimately fulfilled through Jesus Christ. I personally look forward to it with great anticipation. I do not know all the details of how it will come about (later parts of the Old Testament and the New Testament give us a lot of clues), but I have discovered that God has an amazing way of making the seemingly impossible or improbable come to pass.

Once again God assures His chosen vessel Jacob that he is not required to experience the fulfillment of the promise alone. God will be with him wherever he goes and eventually God will return Jacob and/or his descendants back to the land He has promised them.

Now the next line may present a problem for some readers and it does for me too. You will remember that at the outset of this series we indicated that we would be reading and developing the contents of scripture as they are presented in the text, rather than relying heavily, if at all, on the personal thoughts and interpretations of well-known Bible commentators. We do this now with the phrase “I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” The positive here is twofold. First, it is God that will accomplish what He has promised; not Jacob or his descendants. We do not need to fret about the ‘how’ of it all. Secondly, God will be there with Jacob and his descendants until all the covenant promises are fulfilled. And these positives are true for each of us as well, in our own lives. We can count on God to do what He wants done in our lives that is beyond our means. And God is and will be with us throughout everything that He has planned for us to accomplish. But what are we to make of the latter part of the phrase? Does “until I have done what I have promised” imply that when God completes the accomplishment of His plans for us He will leave us?

The Hebrew word for ‘leave’ is ‘azab’ and some of its translations include 1) to depart from, leave behind, leave, let alone, 2) to leave, abandon, forsake, neglect, apostatize, and 3) to let loose, set free, let go, free. I believe what God was saying to Jacob and his descendants through him was simply that He would not “leave them alone or set them free to do as they wished” until His work in making this promise reality had been finished. I remember the days when I had to oversee the daily homework or other longer projects of my children. I remember telling them “I won’t stop bugging you until it’s done”, “when it’s done, you’re free to do as you like”, or “I won’t leave you until we’re finished.” In no way did any of those statements imply that I was going to stop being their father once the project was complete or that I would leave them physically or even emotionally. And somehow, they understood that. A decade or so later and as late as yesterday I asked one of my daughters that works with me whether or not she had made a certain phone call I had asked her to make that was to our mutal benefit. Her reply was interesting, “No, but I will tomorrow if you hassle me about it.” Not if you ‘don’t hassle me’ but if you ‘do’. We all need someone to lovingly hassle us into doing things we may otherwise not do. And I believe God was promising that to Jacob that night in that dream.

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Friday, September 25, 2009

Leaving Home, Alone -- Genesis 28:10-11


Then Jacob departed from Beersheba and went toward Haran. And he came to a certain place and spent the night there, because the sun had set; and he took one of the stones of the place and put it under his head, and lay down in that place.

Jacob leaves his home area of Beersheba and heads towards Haran, the place where his grandfather Abramham had gone when he left Ur of the Chaldees and where Abraham remained until his own father died. The text informs us simply that he came to “a certain place”. No town is mentioned but the translation of the Hebrews implies that “a certain place” was not just a point in the road, but an actual town, or city. Given the direction that Jacob was traveling, some have assumed that place to be Bethel, forty or so miles from Beersheba. Had he left early in the morning, he well could have made that distance in one day. The sun had now set and he prepared to spend the night there outdoors. We know this because scripture indicates he took one of the stones lying about to use as his pillow and he lay down there for the night.

The account is very sparse. We are not told much about anything that happened during his travel that day, nor what he may have eaten, or even how he felt. While he left on good terms with his mother and at the arranged request of his father that Rebekah had taken care of, there is no record of Jacob being given any assistance regarding the trip with servants or food or drink. This is in stark comparison to the occasions when Abraham sent Hagar and Ishmael away or when he sent his servant off to find a wife for Isaac. In addition, he did not take time to say good-bye to Esau. Clearly, Jacob was humanly speaking, very much alone on this trip.

Some of us have passed seasons in our lives when we have been very much alone, humanly speaking. And like Jacob, we get weary and need to rest. We’re not always in the most comfortable or, for that matter these days, in the safest place in life when that happens. We may feel very scared as sleep tries to overcome us. And yet, for the true believer, the fact remains, he or she is never alone. God is always there with us. Our job is to allow ourselves to sense His very presence. And He makes Himself known in various ways.

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Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Esau’s Reaction to Jacob’s Leaving -- Genesis 28:6-9


Now Esau saw that Isaac had blessed Jacob and sent him away to Paddan-aram to take to himself a wife from there, and that when he blessed him he charged him, saying, "You shall not take a wife from the daughters of Canaan," and that Jacob had obeyed his father and his mother and had gone to Paddan-aram. So Esau saw that the daughters of Canaan displeased his father Isaac; and Esau went to Ishmael, and married, besides the wives that he had, Mahalath the daughter of Ishmael, Abraham’s son, the sister of Nebaioth.

This morning as my son-in-law was leaving with our eight-year-old granddaughter to hit some golf balls, our six-year-old granddaughter made him promise to do something special with her next. Anyone who has had more than one child knows that siblings keep a close watch on how each other is treated by their parents, or grandparents for that matter. The well-known comedy team, the Smothers Brother had, as one of their favorite lines “see, I told you ‘mom always liked you best’”. One child often feels less preferred than the other. This was the case with Esau as he saw that Isaac had blessed Jacob further and then sent him away to get a wife from within his mother’s family.

It was not so much that Isaac had a preferred a wife for Jacob from Rebekah’s family as much as it was that he did not want Jacob to get a wife from “the daughters of Canaan.” Esau had especially noted the negativism with which Isaac referred to the idea of marrying from the daughters of Canaan – the very thing that Esau had done. We may not always agree with what our children do, especially in regard to whom they choose as mates, but we must be careful as to how we communicate that. At the very least, we must always leave the door open for communication, conciliation, and complete restoration into the family.

Esau also noted how Jacob had obeyed his parents and had gone to Paddan-aram to do what had been asked of him. Of course, Jacob’s reasons for doing so were different, but nevertheless Esau saw it as obedience. Disobedient or rebellious children have always had a disdain for their siblings that appear to be “little do-gooders” in the eyes of their parents.

Yet, seeing that the women of Canaan displeased his father, he goes out, this time to Ishmael’s family, and takes his daughter Mahalath as yet another wife. Ishmael you will remember was Abraham’s son through Hagar the handmaid and Isaac’s half-nephew for lack of a better word. Mahalath was the sister of Nebaioth. In Genesis 25:13 we learned that Nebaioth was Ishmael’s eldest son. It appears that Jacob now wanted to impress his father Isaac by marrying a non-Canaanite woman and this time only one.

But did he make bad things worse? First of all he now marries someone who is a descendent of a bondwoman whom God had already decided was not to inherit the promise He made to Abraham as Isaac and his family were. Esau, whether knowingly or not we cannot say with total certainly, now connects with a family that God has rejected. Was it possible that since he was the only son left at home, he would now try desperately to get on his father’s good side, perhaps hoping that Isaac would even change his mind about the blessing he had given Jacob and even make a new decision about any inheritance that would remain? By what he did, Esau attempted to please his parents for how he had behaved in the past. But he failed to repent concerning his intention to kill Jacob. [It remains to be seen later as to whether he pursued that line of action.]

Sometimes we come across individuals who try to right a wrong they had committed, but clearly their actions prove insufficient as their hearts continued to maintain the original attitude or malice towards those they had wronged and there is never a full repentance or apology for what they had done. One supposes though that in their own eyes, since they have made some effort to reconcile the situation, they are indeed better than they were. Somehow, I believe that this is not what God expects of us when we are in the wrong and have hurt others. In Esau’s case, we have no evidence that he repented, changed his thoughts about Jacob, or demonstrated a devout or humble spirit that truly may have pleased Isaac, or God.

Here’s a final comment on this section. Some parents have one or more children that just do not make the right major decisions in life, for any given number of reasons. I know how hard it can be for that parent to watch their son or daughter experience the consequences of such decisions. Yet, I can also share with you that the only two true actions of benefit to them that you can take are to pray for them and to listen when they want to talk. If for any reason, you have failed to develop a relationship with them where your opinions really matter, then drop all other efforts you may expend on them and work just on that. Remain available and always open to being their parent and allowing them to be your child. If you need a model to help you, consider your relationship with our Heavenly Father.

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Monday, September 21, 2009

Isaac’s Charge to Jacob As He Sends Him To Haran -- Genesis 28:1-5


So Isaac called Jacob and blessed him and charged him, and said to him, "You shall not take a wife from the daughters of Canaan. Arise, go to Paddan-aram, to the house of Bethuel your mother's father; and from there take to yourself a wife from the daughters of Laban your mother's brother. May God Almighty bless you and make you fruitful and multiply you, that you may become a company of peoples. May He also give you the blessing of Abraham, to you and to your descendants with you, that you may possess the land of your sojournings, which God gave to Abraham." Then Isaac sent Jacob away, and he went to Paddan-aram to Laban, son of Bethuel the Aramean, the brother of Rebekah, the mother of Jacob and Esau.

It appears that Rebekah’s continued manipulation of things through her words to Isaac about Jacob not marrying locally did in fact have their impact. Isaac calls Jacob over and once again blesses him. I find this most interesting. Even though Isaac knew that Jacob had tricked him into giving him the eldest son’s blessing, he is willing to bless him again. Perhaps this is just one good example of Jacob’s strengths. In this case, he acts like a loving father. No matter what his child has done, a loving father continues to want the best for his child. I want to be a parent like that. I want to model that behavior for my own children to follow in their role as parents of my grandchildren.

The blessing was part and parcel of a charge to a particular course of action. Isaac instructs Jacob to take a wife from his own people, not from the daughters of Canaan. He tells him to go to Paddan-aram to the house of Bethuel, his mother Rebekah’s father. And from within that house, Jacob was to find a wife from the family of his uncle Laban, his mother’s brother. The actual blessing was a complement to his original blessing. Isaac was asking God to bless Jacob and make him fruitful and his family many in numbers. He asked that God would allow Jacob to be the one through whom Abraham’s blessing and covenant from God would continue and that Jacob’s people would inherit the Promised Land that God had given to his grandfather.

And then just like Abraham had sent Ishmael and his mother Hagar away many years before, the text says, Isaac sent Jacob away. Notice there was no reply or comments recorded from the mouth of Jacob. The only thing to do was to obey while at the same time realizing that he was being able to leave his father peacefully for a reason other than the true one, that of fleeing from his brother Esau, who still had it in his mind to kill him.

So Isaac goes to Paddan-aram and to his uncle Laban. You will remember how Laban had figured into the earlier chapters of this story. When Abraham, Isaac’s father, had sent his servant to the land from which he had come to find a wife for his son, the servant was settling on Rebekah who treated him kindly at the well. Rebekah took the servant home and Laban her brother came running out to meet him. Seeing the gifts of gold and other things the servant carried for the occasion, he bid him to stay in their home. To his credit, he was indeed a gracious host although some may question the reason for such hospitality. Best to give him, to this point in the story anyway, the benefit of the doubt. Laban then went on to play a key role in the terms of the agreement to send Rebekah back to Abraham and Isaac. And Laban was active in the negotiations to send Rebekah back. Now Laban returns to our saga and takes on perhaps an even more critical part in the storyline.

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Saturday, September 19, 2009

Rebekah Shares Her Disappointment in Life -- Genesis 27:46


And Rebekah said to Isaac, “I am tired of living because of the daughters of Heth; if Jacob takes a wife from the daughters of Heth, like these, from the daughters of the land, what good will my life be to me?”

Rebekah had just finished orchestrating the loss of her eldest son’s parental blessing and as a result caused her younger son Jacob to flee for his life. Prior to this, she had been unhappy that Esau, who had seemingly rebelled and married daughters of Heth against her will, was going to get a better deal than Jacob when it came to inheritance. Now, with that taken care of through her manipulation, she appears to need another cause for her unhappiness.

Rebekah indicates she is “tired of living”. Have you ever known anyone that has felt “tired of living”? Most people wishing God would allow them to die are usually quite old and feel they have seen enough of this world. At their age they feel they are without the ability to do anything about what they see. Or perhaps they have a terminal illness that they just cannot do anything about. When someone is “tired of living” because of circumstances outside of themselves, such as disappointment in the choices that others make about their own lives, then something else is at work. In most cases, that individual is either prone to unhappiness by their personality or they choose to use unhappiness as a tool to get what they want. Neither scenario is healthy for one’s well-being or for any relationship, including spousal, which they may hope to have. In fact, their approach to life actually makes relationships much worse.

Rebekah finds herself being “tired of living” because of Esau’s wives and she fears that if Jacob were to marry from the same local daughters of Heth, that would finish her off. Or least, she would feel there is no point to go on living whatsoever. What a sad state to be in. Can you imagine what the Christian church would look like if every mother or father of someone who had a bad marriage today decided life would not be worth living any longer? What would that mean to the spouse left or the married child, who doing their best in a bad situation, was counting on the moral, and other, support of the parent. As importantly, what Christian influence would remain to influence the moral compass of any grandchildren that a child’s bad marriage would produce? I do not believe any of those choices are in line with God’s intention for our lives, no matter what the circumstances. Our reason and passion for life must not depend on what others, including our own family and that includes our spouse and children, have done or are doing, in their lives. As harsh as it may sound, and as difficult as it may seem, our reason and passion for life must come from our personal relationship with our Maker.

But let us look a little closer to what else Rebekah may have had in mind as she utters these words to Isaac. Is it possible that she is simply just finding a way to express to her husband an excuse as to why Jacob should go to her brother Laban’s place at this time? You will remember that Isaac was old and he needed his sons around to take care of him in one manner or another. We’ll find the answer to that question in the verses that follow.

You will note however that Rebekah does not tell Isaac about Esau’s intentions to kill Jacob in order to spare him grief. That act in itself seems strange, considering she thought little about the grief she herself caused Isaac in bringing about the deception concerning the blessing. Instead she plays on Isaac’s own disappointment about Esau being married to two Hittite women, knowing he would not want that for Jacob. This way she can gain Isaac’s support for letting Jacob go. It was now all to be about Jacob marrying within the faith and within the family. How could Isaac object?

From our continuous timeline study we knew from Genesis 25:26 that Isaac was 60 years of age when he became the father of Esau and Jacob. And using that in conjunction with Genesis 26:34, we can calculate that Jacob was 40 years old when he married Judith and Basemath, the daughters of Heth. We do not know at this point in Scripture how many years later the event of the parental blessing mix-up occurred but clearly Esau and Jacob were well beyond 40 years of age. All this to point out that Jacob was not fleeing to Haran as a young teenager who was in trouble at home. He too was on in his years.

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Monday, September 14, 2009

Rebekah Acts to Save Jacob -- Genesis 27:42-45


Now when the words of her elder son Esau were reported to Rebekah, she sent and called her younger son Jacob, and said to him, "Behold your brother Esau is consoling himself concerning you by planning to kill you. Now therefore, my son, obey my voice, and arise, flee to Haran, to my brother Laban! Stay with him a few days, until your brother's fury subsides, until your brother's anger against you subsides and he forgets what you did to him. Then I will send and get you from there. Why should I be bereaved of you both in one day?"

The first question we can ask is “Who reported the words of Esau to Rebekah?” Who even heard the words that Esau “said to himself” in the previous verses? Is this a contradiction in the text? I don’t think so and here’s why. We know there were many others in the household. For starters Esau had two wives. It is most likely that they had friends. There probably were also children. Human nature being what it is, Esau very likely shared his frustration with one of his wives. She may well have said something to one of her friends, and so on. In a small community such as the one Isaac’s family lived in, it is not inconceivable that Rebekah would have gotten wind of her son’s feelings and intentions. What is more important to the reader, however, is that this is the first noted instance in scripture where one could assume there is a contradiction when in fact, once we take human nature and probabilities into account, the apparent contradiction easily disappears. Some could argue that God should have filled in the gap for us so that no such doubt existed in anyone’s mind. But He chose not to and He continues to do that elsewhere in scripture. We then have two choices in how we view such gaps. First, we can see them from a “ha, ha, I’ve got you” point of view, causing us to discard the whole book as simply a story. Many do. Alternatively, we could apply our faith, trying to see just how the gaps could be filled in. We could search for events likely to have occurred that would explain things satisfactorily and on the basis of probability to someone not fundamentally opposed to believing scripture to be the word of God. The choice is ours. While the choice is yours to make, I can assure you that the latter approach has always been found to work in my own personal experience. Perhaps because of my own critical approach to my tenet of beliefs, the Enemy has given me plenty of such textual challenges over the course of my life. Each time, God or scripture itself, has shown me exactly how the gaps could be filled in and explained. That does, however, take an openness to want to see the truth, a believe that there is an explanation because ultimately this is God’s word, and finally a willingness to study the entire scriptures for often one scripture answers the questions posed by another.

With that knowledge, Rebekah now acts to save Jacob. She sent (likely some servants or others) and called Jacob to come to her. When he arrived, she shared with him Esau’s plans of killing him. Whether that was said as a matter of fact (and indeed it was factual) or whether she wanted to instill fear in Jacob so that he would continue to listen to her instructions is unknown. What we do know is that she asks him once again to listen to her advice, the very thing that got him into trouble in the first place.

This time she advises Jacob to flee to her brother Laban’s family in Haran. Perhaps a better word of advice from a mother would have been, “Go to your brother, apologize, ask for his forgiveness, do whatever you have to do to make things right practically and relationally, and ask God for His forgiveness and protection.” That’s the tough job of a mother. There is a time to help one’s child ‘flee’ but that time is not when he/she is in the wrong.

Haran was the place Abraham migrated to when he left Ur of the Chaldees. He stayed there until his father died after which he left for the Promised Land. He went to Canaan, just south of Haran, which became his inheritance and was passed on to his descendants, the Children of Israel. It was to Haran that Abraham sent his servant to get a wife for Isaac from his family. Now Rebekah sends Jacob there to stay with her brother’s family.

In sending Jacob to stay with Laban’s family, Rebekah tells him it will only be for a “few days” until Esau’s anger subsides and he forgets what Jacob did. But can such a deed be forgotten about in just a “few days”? We cannot expect to hurt someone in a way that somehow robs them of who they are and expect them to forget about it in just a “few days” if ever. Clearly the advice and instructions that Rebekah was giving her younger son were not wise. Perhaps part of the reason was that her motivation was not ultimately the saving of Jacob, but rather an attempt to protect her own self from losing both her sons in one day. Her treachery caused her to lose her relationship with Esau and now it could cause her to lose Jacob as well. We have a way as humans of often becoming so shortsighted that we fail to see the implications of our pursuits or actions on others and ourselves. There is much to be said about counting to ten before we react, or sleeping on a thought for a night, or mulling things over for a few days, before taking action. Even better would be developing the constant habit of taking our concerns and challenges to God and seeking His wisdom.

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Saturday, September 12, 2009

Pre-meditating Murder -- Genesis 27:41


So Esau bore a grudge against Jacob because of the blessing with which his father had blessed him; and Esau said to himself, “The days of mourning for my father are near; then I will kill my brother Jacob.”

There is no doubt Jacob twice supplanted Esau. We could assign responsibility to Esau himself for losing his birthright to Jacob, but clearly he was not to blame for the loss of his blessing as the firstborn. What he ended up with was indeed a raw deal in comparison. So, Esau held a grudge against his younger brother Jacob because of the nature of their individual blessings.

Here was a man who found himself most unhappy with what life offered him through the trickery or sin of others. Evil exists. It impacts people. And sometimes the evil undertaken by others impacts us. Your spouse is unfaithful and wants a divorce. You are an innocent bystander in a mall or walking down the street and get crippled for life in the crossfire of a gang shooting. Your loved one is killed because someone succumbed to too much alcohol and insisted on getting behind the wheel of a car. Your spouse or child or parent is maimed in a war our country was simply helping restore peace in. The list is endless. The consequences are basically all the same – you feel cheated. You are definitely sad. You may even be angry. But once you are over the shock and the reality of the ongoing impact on your life hits you, there is a moment in time when you have to make one of the most crucial decisions you will ever make. It is at this point you can become bitter, bear a grudge, and even plot to take revenge. In short, you succumb to the inner pressure of becoming evil yourself. Your alternative is to accept your lot in life, take the lemon you’ve been served and turn it into lemonade by adding all the sugar you can find within you. In short, you go on doing good and living your life as best you can with God’s help. And as part of that, you turn the matter of payback or revenge or bringing about justice to the evildoer into the hands of God. Esau clearly rejected this alternative and chose the former approach, preferring bitterness.

It would be helpful here to realize some of the causes that help contribute to one’s decision as to which approach is pursued. First, there is the aspect of one’s personality and whether or not they are prone to take matters into their own hands. If I am a fighter by nature, I will want to gain back what I believe is rightfully mine. If I am a peacekeeper, then I would be content to accept what the other person has done, perhaps even arguing they were wrong and didn’t know better, and then move on with my life somewhere else or somehow differently. Second, there is also the issue of how one views God’s role in one’s life. If I believe Him to be Who the Bible tells me He is and have a personal relationship with God, then I am more likely to accept what has happened as something that He is aware of, something He will take care of with respect to justice being done, and a situation wherein He will provide for me.

Finally, one of the most detrimental paths one can follow in life also applies very well to the case of how one deals with the impact of evil caused by others. And that is the path of comparison. Esau compared his blessing to that of Jacob’s. He found it difficult to see any of the benefits in it and focused solely on what his brother got and he didn’t. Life is certainly not fair at all times. Some are blessed more than others. Some will always have more than what we have. Comparison in such cases only makes us unhappy with what we possess, be it money, things, relationships, or talents. Comparison in itself may have its benefits. For years, I compared my ability to play backgammon to that of my dad’s. As I watched how he played, one of my goals was to raise my backgammon ability to be closer to his. Many successful athletes, actors, artists, speakers, writers and others in just about any other walk of life, have benefited from aspiring to be like someone else. There is nothing wrong with that. As Christians we are to aspire to be like the Apostle Paul or more importantly to be more and more Christ-like. But all that requires great commitment, discipline, and sacrifice on our part. However, in that approach there is to be no element of us getting more or becoming better to the detriment of the person we are comparing ourselves to. There are no quick fixes. When comparison leads to a quick fix as in the case of Esau and his plan, one has embarked on the wrong path.

And that’s where we find Esau as this passage ends. He plans to kill his brother because Jacob has cheated him. But out of respect to his aging father, he is prepared to wait until Isaac dies. He knew that was not too far in the distance. This is the first clear case of a planned, pre-meditated murder that we read about in Scripture. While Cain had killed Abel, the Bible records that it just happened while they were out in the field together. In this instant case, Esau consciously plans to murder his brother at some point in the future. One does wonder, however, what he may have done had his father been much younger and in good health.


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Thursday, September 10, 2009

Esau’s Consequential Blessing -- Genesis 27:39-40


Then Isaac his father answered and said to him, "Behold, away from the fertility of the earth shall be your dwelling, And away from the dew of heaven from above. By your sword you shall live, And your brother you shall serve; But it shall come about when you become restless, That you will break his yoke from your neck."

Having given Esau’s intended firstborn’s blessing to Jacob through the younger son’s deception, Isaac, being pressed to offer something to his eldest, now sadly utters this blessing. As one reviews the various versions of this text, there appears to be two takes on the issue of where Esau will make his living. The New American Standard being quoted above and some others seem to be saying, Esau will have no success tilling the ground or growing vineyards and so implies that he would likely live in the dessert areas of the land. On the other hand, numerous other translations do not employ the phrase ‘away from’ but rather simply ‘of’. This in my opinion makes the translation very different as to how Esau and the Edomites that became his descendants were to live.

What there is no disagreement about, however, is that Esau and his descendants would indeed live by his ‘sword’. They may or may not prosper from the land, but they would not starve, as they would have the power to either hunt or take game from others.

The next phrase is the consequence of Jacob’s blessing. As Jacob is to rule, then Esau and his people have to serve. This submissiveness to Jacob will not last forever and there would come a time when Esau and his people would break away from the yoke of servant-hood that Jacob had placed around their neck. Whether Esau himself, as compared to his descendants, had to actually or physically serve Jacob or not remains for us to discover further on in scripture. In addition, learning just when that yoke was to be broken will have to wait.

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Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Esau Has Reason To Feel Cheated and To Despair -- Genesis 27:34-38


When Esau heard the words of his father, he cried out with an exceedingly great and bitter cry, and said to his father, "Bless me, even me also, O my father!" And he said, "Your brother came deceitfully and has taken away your blessing." Then he said, "Is he not rightly named Jacob, for he has supplanted me these two times? He took away my birthright, and behold, now he has taken away my blessing." And he said, "Have you not reserved a blessing for me?" But Isaac replied to Esau, "Behold, I have made him your master, and all his relatives I have given to him as servants; and with grain and new wine I have sustained him. Now as for you then, what can I do, my son?" Esau said to his father, "Do you have only one blessing, my father? Bless me, even me also, O my father." So Esau lifted his voice and wept.

Can you imagine what it may have felt like to be growing up in expectation of one day receiving an inheritance or perhaps more significantly, the eldest child’s blessing, and then to hear your aged father tell you that your younger sibling got it by mistake, and “they will be blessed.” It is no wonder that the scripture says Esau “cried out with an exceedingly great and bitter cry” and begged his father to bless him also.

Devastated Isaac answered Esau explaining how his younger brother Jacob came “deceitfully” and took away Esau’s blessing. The deceit was Jacob’s, the duping was Isaac’s, and the loss was Esau’s. Jacob had to live with the knowledge of what he did, Isaac had to sustain the disappointment of being tricked and letting his firstborn down, and Esau had to accept the loss, fight back the anger, and settle for what blessing remained possible.

Upon hearing what Jacob had done, he indicates his brother was indeed appropriately named Jacob, meaning ‘supplanter’, or one who takes somebody else’s place or position by force or intrigue. Jacob had now done that twice to Esau – the first time when he took advantage of Esau’s hunger and tricked him into selling him his birthright and now when he maneuvered the dishonest acquiring of the firstborn’s blessing. Esau, almost begging, asks Isaac if he had saved some kind of blessing for him. But his father’s response was not exactly what he wanted to hear.

It is important to note that the blessing of a father was, and still is for those that still observe it, many Christians among them, very powerful. In his response to Esau, Isaac indicates that by giving Jacob the specific firstborn’s blessing that he did, he “made him” Esau’s master. In fact, all of Jacob’s relatives (that includes Esau and his family) would become, through that blessing, Jacob’s servants. Furthermore, Isaac blessed Jacob with great riches in the form of large harvests and fine wine. Isaac felt there was nothing of a true blessing left for his true firstborn. He utters the words “What can I do, my son?” with great disappointment.

But Esau does not give up easily. “Surely, father, you have more than one blessing in you? So, bless me too, my father.” Unsure as to whether or not his father would do so, or even if he might, the hurt was so great, that as he said those words, Esau wailed and wept. How that must have hurt his father. And where exactly were Rebekah and Jacob during all this? Surely, Isaac’s tent was not that far away from where they spent their time. How could a mother and a brother do that? It appears even then greed and deceit were tools used against one’s family member as they are today. Yet God can still work with those dishonorable actions.

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Sunday, September 06, 2009

Esau Shows Up to Claim His Blessing -- Genesis 27:30-33


Now it came about, as soon as Isaac had finished blessing Jacob, and Jacob had hardly gone out from the presence of Isaac his father, that Esau his brother came in from his hunting. Then he also made savory food, and brought it to his father; and he said to his father, "Let my father arise and eat of his son's game, that you may bless me." Isaac his father said to him, "Who are you?" And he said, "I am your son, your firstborn, Esau." Then Isaac trembled violently, and said, "Who was he then that hunted game and brought it to me, so that I ate of all {of it} before you came, and blessed him? Yes, and he shall be blessed."

Jacob, with the help of his mother, manages to literally rob his brother Esau of his “eldest son blessing” from his father Isaac. No sooner had the deed been accomplished and the parties began to be found out. Esau returns from his hunting, makes a tasty dish for Isaac as he had intended and brings it to him so that he may get blessed.

As expected, old, almost totally blind Isaac asks, “Who are you?” Esau, perhaps a little surprised at the question, replies, “I am your son, your firstborn, Esau.” Then, the Bible says, Isaac “trembled violently”. Out and out shock in response to what had happened. He had been duped big time. He failed to go with his inkling. He still did not put it all together as he asks Esau, “Who was he then that I blessed?” It is difficult to imagine that Isaac did not know it was Jacob who did this, at this point.

But here’s the last phrase of this section, “Yes, and he will be blessed.” There was no undoing it. Jacob was blessed in error, but he will be blessed. What was said was said, and it will come to pass for several reasons. First, the eldest son’s blessing was an integral part of the life of those that believed in, and worshipped, the God of Abraham and Isaac. It really made a difference. Secondly, Isaac had no intention of withdrawing or denouncing his blessing, as he himself was a man of his word. Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, Jacob had a tremendous role to play in the covenant that God had established with his grand-father Abraham, and he would need that blessing to accomplish it, regardless of how he God.

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Friday, September 04, 2009

A Closer Look At Deception -- Genesis 27:18-29


Then he came to his father and said, "My father." And he said, "Here I am. Who are you, my son?" Jacob said to his father, "I am Esau your firstborn; I have done as you told me. Get up, please, sit and eat of my game, that you may bless me." Isaac said to his son, "How is it that you have it so quickly, my son?" And he said, "Because the LORD your God caused {it} to happen to me." Then Isaac said to Jacob, "Please come close, that I may feel you, my son, whether you are really my son Esau or not." So Jacob came close to Isaac his father, and he felt him and said, "The voice is the voice of Jacob, but the hands are the hands of Esau." He did not recognize him, because his hands were hairy like his brother Esau's hands; so he blessed him. And he said, "Are you really my son Esau?" And he said, "I am." So he said, "Bring it to me, and I will eat of my son's game, that I may bless you." And he brought it to him, and he ate; he also brought him wine and he drank. Then his father Isaac said to him, "Please come close and kiss me, my son." So he came close and kissed him; and when he smelled the smell of his garments, he blessed him and said, "See, the smell of my son Is like the smell of a field which the LORD has blessed; Now may God give you of the dew of heaven, And of the fatness of the earth, And an abundance of grain and new wine; May peoples serve you, And nations bow down to you; Be master of your brothers, And may your mother's sons bow down to you. Cursed be those who curse you, And blessed be those who bless you."


Let’s follow as this plot unfolds. Jacob, posing as Esau, goes to Isaac his old, fairly blind father to steal his brother’s blessing. He calls to Isaac saying, “My father” in a way that implies ‘may I come in?’ Isaac answers him and asks him to clarify whether he is Esau or Jacob. And Jacob lies saying, “I am Esau your firstborn.” I find that to be an interesting choice of words. Would not the simple lie, “I am Esau” have been enough? Why add “your firstborn”? Isaac was old and quite blind, but not necessarily senile so he would not remember that Esau was indeed his firstborn. But Jacob had a purpose for going there and it all related to him passing off as the firstborn.

Jacob wants to get on with scheme. He tells Isaac that he has done as he had requested and now it was time for Isaac, who had likely been lying down due to his old age, to get up, sit properly and eat the game dish that Jacob, posing as Esau, had apparently hunted and prepared. Everything aimed to getting Isaac to bless Jacob. All the deception and all the interest in having Isaac eat a hearty meal was about getting the firstborn’s blessings and very little to do with showing love and care for his aged father. Sometimes we behave exactly the same way to others or to God Himself. We serve them or Him out of a personal goal we have in mind. We deceive them about our real love and concern so that we may accomplish what we want, or worse still, how we may appear to others. But neither people (as Isaac in this case) nor God in our own lives, are easily fooled.

Issac asks, “How did you catch and prepare the game so quickly, my son?” And then Jacob utters one of the most serious lies he or us could ever utter. He says, “God did it!” In fact, he implies ‘God helped me’ and in this case, he tells Isaac that it was ‘his God indeed’. We so often make the mistake of associating God with our own choices, doings or misdoings. While we can and must recognize God’s active role in our lives and give Him the credit for all that we accomplish, we cannot and must not attribute to Him what is done in disobedience or under conditions of sin. Jacob took that one step further and intentionally told his father that God was with him in what he was doing, when in actual fact he was participating in an out and out deceptive lie.

It appears that Isaac was not swallowing Jacob’s explanation that he was able to do this so quickly simply because God wanted it to be like that. So, he requests that Jacob gets down close to him so that he could feel him and verify that indeed he was Esau as he claimed to be. Rebekah must have known her husband well to have heeded Jacob’s concern about not being hairy like Esau, and to give him the goatskins as sensual camouflage to deceive Isaac. Even after feeling Jacob, Isaac said, “it sounds like Jacob, but he feels like Esau” and based on that, Isaac blessed Jacob who was posing as Esau. In fact, he still asked Jacob, “Are you really my son Esau?” Even after touching him and having decided to bless him, he still had doubt. When Jacob lied again stating he was indeed Esau, Isaac completes the process by asking for the food Jacob had prepared.

I have often wondered as to whether or not one could blame Isaac in this whole situation? If there was any doubt whatsoever, why did he not want more verification concerning who was standing before him? But isn’t that just what we humans resort to so easily – trying to assign blame? Does it really matter? The fact is both Jacob and Rebekeh deceived Isaac. He took the dish that Rebekeh had prepared, believing it was from the game that his eldest son Esau had caught, that Esau himself had prepared, and that Esau himself was giving to him. He ate the meal and drank the wine that Jacob also offered him. Perhaps it was customary to drink wine with every meal or perhaps there was an intention to detrimentally impact Isaac’s senses even more in hopes that Jacob would not be discovered as the imposter that he was.

Isaac doubts it is Esau, feels him, decides it is, asks for the food and eats then, and then with some doubt still in his mind asks Jacob posing as Esau to come close to him so that he can kiss him as he continues the blessing he is to bestow upon him. Jacob obliges and Isaac smells his garments eliminating any doubt in his mind as he reflects that the smell of Jacob’s clothes had the smell of a field (where Esau the hunter hung around most of the day). And with that as more evidence, Isaac blesses Jacob.

As I consider the concept of parental blessing, I realize that the majority who still believe in it see the words themselves as simply an expressed desire or powerful influence on what a child’s future may be. Because of the bond between parent and child, it is hoped that the child will do all he or she can to bring about the predicted circumstances of his or her parent’s blessing. Others, including myself, are more prone to see a parental blessing as a prayer to God imploring Him to bring about the expressed desires of the blessing in the life of one’s child. I have taken that approach in describing Isaac’s blessing of Jacob below.

He asks God to give Jacob the greatest prosperity possible as implied by that which comes as a result of morning dew falling on the crops. He also asks that Jacob be blessed with wealth through the ownership of cattle, along with an abundance of grain and wine that grew well in those areas. All of this stemming from the rain that God provided from the heavens. He asks God to bless Jacob as a leader of others and in particular that many peoples of the earth may serve him and his people, some in subjection to him. Following that, he tells Jacob to be a master over his brothers, implying not only Esau but also those that came afterwards from his family.

The blessing concludes with Isaac asking God to bless Jacob in a unique way that involved all others that would interact with him. Jacob asks God to curse his enemies and bless those that bless Jacob. This request is indeed based on God’s own blessing of Isaac’s own father, Abram as we read in Genesis 12:3. It is indeed necessary for us as parents who may give our children a parental blessing that we ensure our prayer for them is in keeping with what God wants for them.


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Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Rebekah Orchestrates the Deception -- Genesis 27:11-17


Jacob answered his mother Rebekah, "Behold, Esau my brother is a hairy man and I am a smooth man. Perhaps my father will feel me, then I will be as a deceiver in his sight, and I will bring upon myself a curse and not a blessing." But his mother said to him, "Your curse be on me, my son; only obey my voice, and go, get them for me." So he went and got them, and brought them to his mother; and his mother made savory food such as his father loved. Then Rebekah took the best garments of Esau her elder son, which were with her in the house, and put them on Jacob her younger son. And she put the skins of the young goats on his hands and on the smooth part of his neck. She also gave the savory food and the bread, which she had made, to her son Jacob.

Having listened to his mother’s scheme, Jacob doesn’t object outright. Instead he presents some difficulties that would need to be overcome. He points out that Esau was a hairy man while he, Jacob, was more devoid of body hair on his body. He knew his father, though he was quite blind, would be able to sense that he was Jacob if he touched him. And at that point, when Jacob would be found out, he would be a deceiver in his father’s sight. As a deceiver, Jacob foresaw the possibility of being cursed and missing the blessing. Two interesting points we should not miss. First, in the mind of man (Jacob in this case), we only become deceivers when and if we are found out. Not so in God’s eyes. Our deception starts at the point of either plotting to deceive or agreeing to the plot. Secondly, our biggest concern about being caught is not the hurt that our deception would cause others (Isaac in this instance) but rather that we would be cursed and miss out on a possible blessing. How sad that is. It says a lot about our human nature after the fall of Adam and Eve.

And then, of course, there is always the Enemy that sometimes appears in the guise of friend, or even a relative (Rebekeh, Jacob’s mother in this case). She convinces him not to worry about it by even offering to take the curse herself (as if she could). All Jacob had to do, according to her, was to obey her voice and go get the game that she had asked for so she could prepare a savory dish for Isaac, before Esau got back.

Convinced by the Enemy, Jacob does as his mother instructed and Rebekeh prepares a tasty dish that her husband Isaac loved. She then dresses her younger son, Jacob, with her oldest son Esau’s best clothes to further complete the planned deception. She must have heeded Jacob’s concern about Esau being more hairy than him for she also took the skins of the young goats (presumably ones she had used in making the dish) and placed them on Jacob’s arms and neck. Finally, she gives him the food she had prepared, making him ready now to face Isaac his father and get the blessing that was rightfully Esau’s.

I have to stop here for a moment, and those readers that know the rest of the story will understand why, to simply ask a question. How do we deal in our mind with the fact that God’s will is being accomplished (as we’ll see in the chapters ahead) through means of deception and lying, especially by people (such as Rebekeh and Jacob, and earlier Abraham and Isaac) who otherwise were instruments and children of God as part of His people? I think one possible way is to consider that God’s perfect will in a perfect world would have been accomplished in another way. But given that we are fallen, God knows that we will not always allow Him to work out His perfect will His way, but instead our sin and imperfect hearts cause us to do things that impede that perfect will. God then chooses to use what we have done in a creative way to achieve His plans while never allowing us to get the best of Him. Put another way, He never allows us to mess His will up, but He accepts our actions and works with them to achieve His goal for others and us.

Also of interest here is that we see giants of the Bible like Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob behave in very human and often ungodly ways, and yet God still uses them and calls them His people. This is not intended as a license to consciously sin knowing God will forgive and work with our sin, but rather to realize that the God to whom we’ve entrusted our lives is willing to accept us with our faults and our sin, and is always willing to forgive.

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Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Rebekah Plots on Jacob’s Behalf -- Genesis 27:5-10


Rebekah was listening while Isaac spoke to his son Esau. So when Esau went to the field to hunt for game to bring home, Rebekah said to her son Jacob, "Behold, I heard your father speak to your brother Esau, saying, 'Bring me some game and prepare a savory dish for me, that I may eat, and bless you in the presence of the LORD before my death.' "Now therefore, my son, listen to me as I command you. Go now to the flock and bring me two choice young goats from there, that I may prepare them as a savory dish for your father, such as he loves. Then you shall bring it to your father, that he may eat, so that he may bless you before his death."

It is most reasonable for Isaac’s wife to have heard what Isaac asked of Esau and of what her husband’s intention was with respect to the blessing he was about to give. They likely had not jointly discussed it in advance, for this was indeed a cultural tradition. And if they had, they likely did not agree as to whether or not Esau really deserved it, given that he had married out of the faith and that he and his wives had made life miserable for Isaac and Rebekah.

But what is not acceptable is for her to plot with her other son, Jacob, to go against her husband’s wishes. Rebekah not only informs Jacob of the situation and gives him advice as to what he should do, but she offers to actually prepare the dish on his behalf for Jacob to present to Isaac, all before Esau could get it done. You will notice that while Esau had to go out into the wild fields and catch wild game that takes longer, Jacob was being advised to simply go into the backyard so to speak, to the flock the family kept handy, and select two young goats. Jacob was to take a short-cut rather than play by the rules of his father’s request to Esau, in a game he should not have played at all. Isaac’s instructions were that he wanted ‘game’ hunted for him with a bow and arrow, not a goat from the backyard. Oftentimes, we try to get a blessing from God without being obedient to His requests. That’s what Rebekah wanted Jacob to do.

Deception was clearly involved. It reminds me of how the serpent deceived Eve in Genesis 3, and then how Abraham plotted to deceive others about who Sarah really was. In fact, even Isaac had lied about who Rebekah was (Genesis 26:7). God hates deception between Him and us and between others and us. He may tolerate it, allow it, or work with it as He did in the case of Abraham and Isaac, but He would much rather prefer to work on behalf of a person who is honest and totally dependent on Him rather than one who conjures up lies when he is afraid or is being thwarted in his/her desires or wishes as Rebekah was here.

Rebekah tells Jacob that he should then take the dish she made and quickly give it to his father so that he may gain the blessing. All of this she felt would work because Isaac was old and could not see clearly enough (see 27:1) to be able to distinguish between Esau and Jacob as to which one was the bearer of the savory dish placed before him.

Why Rebekah did this is open to conjecture at this point in the story. It may have been because she loved Jacob more than Esau or it may have been because she had more to gain from a blessed Jacob than a blessed Esau given the history of the parties. But in no way can it be said that it was to help God with His fulfillment of the covenant He had made with both Abraham and later Isaac. God could deliver on the covenant without the conniving assistance of Rebekah.

There are times in life when we need to be very careful not to pursue what may be seen as immoral or unethical behavior under the guise of “we did it to help bring God’s plan about.” Woe are we if that were the case. Having said that, however, I was today reminded at lunch with a Christian business associate that “missionaries actually smuggled Bibles into communist countries against the law” and “we all agree we are subject to the laws of the land.” How do we justify these two positions – not assisting God unethically and smuggling Bibles into a country?

The main argument or rationale in favor of such a program is that Christians need to be able to place a high priority on following God’s plan for saving the world and while doing so includes being obedient to the political authorities God has allowed to rule, we are excused from so doing where such obedience contradicts God’s laws. The problem arises with the definition of God’s laws. There is no law in scripture that specifically says “Thou shalt smuggle Bibles into Communist countries.” That simply is man’s selected way of “evangelizing Communist countries” which we would all agree is part of God’s commandment to us as given in the Great Commission. God may choose to allow us to employ such a method of our design, and may even protect us in so doing. And He certainly does not reject the fruit that such a method may ultimately yield (many came to know God personally through smuggled Bibles). However, there is no way that we can, with any certainty and assurance, say that smuggling Bibles was indeed God’s plan and His preferred way of doing things.

Let us return to our Jacob and Esau saga and see how that pans out in the section that follows.

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