Saturday, January 25, 2020

In The Beginning. Day 119, Laban Deceives Jacob

Jacob has worked seven years for Rachel's hand in marriage. It's time now for the wedding to take place and Rachel's father Laban deceives Jacob in a similar way to how Jacob deceived Isaac. If anybody thought Jacob had "gotten away" with his ill treatment of his father, he hasn't. He's about to reap what he's sown. This is an example of poetic justice.

Our passage today begins with what seems like a crude comment by Jacob to Laban. At the end of the seven years, Jacob somewhat graphically asks for the marriage to take place immediately. "Then Jacob said to Laban, 'Give me my wife. My time is completed, and I want to make love to her.'" (Genesis 29:21) It's hard to imagine a man speaking this way to the father of his fiancee. I know it's a private conversation between two men, and I could understand Jacob making a remark to one of his male friends like, "I can't wait to marry Rachel and be alone with her." To speak this plainly to Rachel's father is a little shocking to me but it could be that Jacob has asked several times, since completing his service, for Laban to set the wedding date. It may be that he has to speak boldly to show Laban that he's tired of delays and that he intends to wait no longer for Laban to fulfill his promise.

For seven years Jacob has had to eat dinner every night with the woman he loves. He's had to watch her beautiful face by the candlelight on the table. He's had to smell her perfume as she works about the house. He's had to watch her walk back and forth to the well for water for Laban's sheep. I think Jacob is just about out of his mind by now from wanting to consummate his union with the woman he's so crazy about. He's a single man in the prime of his life and he naturally has physical needs, but he's not allowed to embrace or kiss the woman he thinks about day and night, much less go any further with her.

Laban may have resisted setting the wedding date in fear Jacob would return to Beersheba with Rachel instead of staying on to keep running the estate. But now he knows he has to do something because Jacob is fed up with all the delays. He arranges the wedding feast and invites all his friends and neighbors to witness the ceremony, but he has figured out a way to prevent Jacob from leaving his employ. He's going to pull a switcheroo and give Jacob the wrong bride.

"So Laban brought together all the people of the place and gave a feast. But when evening came, he took his daughter Leah and brought her to Jacob, and Jacob made love to her." (Genesis 29:22-23) The bride would have had her face veiled during the legal ceremony, then she would not have been brought to Jacob's living quarters until after sundown. In the dark he didn't know he'd married the wrong woman. Leah doesn't speak up. I don't know whether it's because she is in love with Jacob, but later on the Bible appears to indicate that she does love him. I don't know whether her father threatened her into silence. A man in those days could give his daughter's hand in marriage to anyone he chose, regardless of his daughter's feelings on the matter. Leah would have been brought up to obey her father without question and to recognize him as the person who makes all her important decisions for her. If Laban instructed her to remain silent all night, Leah would have remained silent all night.

Leah's maid also keeps her mouth shut when she arrives with Leah carrying Leah's bag of clothing and other personal items. Laban, like other well-to-do men of his day, gives his daughter a maid from among his own servants. This maid will now leave his household and serve his daughter for the rest of her life. "And Laban gave his servant Zilpah to his daughter as her attendant." (Genesis 29:24)

When daylight arrives, the woman nestled in Jacob's arms isn't Rachel. "When morning came, there was Leah! So Jacob said to Laban, 'What is this you have done to me? I served you for Rachel, didn't I? Why have you deceived me?'" (Genesis 29:25) Jacob marches out of the house in self-righteous indignation to find his father-in-law and demand an explanation. He says, "How dare you pull a trick on me like this? What have I done to deserve such treatment? I kept my end of the agreement by providing you with seven years of free labor. I was honest with you; why weren't you honest with me?" The reason I say Jacob is "self-righteous" is because he's being hypocritical. His father Isaac had the right to ask him the same questions he's asking Laban. After Jacob deceived his father, Isaac could have said, "Why did you not love and respect me enough to refrain from pulling a trick like this on me? What have I done to deserve such treatment?"

Laban's reaction is cold and unfeeling. He dismisses Jacob's words and justifies himself by referring to an ancient custom of Mesopotamia. "Laban replied, 'It is not our custom here to give the younger daughter in marriage before the older one. Finish this daughter's bridal week; then we will give you the younger one also, in return for another seven years of work.'" (Genesis 29:26-27) Even if this is a custom where Laban lives, there would be no excuse for not informing Jacob of the custom when making the original agreement with him. Laban only observes customs when it suits him. If a custom can be used for his benefit, he uses it. If a custom doesn't benefit him, he ignores it. When he and Jacob made the original agreement, it hadn't yet occurred to him that he could pull this switcheroo and keep Jacob around longer without paying him a dime. So during those seven years, or perhaps just during the last few weeks while Jacob insisted on a wedding date, Laban remembered the custom regarding the eldest daughter and he came up with the idea of deceiving Jacob.

It's not true that Jacob has to work seven more years before marrying Rachel, which is a common misconception. If Laban insisted on seven more years of work before giving Rachel to Jacob, he risked Jacob's refusal. Jacob might have wanted nothing more to do with Laban or his family and he might have packed his suitcase and departed. Laban is going to give Rachel to Jacob after Jacob spends a week being a husband to Leah. That way Jacob will have to work seven more years in order to keep his favorite bride. Laban isn't above taking Rachel back into his household if Jacob fails to fulfill the extra seven years. In those days a father could take his daughter back from a husband he deemed unworthy and then the couple would be legally divorced.

Jacob is trapped in this situation because of his enormous love for Rachel. Because he still wants desperately to be married to her, he has no choice but to agree to Laban's terms. But first he must live with Leah as her husband for a full week. This is his legal obligation. In Jacob's time it was the law that a man had to spend an entire week being a husband to his wife, even if it was a marriage made for financial or political reasons only. By being her husband (physically speaking) for a week, the man could never have the marriage annulled by claiming he didn't consummate it. This protected the woman from being thrown out of the house and perhaps not being able to find another husband to take care of her. The marriage week also provided her with an opportunity to become pregnant, which would solidify her position in her husband's household. Plus, being a mother was considered the ultimate achievement for women in those days. A woman who had been married but who had borne no children was deeply pitied. A woman who had no son to provide for her in her old age could easily end up homeless and begging on the street corners after her husband died. There were very few laws in those times to protect women, but this is an example of one that Jacob is obligated to obey, and he obeys it. "And Jacob did so. He finished the week with Leah, and then Laban gave him his daughter Rachel to be his wife. Laban gave his servant Bilhah to his daughter Rachel as her attendant. Jacob made love to Rachel also, and his love for Rachel was greater than his love for Leah. And he worked for Laban another seven years." (Genesis 29:28-30)

I don't think Jacob harbors any ill will toward Leah. He knows she's a pawn in her father's game and that she has no real say in the matter. It's not her fault she was used in Laban's deception. Jacob will provide for her all their married life and I don't think he will ever deliberately mistreat her, but he will never love her like he loves Rachel. The only person I truly feel sorry for in this mess is Leah. The Lord is going to feel sorry for her too and He's going to show her a great deal of compassion in the coming years. Not only will she be a better godly influence on Jacob than Rachel, but she will be more fruitful in bearing children than Rachel. The Lord will choose Leah for the honor of bearing a son who will be the ancestor of God's own Son. Leah will be the mother of Judah, whose line will be the royal line of Israel. She---not Rachel---will be in the family tree of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Friday, January 24, 2020

In The Beginning. Day 118, Jacob Asks For Rachel's Hand In Marriage

Jacob is in Harran staying with his mother's brother Laban. Because Jacob is gifted at estate management, he's been working hard every day to help his uncle Laban in exchange for his room and board. But Laban recognizes that the work Jacob does is too valuable to perform without a salary. Jacob is going above and beyond what any guest would normally do. We will learn that Laban isn't a man of very good character, so I think he offers a salary to Jacob in today's passage not so much because he feels guilty for accepting Jacob's work for free but because he wants to entice Jacob to stay in Harran. Laban's estate is flourishing under Jacob's management, as we will learn later on during Jacob's years there, and Laban doesn't want to lose him.

"After Jacob had stayed with him a whole month, Laban said to him, 'Just because you are a relative of mine, should you work for me for nothing? Tell me what your wages should be.'" (Genesis 29:14b-15) He says, "Jacob, I don't want to take advantage of you. You've been a big help to me out of the kindness of your heart because you're my kinsman. You're working as hard as anyone else here is and you should be compensated. Name your price."

Jacob names his price. "Now Laban had two daughters; the name of the older was Leah, and the name of the younger was Rachel. Leah had weak eyes, but Rachel had a lovely figure and was beautiful. Jacob was in love with Rachel and said, 'I'll work seven years in return for your younger daughter Rachel.'" (Genesis 29:16-18)

Scholars are divided on their opinion of what the Bible means in the original Hebrew when it says Leah had "weak eyes". Some think she was nearsighted and that this might have made her squint unattractively in a time when eyeglasses weren't available to fix her problem. Others think it means she had a soft, kind look in her eyes or that her eyes were her prettiest feature---maybe her only pretty feature. I think that whatever the Bible is saying about Leah's eyes is a compliment since in the same passage the Bible compliments Rachel. So maybe what's being said here is something like: "Leah had lovely eyes, but Rachel had a beautiful figure and face." You can tell a lot about a person by the look in their eyes, and I think if Jacob had spent more time looking into Leah's eyes he would have seen that she was a better choice for him than Rachel. As time goes on we will see why Leah was likely the woman the Lord would have chosen for Jacob instead of Rachel. But Jacob's falls for Rachel on her looks alone, and he's not the first or the last person to choose a mate based on superficial qualities. I think he falls in love with Rachel not so much for her personality but because he's physically attracted to her.

Seven years of hard work is a much higher bride price than any father would expect a prospective son-in-law to pay. It's exorbitant, really. If we were to add up what an estate manager would make in those days during seven years, the sum would be far above anything any man would ask in exchange for his daughter's hand in marriage. But maybe Jacob doesn't want to risk being turned down. Whatever we might think about him choosing a wife based on looks alone, at least he's serious and his intentions are honorable. No man who is just trifling with a woman would offer to work seven years for her for free.

Jacob makes Laban an offer that Laban (being a greedy man) won't refuse. Laban knows seven years of labor is too much to ask from any man who wants Rachel's hand in marriage but he accepts. I tend to think Laban can hardly believe his luck in getting seven years of valuable free labor in exchange for giving his daughter in marriage. "Laban said, 'It's better that I give her to you than to some other man. Stay here with me.'" (Genesis 29:19) Laban's statement sounds quite casual, as if on the inside he's not absolutely delighted with this turn of events. I picture him putting on a serious expression while he pretends to mull the idea over thoughtfully in his mind. Then he says to Jacob, "Hmmm. Well, she's not likely to make a better match. I doubt any of these guys in Harran will offer more for her, plus you're my kinsman and I like you. Why not? I accept you as my future son-in-law."

"So Jacob served seven years to get Rachel, but they seemed like only a few days to him because of his love for her." (Genesis 29:20) Jacob's feelings for Rachel are genuine. He may not have put enough thought into his choice of bride, but no one can accuse him of not being so in love with her that he'd do anything to make her his wife. Because he loves her so much, working seven years for free seems like a small price to pay to win her.

Christ felt that way about us! He was willing to pay any price to win us back from sin and destruction. He would have done anything----and He did---to make us His bride. He was willing to endure the scorn and the taunts, and being spit on and cursed, and being beaten to within an inch of His life, and dying a torturous death on a cross in order to make us His forever. Just as Jacob considered seven years of work a small price to pay for his bride, Christ considered everything he endured a small price to pay for His bride, which is why the Bible tells us, "For the joy set before Him He endured the cross". (Hebrews 12:2) Christ's suffering, death, burial, and resurrection were intended to accomplish something. He was paying a price for us that we couldn't pay for ourselves. He was able to get through all these difficult things that happened to His human body because of the joy ahead of Him. Christ is going to live with and enjoy the presence of His bride for all eternity. Like any man who is truly in love, that fact outweighed anything He had to do to make it happen.

Thursday, January 23, 2020

In The Beginning. Day 117, Jacob Meets Rachel

Jacob is on his way to his mother's family. As he comes near Laban's hometown, he meets shepherds at a well. "Then Jacob continued on his journey and came to the land of the eastern peoples. There he saw a well in the open country, with three flocks of sheep lying near it because the flocks were watered from that well. The stone over the mouth of the well was large. When all the flocks were gathered there, the shepherds would roll the stone away from the well's mouth and water the sheep. Then they would return the stone to its place over the mouth of the well." (Genesis 29:1-3)

What a welcome sight this well must be after his long journey. Not only will he find refreshment here, but the shepherds he meets here know Jacob's family members from Harran and will point out Rachel as she arrives with her father's sheep. "Jacob asked the shepherds, 'My brothers, where are you from?' 'We're from Harran,' they replied. 'He said to them, 'Do you know Laban, Nahor's grandson?' 'Yes, we know him,' they answered. Then Jacob asked them, 'Is he well?' 'Yes, he is,' they said, 'and here comes his daughter Rachel with the sheep.'" (Genesis 29:4-6)

Is this the same well where Abraham's servant Eliezer met Rebekah when he came to this area to seek a wife for Isaac? Some scholars think so; the Bible doesn't say. But it's clear that the Lord has given Jacob success. Not only has he arrived at his destination safely but the first people he comes in contact with know the very man he's come here to see. And now Laban's beautiful daughter approaches the well and Jacob, being a single man faced with an attractive woman, wants the shepherds to make themselves scarce so he can speak with her alone. "'Look,' he said, 'the sun is still high; it is not time for the flocks to be gathered. Water the sheep and take them back to pasture.'" (Genesis 29:7)

It's likely that these shepherds are teenage boys. Watching the sheep was a job normally assigned to a family's youngest sons who were not yet mature enough to be tasked with conducting more important business. An example of this is David, who was the youngest son in his family and whose father gave him the job of watching the sheep. I don't think Jacob would try to give orders to a group of grown men the way he gives orders to these shepherds. I think he speaks to them this way because he's probably old enough to be their father.

But the young men don't do as he says because it goes against the way things are done here at this well. "'We can't,' they replied, 'until all the flocks are gathered and the stone has been rolled away from the mouth of the well. Then we will water the sheep.'" (Genesis 29:8) There are more flocks coming. Their custom is to wait until everyone is present who uses this well and then they roll the stone away and draw out water to serve all the animals at once. It wouldn't be courteous of them to roll the stone away, water their own flocks, roll the stone back, and leave before the other shepherds get there. This is a communal watering hole and gathering place where shepherds enjoy meeting each other each day and helping each other water their flocks. Jacob has to resign himself to talking to Rachel in front of an audience.

"While he was still talking with them, Rachel came with her father's sheep, for he was a shepherd. When Jacob saw Rachel daughter of his uncle Laban, and Laban's sheep, he went over and rolled the stone away from the mouth of the well and watered his uncle's sheep." (Genesis 29:9-10) Jacob wants to flex his muscles in front of this attractive woman whose father is obviously well-to-do judging by the number of sheep Rachel is leading. We have been told the stone over the well is large, and it must have taken considerable effort if Jacob rolled it away all by himself, so some scholars suggest that a few of the young shepherds may have assisted him. Either way, he wants to be noticed as the man who rolls the stone away for Rachel and he wants to be chivalrous by doing the work of watering her sheep so she doesn't have to do it herself.

He talks with her while he waters the sheep, introducing himself and explaining that he's here to see her father. He kisses her next. Not on the mouth, I'm sure, but in the way a family member would kiss their kinsman on each cheek. "Then Jacob kissed Rachel and began to weep aloud. He had told Rachel that he was a relative of her father and a son of Rebekah. So she ran and told her father." (Genesis 29:11-12) Jacob makes their family connection clear before he greets her in this familiar way. He's not doing anything improper by giving her a customary kinsman's kiss in this manner. He's so relieved to have made it there safely and to have almost immediately met one of Laban's children that he's overwhelmed with emotion and begins to weep happy tears.

"As soon as Laban heard the news about Jacob, his sister's son, he hurried to meet him. He embraced him and kissed him and brought him to his home, and there Jacob told him all these things. Then Laban said to him, 'You are my own flesh and blood.'" (Genesis 29:13-14) Jacob describes his journey to Harran and how he was providentially led to meeting Rachel at the well, much in the same way that Eliezer previously told Laban and his family about his journey to Harran and about how he met Rebekah at the well. The ability to tell an interesting story was a highly valued talent in those times and Laban's family would have hung on every word as they sat around the dinner table. Does Jacob tell Laban how he deceived Isaac or that he stole Esau's blessing and that Esau has vowed to kill him? I very much doubt it. That wouldn't make a good impression. He wouldn't be presenting himself in a very trustworthy light and it's important that this family makes him welcome.

Does Jacob tell Laban that he's come to Harran to procure a believing wife because his parents don't want him marrying a woman of Canaan? I think it's possible. In tomorrow's passage Jacob will offer to work seven years for Laban without pay in exchange for Rachel's hand in marriage, so he may have made it clear from the outset that he's looking for a marriage partner. Whatever Jacob tells Laban at this first meeting, I think the family spends an enjoyable evening together and that Laban is pleased by the arrival of Jacob, so pleased that he basically says, "My house is your house. You are my flesh and blood and you are welcome here."

The Lord has kept His promise to watch over Jacob wherever he goes. Life in Harran won't be easy for Jacob and he will become the victim of a deception as bad as the one he perpetrated upon Isaac. He will be cheated and mistreated by his kinsman in several different ways. Jacob is an ambitious and crafty man but Laban is even more ambitious and crafty. Laban is willing to be dishonest when it suits him. But this is all part of the Lord's plan in training Jacob for what He his will for Jacob's life. Jacob needs a dose of his own medicine. He needs to be on the receiving end of deception and dishonesty so he can learn how vile such things are in the sight of God. What he endures in Harran won't always be pleasant but it's necessary for the building of his character. God knows what kind of man Jacob can be, but Jacob needs some discipline and refinement before he can become that man.

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

In The Beginning. Day 116, Jacob's Dream At Bethel

Jacob is on his way to stay with his uncle Laban in order to avoid the wrath of Esau and to have a good marriage arranged for himself. On the first day of his journey he apparently travels about forty miles from his father's home at Beersheba, according to some commentaries, ending up in the area that will come to be called Bethel.

"Jacob left Beersheba and set out for Harran. When he reached a certain place, he stopped for the night because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones there, he put it under his head and lay down to sleep." (Genesis 28:10-11) A relatively fit person can walk about four miles per hour on level ground, so based on that it would take ten hours to travel forty miles, and that's without any rest stops. The ground Jacob has covered is likely not all smooth and level. If he has truly traveled forty miles in one day then he must have set out at first light and kept going until it was too dark to see. The Bible makes no mention of him traveling on a donkey or camel, although he might have, but in Chapter 28 we get the sense that Jacob is utterly alone. And yet he isn't, for the Lord is with him. Sometimes we feel utterly alone, don't we? We'll be going through a hard time and we'll be trying to make it through the long hours of the night all by ourselves. But the Lord is with us, even when in our distress we can't feel His presence. Jacob doesn't feel the Lord's presence when he lies down in exhaustion and loneliness, but the Lord is there.

"He had a dream in which he saw a stairway resting on the earth, with its top reaching to heaven, and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it." (Genesis 28:12) Scholars have differing opinions on what the stairway represents. But the Lord Jesus said something that I feel goes along with this passage: "Very truly I tell you, you will see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man." (John 1:51) In the Lord's statement, He is the stairway. He is the only way to heaven and to the Father. I think perhaps the stairway in Jacob's dream symbolizes Christ. And from the top of the stairway, God the Father speaks to Jacob.

"There above it stood the Lord, and He said: 'I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac. I will give you and your descendants the land on which you are lying. Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east, to the north and to the south. All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring. I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.'" (Genesis 28:13-15) This is the covenant promise, the same promise God made to Abraham and to Isaac. As far as we know, this is the first time the Lord personally speaks to Jacob, and when He does He makes it clear that no matter how hopeless things may look right now, all is not lost. The covenant has not been broken. God is still going to keep His promise to make a great nation from the family line of Abraham and God still intends for the Redeemer to come from this family line and more specifically from Jacob's line. Jacob hasn't made wise decisions but his puny human mistakes are not powerful enough to thwart the plans of God. As Jacob lies alone in a field in the dark, he must feel like he's irreparably messed up his life. He won the birthright and the blessing but he's now living in exile from the very things the birthright and the blessing should have guaranteed him. He thought he was the son of Isaac through whom God would fulfill the covenant promise, but now he thinks he has negated God's promise by his actions. Sometimes, of course, we can behave in such a way that we cause ourselves to miss out on blessings the Lord wants to give us, but there are some plans and promises of God that are irrevocable. Nothing any man or woman does can change them, and this is an example of an irrevocable promise of God. The Redeemer is coming from the family of Abraham, through his son Isaac, and through Isaac's son Jacob.

"When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he thought, 'Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it.'" (Genesis 28:16) I love this verse! How many times in our lives have we felt alone in our sorrows only to realize later that the Lord was with us the whole time, strengthening us and protecting us? I've been through times of such distress that I couldn't feel the presence of God, but looking back on those times I can see that He was with me every second, giving me the strength to go on day after day.

Jacob has been driven away from all that's familiar to him. Whether or not he ever felt the presence of God in Beersheba, in his mind he accepted that the Lord was there with his family. He knew his father worshiped the Lord and that the Lord had done great things for both his father Isaac and for his grandfather Abraham. But out here in the dark wilderness? Out here so far away from family and friends? Jacob couldn't feel certain in his mind that God was in this place. To his way of thinking, perhaps God stayed behind in Beersheba with Isaac. Perhaps he thought God wasn't big enough to be in more than one place at once. But on this night Jacob gets his first glimpse of the awesome omnipresence of God. God is powerful enough to be everywhere all at once, and God is able to be in Beersheba with Isaac and to be in the wilderness with Jacob at the same time. What a revelation this must have been! Jacob is so overwhelmed by this knowledge that he begins to develop a fear (a holy and healthy reverence) for the Lord.

"He was afraid and said, 'How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven.'" (Genesis 28:17) As we said earlier in Genesis, the places where God meets with us and speaks with us become holy ground to us. It could be that up til now Jacob thought God only met with His followers at the altars Isaac and Abraham set up. This is similar to the erroneous belief that we can only pray to God and meet with God in church. But God doesn't live at church. God goes home with each of us. God goes with us to work and to school. God goes with us to the doctor or to the hospital. God stands beside us while we grieve over a casket at the funeral home or graveyard. Jacob knows now that God is accessible in more places than at Isaac's altar in Beersheba. God is accessible in the night and in the desert. God is going to be accessible when Jacob arrives in Harran. But to commemorate the first place God spoke personally to him, Jacob sets up a small altar and gives the place where God spoke to him a name.

"Early the next morning Jacob took the stone he had placed under his head and set it up as a pillar and poured oil on top of it. He called that place Bethel, though the city used to be called Luz." (Genesis 28:18-19) The nearby town was called Luz, which means "almond tree". Jacob may have been trying to reach Luz by nightfall but didn't quite make it there, having to sleep out in the open instead. But if that's the case then I think God intended for Jacob not to reach his destination. Would Jacob have been in the right frame of mind in a noisy, busy Canaanite city to hear the voice of God in the night? Or was the silence of a lonely campsite a better setting? Because the Lord spoke to Jacob in this location, he names it Bethel which means "house of God". There is a great deal of value in going to church, but the house of God can be anywhere we want to talk to God. We can talk to him while we drive in our cars or while we kneel beside our beds or while we bow our heads in church. Wherever we commune with the Lord is sanctified by His presence and becomes holy ground.

"Then Jacob made a vow, saying, 'If God will be with me and will watch over me on this journey I am taking and will give me food to eat and clothes to wear so that I return safely to my father's household, then the Lord will be my God and this stone that I have set up as a pillar will be God's house, and of all that You give me I will give you a tenth.'" (Genesis 28:20-22) Jacob's personal relationship with the Lord is so new that he wants to see the Lord prove Himself. He doesn't yet have experience in walking with the Lord in his daily life and observing how the Lord works things out. He knows what the Lord promised him but at this point he's too new in the faith to wholeheartedly accept that when the Lord says, "I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go," He really will be with him every second of every day, providing for him and protecting him. I don't feel the need to criticize Jacob for not yet being able to place all of his trust in the Lord. We all have to start somewhere and this is where Jacob starts his walk with the Lord. When you were a new believer, you didn't quite know what to expect from the Lord, did you? Even the act of praying was new and unfamiliar to you. Studying and memorizing His word was a habit you had to learn. That's where Jacob is right now. He knows what the Lord has said but he hasn't yet seen the Lord in action fulfilling what He's promised. As each day goes on, and as Jacob sees the Lord working in every circumstance that comes his way, Jacob's faith will grow.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

In The Beginning. Day 115, Jacob Leaves Town

Esau threatened to kill Jacob just as soon as their father dies. Isaac is kept in the dark about this alarming turn of events. Rebekah knows Jacob must get away from Esau until Esau's anger subsides, so she convinces Isaac to send Jacob away to her brother's house in order to arrange a marriage for him. Neither Isaac nor Rebecca wants Jacob marrying a pagan woman. They are already grieved by the two pagan women Esau has married and they don't want a third idolatrous daughter-in-law.

"So Isaac called for Jacob and blessed him. Then he commanded him, 'Do not marry a Canaanite woman. Go at once to Paddan Aram, to the house of your mother's father Bethuel. Take a wife for yourself from there, from among the daughters of Laban, your mother's brother.'" (Genesis 28:1-2) It's bad enough that Esau already has two heathen wives, but now that Jacob is clearly the heir and future leader of the family it's vital that he not make the same mistake.

The Lord promised Abraham a son and so many descendants through that son that no man can count them. God promised Abraham that through one of his descendants (Christ) all nations would be blessed. Jacob's family line, not Esau's, is the one through which the Lord will fulfill His promise. Isaac has resigned himself to this now. In his heart he always wanted something other than what the Lord wanted: for Esau to be his heir and the possessor of the blessings God promised to Abraham. In spite of what the Lord said about Esau and Jacob before their birth, Isaac was determined to give Esau the birthright even though it wasn't God's will. But now, in spite of everything Isaac did to ensure Esau held onto the top spot as eldest son, Jacob has the birthright and the covenant promises God made to Abraham. There's nothing Isaac can do but accept it and transfer all his hopes to his younger son. The words contained in the blessing he speaks over Jacob prove to us that he's now in step with the Lord in this matter. "May God Almighty bless you and make you fruitful and increase your numbers until you become a community of peoples. May He give you and your descendants the blessing given to Abraham, so that you may take possession of the land where you now reside as a foreigner, the land God gave to Abraham." (Genesis 28:3-4)

"Then Isaac sent Jacob on his way, and he went to Paddan Aram, to Laban son of Bethuel the Aramean, the brother of Rebekah, who was the mother of Jacob and Esau." (Genesis 28:5) Jacob is getting away from the rage of his brother but he's about to go to the school of hard knocks. Laban is even craftier than he is, and Jacob will learn what it feels like to be horribly deceived, and he will have to work hard for everything he gets while living in Paddan Aram. While it's true that Jacob is going to become the father of the twelve tribes of Israel, he's not ready at this point to take up such a weighty mantle. The Lord has a lot of work to do on him to make him the man whom He will rename "Israel".

"Now Esau learned that Isaac had blessed Jacob and had sent him to Paddan Aram to take a wife from there, and that when he blessed him he commanded him, 'Do not marry a Canaanite woman,' and that Jacob had obeyed his father and mother and had gone to Paddan Aram." (Genesis 28:6-7)
At this late date Esau recognizes how much it meant to his parents that he and his brother marry believing wives. I am sure Esau must have been taught about the Lord pretty much from birth and about how important it was for him and his descendants to keep believing in and obeying the Lord. He's been told the story of how Rebekah was obtained for his father so his father wouldn't marry a Canaanite woman. The importance of not marrying a heathen must have been stressed to him time and time again, yet it never sunk in. He's not a spiritually-minded man. All the religious instruction he's been given has sailed right over his head all his life. Godliness hasn't mattered much to him in his own heart and it never occurred to him to seek godliness in a mate. I think he completely ignored any instruction that went against what he wanted to do, which is why the Bible stresses the fact that "Jacob obeyed his father and mother" by going to Paddan Aram. I think the Bible makes this statement about Jacob's obedience because Esau didn't obey his father and mother when they told him to find a believing wife. But now, as the scene of Jacob's leaving plays out right before his eyes, he finally understands how much he disappointed his parents when he married two idolatrous women. He knows he went wrong but thinks he can "fix" it. He gets even further out of the will of God by what he does next.

"Esau then realized how displeasing the Canaanite women were to his father Isaac; so he went to Ishmael and married Mahalath, the sister of Nebaioth and the daughter of Ishmael son of Abraham, in addition to the wives he already had." (Genesis 28:8-9) Esau was out of the will of God when he married more than one woman to begin with. God demonstrated the best pattern for marriage when He performed the first wedding ceremony in the Garden of Eden. Adam didn't have two wives. If Adam had needed two wives, God would have given him two wives, but no man needs more than one wife. It's not God's plan for marriage that a man divide his care and affection between two women---or among three or more women. Esau is not "fixing" or "undoing" his previous mistakes simply by making sure his third wife is a believer.

I'm exasperated by Esau but I feel sorry for him at the same time. He's so slow to catch on when it comes to anything pertaining to the Lord and to godliness. He keeps trying to fix things on his own instead of submitting himself to the Lord and asking the Lord what he should do. But the Lord isn't going to leave him where he is now. Just as He must do some work on Jacob, He must do some work on Esau. The next time we see Esau he will have matured into a respectable man. He will have forgiven Jacob and will have learned to make his own way in the world. In Genesis 28 it looks like Esau will never amount to much, but God isn't through with him. And aren't we glad of that? There may have been times in our own lives when it looked like we'd never amount to much, but God didn't give up on us.

Monday, January 20, 2020

In The Beginning. Day 114, A Family Divided

Esau has discovered Jacob's treachery. He knows his father can't take back the blessing he's already conferred on Jacob, but he also knows his father can bless him too. Isaac does bless him, but the circumstances of Chapter 27 are going to divide the family.

Upon his pleas for a blessing, Isaac blesses Esau. "His father Isaac answered him, 'Your dwelling will be away from the earth's richness, away from the dew of the heaven above. You will live by the sword and you will serve your brother. But when you grow restless, you will throw his yoke from off your neck.'" (Genesis 27:39-40) Jacob's blessing promised material riches, with flowing wine and abundant grain. He's going to be successful at farming and agriculture. Esau's blessing makes it sound as if he will have to make his living from the land, but he's able to do so. He's a mighty hunter. He's strong and resourceful. He's accustomed to living off the land for days at a time while he stalks a particular prey. His father's blessing ensures that his endeavors will be successful.

The people who descended from Esau, known as the Edomites, dwelt in the hill country. The caves and the tall rock formations of that area provided an easily-defendable fortress for them. They lived off the land and were warlike with the tribes around them. In time Esau's descendants will rebel against Jacob's descendants, and when the children of Israel come out of Egypt and are on their way to the promised land, the people of Edom will forbid them to pass through their territory. Esau will never be as successful as his brother, but his family line won't always be subject to Jacob. Though the descendants of Esau and Jacob will be closely related, they will never be friends. Esau's family line will refuse to be subservient to Jacob's family line or to even show them common human decency, and this is why Isaac says in time Esau (his family line) will throw Jacob's yoke from off his neck.

"Esau held a grudge against Jacob because of the blessing his father had given him. He said to himself, 'The days of mourning for my father are near; then I will kill my brother Jacob.'" (Genesis 27:41) Esau vows to avenge himself, but not while his father lives. There are a couple of possible reasons for this. He may be reluctant to cause his father grief. He loves his father and doesn't want to bring more misery on him in his old age, so he won't lay hands on Jacob until after Isaac breathes his last. Another reason may be that, if his father is already dead, no one can prove Isaac conferred the blessing of the firstborn upon Jacob. No one will be able to contest Esau's right to be the heir. I don't know how Esau planned to go about killing his brother or whether he has yet formed a plan in our current chapter. Perhaps he intended to make it look like the two of them struggled and he killed Jacob in self defense. Or he might have intended to set it up to look like Jacob was attacked and killed by robbers while off the estate conducting family business.

We don't know whether Esau made this vow out loud to himself or whether he spoke it out loud to someone he trusted, but someone who heard his heated words passes them on to Rebekah. "When Rebekah was told what her older son Esau had said, she sent for her younger son Jacob and said to him, 'Your brother Esau is planning to avenge himself by killing you. Now then, my son, do what I say: Flee at once to my brother Laban in Harran. Stay with him for a while until your brother's fury subsides. When your brother is no longer angry with you and forgets what you did to him, I'll send word for you to come back from there. Why should I lose both of you in one day?'" (Genesis 27:42-45) If Esau kills Jacob, Rebekah will lose both her sons. She will lose Jacob to death and Esau to justice, because even if human beings don't find out Esau has murdered his brother, the Lord will know what Esau did and will avenge Jacob's blood.

The divided family is expected to be a temporary situation. Esau isn't the type to stick with anything for very long, not even anger and thoughts of revenge. His temper will rage at first but as the days go by he will spend less and less time thinking about how to get back at Jacob. He will go back to doing what he did before and will get back into the groove of daily life. He has more things to do than devise plots against Jacob; he has himself and two wives to support. And speaking of wives, Rebekah is going to use Esau's pagan wives as an excuse for sending Jacob away to her brother Laban. She doesn't want Isaac to know Esau is angry enough right now to kill Jacob and she needs a reason for sending Jacob away. Having Laban arrange a godly marriage for Jacob is going to be the reason she uses for sending Jacob to visit her brother.

"Then Rebekah said to Isaac, 'I'm disgusted with living because of these Hittite women. If Jacob takes a wife from among the women of this land, from Hittite women like these, my life will not be worth living.'" (Genesis 27:46) The Bible has already told us that both Isaac and Rebekah are deeply grieved by the fact that Esau took not one, but two, heathen wives. Rebekah knows she's going to find a sympathetic ear when she tells Isaac she doesn't think she can live and bear it if Jacob too takes a godless woman for a wife. Isaac feels exactly as she does. He wasn't able to prevent Esau from jumping into bad marriages; Esau has always done as he pleased without asking anyone. But Jacob cares what his parents think. Jacob is very close to his mother and he won't want to displease her by bringing yet another pagan daughter-in-law into the family. But if his parents don't help him meet a nice girl, he'll have no choice but to marry a woman of the land of Canaan. Isaac is going to agree to Rebekah's suggestion and will send Jacob to Harran. Rebekah believes that in the time it takes Jacob to go there, meet and marry a wife and bring her back home, Esau will have abandoned his plot to kill his brother. She pictures herself welcoming her son and new daughter-in-law home with open arms.

But, sadly, Rebekah won't live to see her son again. This may be the mercy of God upon Jacob since he is so easily influenced by her and since her bad advice is what has led to the troubles in Genesis 27. The Lord didn't need her help in making Jacob the heir; God would have seen to it that Jacob became the heir in a way that didn't cause division and anger and murderous plots. She will pass on during Jacob's absence. Isaac, who thinks he is at death's door in Genesis 27, will recover from his current illness and will be the one to welcome Jacob home. Then he too will go on to be with the Lord and will be buried by both his sons who, by the grace of God, have forgiven each other.

Sunday, January 19, 2020

In The Beginning. Day 113, Esau Learns Of Jacob's Deception

Esau returns from the hunt and finds out that Jacob stole his blessing.

"After Isaac had finished blessing him, and Jacob had scarcely left his father's presence, his brother Esau came in from hunting. He too prepared some tasty food and brought it to his father. Then he said to him, 'My father, please sit up and eat some of my game, so that you may give me your blessing.'" (Genesis 27:30-31) Has anything changed spiritually with Esau since he dismissively sold his birthright for a bowl of stew? I don't think so, but he knows it's the custom for a father to bless his sons before he dies and he believes there's a magical power connected to the blessing. In a sense there is, for in the Bible we find the blessings bestowed by fathers to be prophetic. Jacob, for example, will bless his twelve sons by making prophetic statements about the future of their tribes. But up until now Esau has had little concern for the future and I think the only reason he's concerned with it here in Genesis 27 is because he believes his father will die soon. Isaac's health will improve and he will live on for quite a few more years, but Esau doesn't know that and it's a practical concern that causes him to seek the blessing. He's in his forties with two wives and two families to support. He needs the material blessings that are bestowed by the father. He needs to be financially secure not only for his own sake but for the sake of his children and their descendants.

Isaac is overcome with fear when Esau brings him the food. "His father Isaac asked him, 'Who are you?' 'I am your son,' he answered, 'your firstborn, Esau.' Isaac trembled violently and said, 'Who was it, then, that hunted game and brought it to me? I ate it just before you came and I blessed him---and indeed he will be blessed!'" (Genesis 27:33) In the original language the trembling of Isaac is not the nervous quivering we're picturing in our heads right now. It's the head to toe shaking of a person in abject terror. It's a spasmodic shaking of pretty much every muscle in the body, almost like a seizure. Some commentators believe he shakes so violently because he realizes he's made what is---to him---a grievous mistake. Esau is his favorite son and his intended heir but he has conferred the family fortune and future material and spiritual blessings on the "wrong" son. Other scholars think he shakes like this out of fear of the Lord because the Lord said the elder son would serve the younger, but Isaac tried to impede the will of the Lord by intending to make the eldest son the heir and the family leader anyway. If this is why Isaac shakes in terror, then Isaac knows that the Lord has had the last word and that he has been acting in opposition to a holy and powerful God.

Isaac's blessing cannot be revoked. It is legally binding. Isaac cannot now take it away from Jacob and give it to Esau. The blessing gave Jacob the leadership over the family and it stated that Jacob's brother would bow down to him. What's done is done. Esau knows this but he also knows that his father is able to bless more than one son, so he begs his father to honor him with a blessing as well. "When Esau heard his father's words, he burst out with a loud and bitter cry and said to his father, 'Bless me---me too, my father!' But he said, 'Your brother came deceitfully and took your blessing.'" (Genesis 27:34-35) Isaac will bless Esau, but he can't give him the same blessing he gave Jacob. Only one man can be head of the family.

Esau now fumes over the character of his brother. "Esau said, 'Isn't he rightly named Jacob? This is the second time he has taken advantage of me: He took my birthright, and now he's taken my blessing!' Then he asked, 'Haven't you reserved any blessing for me?'" (Genesis 27:36) Jacob was given his name because he was born grasping the heel of his brother Esau. He was born trying to take the preeminence over his brother and now he has literally done it. But we don't want to miss the fact that Esau is playing the victim here. He sold his birthright for a bowl of stew because that's how little he thought of the spiritual duties that came along with it. He says Jacob "took" his birthright, but that's not the truth. Esau was not actually dying when he came home famished from the hunt and dramatically announced that he was near death from hunger. Jacob's pot of stew wasn't the only available food on the wealthy estate of Isaac. Esau didn't have to promise Jacob anything in order to eat a meal. But he was so carnally minded and so incapable of thinking past the here and now that in his mind nothing but the bowl of stew existed in that moment. All he knew was that he had an immediate physical need that the bowl of stew would fulfill. Nothing else mattered to him right then.

Although Esau has made some bad choices, I feel sorry for him, don't you? His father favored him so obviously and so abundantly above his brother that I wonder whether this contributed to his cavalier attitude about the future. He grew up thinking he'd never have to worry about anything. He knew his father would give him almost everything he had. His every whim was probably catered to by his father, and this in turn may have caused him to become lazy (where estate planning was concerned) and to fail to learn responsibility. Do you know anyone who grew up being so spoiled that they rarely had to experience even the slightest inconvenience? Do you know anyone who grew up completely unfamiliar with being told "no"? Do you know anyone whose parents not only expected little of them, but who also went out of their way to do practically everything for them so that they seldom had to lift a finger? If you do, you've probably observed that when they became adults they lacked the skills to get along very well in college or in the workplace. They are not accustomed to planning ahead or considering consequences. They don't know how to assume responsibility. Someone has always managed things for them while they did as they pleased, and now they are at a loss as to how to obediently take instructions and get along with managers and co-workers. I think part of Esau's problem may be that he grew up as the spoiled favorite son with his every whim satisfied and with no responsibilities given to him. This doesn't mean we can place all of the blame for his shallow character on his father, but I do feel that Isaac contributed to Esau's sense of entitlement and to his lack of care for tomorrow.

I can relate a little bit to how Esau must have grown up. My parents taught me to think for myself and they assigned me some basic chores in the household, but they also behaved as if the sun rose and set on me. I was the baby of the family, born to my parents late in their reproductive lives when their two older children were already grown. Their world basically revolved around me while I was growing up and this put me at a disadvantage when I entered the workforce. Nobody at work thought I was special when I completed the tasks assigned to me. I didn't have any problems with authority and I did what I was told, but to be honest with you I struggled with not being treated as if I were the smartest and most talented person in the place. My parents applauded my every achievement as if I were an absolute genius, but my work managers? Not so much. When I turned in my work they didn't make a fuss over me at all. To them I was just one of the crowd. To them I was just doing my job when I completed a task successfully. And they were right, but it was a difficult adjustment for me, and that's why I wonder if some of the flaws in Esau's character were a result of being fawned over so excessively by his father.

Esau is trying to cope with his new reality. He knows he's lost the blessing that belonged to the elder son. But he also knows that his father is able to materially and spiritually bless more than just one child. "Esau said to his father, 'Do you have only one blessing, my father? Bless me too, my father!' Then Esau wept aloud." (Genesis 27:38) Aren't we thankful that our heavenly Father has more than enough blessings to go around? Out of His immeasurable abundance He is able to bless each one of His children. It's not as if He can ever "use up" His blessings before He gets to us. What He blesses you with will be somewhat different than what He blesses me with, and vice versa, but His well of blessing will never run dry. He may not give me the same things He's given you, but I can still go to Him and say, "Bless me too, my Father!"

Esau will receive a blessing from his father. It won't be the blessing he wanted or expected. It won't be the blessing Isaac wanted to give him. But it will be the blessing he needs. God, in His infinite wisdom, chose before their birth which of Isaac's two sons would inherit the blessing of the firstborn. But there is mercy in this choice. By choosing Jacob to lead the family, God chose the man best suited for the job. He chose the man who can provide for and guide the family wisely. But He also shows Esau mercy by not saddling him with responsibilities he can't fulfill.

God doesn't always give us what we want, but He gives us what we need. I've asked Him for things I'm glad He didn't give me, haven't you? Looking back on my life, I can see how disastrous it would have been if He'd said "yes" to my unwise requests. Our Father is capable of blessing each and every one of us, but because He is a wise and loving and merciful Father, He will bless us with what we need and not always with what we want. In many ways He's blessed us above and beyond what we need, and that's because He enjoys bestowing good things on His children, but we have to keep in mind that when God says "no" to a request, it's because He knows what's best for us.