Monday, January 7, 2019

Daily Bread for Jan 11, Gen 32-34

Today's readings are Gen 32-34.

In Gen 32, Jacob decides to return to his homeland, the land of promise (follow the blue line on the map below.) He hears his brother is coming and immediately freaks out. BTW, any of us who ever thought they had a dysfunctional family should see we're not able to hold a candle to Jacob in that regard. Every time you turn around, one of them is making a colossal mistake and acting immature. Despite them, God continues to bless them. Jacob's fears are unfounded; he was just over-thinking and over-worrying things.

Then Jacob wrestles with a heavenly being (Gen 32:22-27). The text doesn't tell us who Jacob’s opponent is until later when we find out it was God (Gen 32:30). Jacob prevails, but not in the sense that he wins. Instead the word for "prevails" connotes the idea that he doesn't give up. Ultimately, Jacob is left powerless with no other option than to cling to God, asking for a blessing.

God asks Jacob his name. The man who had once pretended to be his twin brother, calling himself Esau to steal a blessing, now confesses that his name is Jacob. Jacob means “he who supplants, one who trips up, one that follows.” Those labels have certainly characterized Jacob’s life so far. This moment is a turning point for Jacob. He not only proclaims and owns his name but in doing so, he utters a tacit admission to being a thief and a man who makes enormous mistakes.

Everything Jacob has been through has led up to this point. We have watched him undergo a gradual change. Now, instead of pretending to be someone else, instead of lying, manipulating and taking advantage—Jacob has wrestled with God who finally asks him, “Who are you?” Jacob’s honest and raw answer is neigh unto a confession. For his willingness to strive on his own for God’s blessing, God gives Jacob a new name, Israel (one that prevails with God). It's a new beginning for Jacob. His time striving with God has given him a new identity.

Jacob's reunion with Esau goes much better than expected. Is this a sign to Jacob that God is now with him? It seems to be a response to Jacob’s prayer (Gen 32:11). Jacob is humble before his brother, fearing the worst but his fears are unfounded.

Both brothers are wealthy. Esau decides to move as a way of affirming his brother. This decision leaves Jacob occupying the land promised to Abraham. The roller coaster relationship between the two brothers foreshadows the future of the nation of Israel. Eventually, Israel will conquer the Promised Land. Then it will be divided into northern and southern kingdoms. There will be times of harmony and fellowship as there will be of tension. God will continue to move sovereignly in both nations.

Note: Jacob left Canaan in Gen 28. He vowed he would give God a tenth of all he had if God would be with him and keep him safe (Gen 28:20-22). Gen 33:18 tells us Jacob arrives safely in Shechem of Canaan. Shechem will prove to be a significant location as the story of Israel develops.

One of the locals, Shechem, a leader who has given his name to the land, rapes Leah's daughter Dinah. The Canaanites want to form a truce with Jacob and his sons, inviting them to intermarry and share the land. While this may sound like a good idea, it goes against what God has commanded. Isaac prohibited his sons from marrying Canaanites (Gen 24:3, 27:46, 28:1).

The true motives of Shechem and his people are revealed in Gen 34:32. They intend to own all that Jacob has!

We would do well to pause and consider Jacob’s overall narrative thus far. He is portrayed as a man who schemes, deceives and plans, often getting far ahead of what God is doing. Just as frequently, God delivers him regardless of his deceitful nature. God always takes Jacob’s mess and making something beautiful out of it. He does the same with our lives and messes.

Now, in the events surrounding Dinah, the impulsive, self-asserting, self-centered Jacob is strangely silent. Instead, his sons are the schemers and deceivers. God is blessing Jacob, but many of his faults and shortcomings seem to have been passed on to his offspring.

Shechem’s deceit brings him and his people to a tragic and brutal end. Jacob and his sons wind up owning Shechem’s land and livestock instead of Shechem owning theirs. God has delivered Jacob and his sons, not because of their plans but despite them. Merely because things seem to have turned out well for Jacob and his family, we learn that the ends do not always justify the means. As a sign that there are consequences for their behavior, Jacob tells his sons they have brought trouble down upon themselves (Gen 34:30-31).

We should never take earthly success as a sign of God’s approval of ungodly behavior. Jacob’s life story is one of being blessed regardless of how he acts. Read these chapters with that in mind. God’s grace came to Jacob and comes to us, not because any of us are godly, but because He is God.

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