Posts tagged ‘Jacob’

Meeting With God

Jacob's Ladder, Bible, Line Art, Landscape, Biblical
Credit: maxpixel.net

There is an interesting line in Galatians about how Moses received God’s law:

The law was given through angels and entrusted to a mediator. (Galatians 3:19)

When God gave the law to Moses, He mediated it through angels.

Angels regularly serve as mediators between God and people. When God has a message to deliver to a young maiden named Mary about how she will bear God’s Son, He delivers it through an angel. When God wants to notify her husband-to-be that the son in his fiancé is miraculously conceived, He sends an angel to deliver the news. When God wants to take the apostle John on a tour of heaven, He does so using an angel.

In Genesis 28, Jacob is at a low point in his life. He has become a fugitive from his home and family because he stole the family inheritance that rightly belonged to his older brother, who, when he found out, vowed to make Jacob pay with his life.

One night, while Jacob is camping out in the middle of nowhere, he has a dream:

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)

As theologian Richard Bauckham points out, the stairway Jacob sees is probably climbing the side of a ziggurat, which was a tower commonly built in ancient Mesopotamia that was meant to “touch heaven,” as it were, so that the peoples of that day could ascend it and meet with their gods.

But Jacob’s dream comes with a twist. As in so many other dreams and visions, there are these angels, who one assumes are there to mediate Jacob’s meeting with God as he climbs the stairway on the ziggurat. But this dream is different:

There beside him stood the LORD, and He said: “I am the LORD, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac.” (Genesis 28:13)

In Jacob’s dream, God is not at the top of the ziggurat, waiting for angels to mediate his meeting with Jacob. Instead, He has come to the bottom of the ziggurat – to where Jacob is – to stand “beside him” and to meet with him directly.

When Jacob realizes what has happened, he declares:

“Surely the LORD is in this place, and I was not aware of it.” 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 28:16-17)

It turns out that Jacob is only partially correct in his analysis of what has happened. Jacob believes the Lord was “in this place” – the place where Jacob happened to be sleeping that night. He perceives his meeting with God as a chance encounter. He just happened to stumble across the place where God was.

But this is not what God tells Jacob when He speaks to him in his dream. He does not tell him that He dwells in a place, but instead that He desires to dwell with His people:

“I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go.” (Genesis 28:15)

God has not bound Himself to a map, but to mortals. This is why when God wanted to demonstrate His presence most fully, He came to mortals in a mortal who brought immortality by His resurrection.

God is with us. We don’t need to climb a ziggurat or wait for an angel to meet with Him. For we have met God directly in His Son. What Jacob got a glimpse of, we have received the fullness of.

August 30, 2021 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Discerning Right From Wrong

File:Italy, Bologna, 17th century - Jacob and Laban with Rachel and Leah (recto) Sketch of Two Men and Other Va - 1939.666 - Cleveland Museum of Art.jpg
Jacob and Laban with Rachel and Leah / Italy, 17th century / Wikipedia

When Jacob marries both the daughters of his uncle Laban in Genesis 29, it is difficult not to suspect that these marriages will go nowhere good fast. The story goes that Jacob falls in love with Laban’s youngest daughter, Rachel, and agrees to work seven years for his uncle as a kind of dowry to gain the girl. But after Jacob’s seven years of service are completed, his uncle gives him his older daughter, Leah, instead, insisting:

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 other one also, in return for another seven years of work. (Genesis 29:26-27)

Jacob is so smitten by Rachel, he gladly obliges. The problem is that now Jacob has two wives – and one is clearly his favorite. Unsurprisingly, this causes a host of problems in both marriages. At first, only Leah is able to bear children for Jacob, which was critical in the ancient world. The continuation of a family line was a primary source of pride in this culture. When Rachel sees that Leah is bearing her husband children, she becomes jealous and gives Jacob one of her servants named Bilhah to sleep with, so he can have children she can claim through this servant. This arouses Leah’s jealousy, who responds by offering to her husband her servant, Zilpah, through whom he can have even more children.

In the middle of this marital mess, Jacob sleeps with Leah and she becomes pregnant. She is delighted and proclaims, “God has rewarded me for giving my servant to my husband” (Genesis 30:18).

Really? Leah really believes that God is pleased with her for offering her servant to her husband so he can sleep with her? Morally, this sounds preposterous to us. But it seems to have sounded sensible to Leah. After all, the proof of God’s pleasure at the arrangement was in the gift God gave her – a son.  Right?

The Psalmist once prayed: “Who can discern their own errors? Forgive my hidden faults” (Psalm 19:12). Human beings are so deeply sinful that, sometimes, we sin and don’t even know it. This is true of Leah. She is so desperate for her husband’s affection that she is willing to bring an extra woman into a relationship that is already problematically polygamous and then interpret the fruit of that sin as a sanction from God.

A story like this should instill in us a little humility. If Leah could think that something as deeply morally wrong as offering another woman to your husband is right, is there a possibility that we might get morally confused, too?

The prophet Isaiah once warned:

Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter. Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes and clever in their own sight. (Isaiah 5:20-21)

Morally, we can often try to be too clever by half. We cleverly excuse our lies using a cloak of confidentiality. We cleverly cover our gossip with a patina of prayer. And we, like Leah, can cleverly misinterpret a blessing from God as a divine imprimatur on some kind of bad behavior.

To understand right and wrong, morality and immorality, righteousness and wickedness, we must constantly return to the clear certainty of God’s commands. He is the One who can take our worst moral instincts and replace them with a godly conscience, shaped by His Spirit and truth. So, let’s not fool ourselves. Let’s listen to the Lord.

November 16, 2020 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

A Very Good Blessing for Esau…and Us

“Esau and Jacob” by Giovanni Andrea de Ferrari / Wikipedia

In the story of Jacob and Esau, Jacob famously steals his brother’s blessing from his father, Isaac. Jacob, who dresses up like his brother to dupe his near-blind dad, receives this blessing from Isaac:

Ah, the smell of my son is like the smell of a field that the LORD has blessed. May God give you heaven’s dew and earth’s richness – an abundance of grain and new wine. May nations serve you and peoples bow down to you. Be lord over your brothers, and may the sons of your mother bow down to you. May those who curse you be cursed and those who bless you be blessed. (Genesis 27:27-29)

In this blessing, Isaac promises Jacob four things. First, he promises Jacob material blessing – he will be blessed with much food and drink. Second, he promises Jacob political power – that nations and people will bow down to him. Third, he promises Jacob familial patronage – he will be the patriarch and guardian for his whole family. Fourth, he promises Jacob a spiritual legacy. Isaac’s words “may those who curse you be cursed and those who bless you be blessed” echo God’s words to Jacob’s grandfather Abraham (cf. Genesis 12:3). Jacob, rather than his older brother Esau, will be the one to carry the spiritual mantle of Abraham forward in the family – and for the world.

This is quite a blessing. And unsurprisingly, when Esau finds out that his brother Jacob has received such a stellar blessing, which his dad intended to be his, he is furious – and desperate. He pleads to his father, “Haven’t you reserved any blessing for me” (Genesis 27:36)? What his father musters for him sounds quite meager:

Your dwelling will be away from the earth’s richness, away from the dew of 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)

This seems more like a curse than a blessing! Isolation from others and subordination to a scorned sibling hardly sound enticing. And yet, embedded in this “blessing” is a glimmer of hope: “But when you grow restless, you will throw off his yoke from your neck.” When Esau first hears these words, he immediately interprets them as a license for violence. In the very next verse, we find Esau looking forward to his father’s imminent death and saying to himself: “The days of mourning for my father are near; then I will kill my brother Jacob” (Genesis 27:41). Murder is how Esau believes that he will throw off the yoke of his brother’s betrayal.

But things don’t turn out the way Esau plots them.

Instead, Jacob, learning of his brother’s secret plot, flees. Over five decades pass before they see each other again. But when they finally do, the scene is moving:

Esau ran to meet Jacob and embraced him; he threw his arms around his neck and kissed him. And they wept. (Genesis 33:4)

At first, Esau believed that he would be able to throw off the yoke of his brother’s betrayal by exacting vengeance from him. But, it turns out, he was only able to throw off the yoke of his brother’s betrayal by forgiving him.

As the holidays approach, many of us have family members – or others – by whom we may feel betrayed. Perhaps this is the time of year to trade a weak hope for vengeance for a better blessing of forgiveness. This is the only way the yoke of the betrayal someone has committed against you can truly be removed from you. This is what Esau learned, and this is the way Jesus shows.

It turns out Esau received a pretty good blessing after all.

November 9, 2020 at 5:15 am 1 comment


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