Friday, July 29, 2011

Reflections on Genesis 38

    Genesis 38 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. About that time Judah left his brothers in the hill country and went to live near his friend Hirah in the town of Adullam.
  2. While there he met the daughter of Shua, a Canaanite man. Judah married her,
  3. and they had three sons. He named the first one Er,
  4. she named the next one Onan.
  5. The third one was born when Judah was in Chezib, and she named him Shelah.
  6. Later, Judah chose Tamar as a wife for Er, his oldest son.
  7. But Er was very evil, and the LORD took his life.
  8. So Judah told Onan, "It's your duty to marry Tamar and have a child for your brother."
  9. Onan knew the child would not be his, and when he had sex with Tamar, he made sure that she would not get pregnant.
  10. The LORD wasn't pleased with Onan and took his life too.
  11. Judah did not want the same thing to happen to his son Shelah, and he told Tamar, "Go home to your father and live there as a widow until my son Shelah is grown." So Tamar went to live with her father.
  12. Some years later Judah's wife died, and he mourned for her. He then went with his friend Hirah to the town of Timnah, where his sheep were being sheared.
  13. Tamar found out that her father-in-law Judah was going to Timnah to shear his sheep.
  14. She also realized that Shelah was now a grown man, but she had not been allowed to marry him. So she decided to dress in something other than her widow's clothes and to cover her face with a veil. After this, she sat outside the town of Enaim on the road to Timnah.
  15. When Judah came along, he did not recognize her because of the veil. He thought she was a prostitute
  16. and asked her to sleep with him. She asked, "What will you give me if I do?"
  17. "One of my young goats," he answered. "What will you give me to keep until you send the goat?" she asked.
  18. "What do you want?" he asked in return. "The ring on that cord around your neck," was her reply. "I also want the special walking stick you have with you." He gave them to her, they slept together, and she became pregnant.
  19. After returning home, Tamar took off the veil and dressed in her widow's clothes again.
  20. Judah had his friend Hirah take a goat to the woman, so he could get back the ring and walking stick, but she wasn't there.
  21. Hirah asked the people of Enaim, "Where is the prostitute who sat along the road outside your town?" "There's never been one here," they answered.
  22. Hirah went back and told Judah, "I couldn't find the woman, and the people of Enaim said no prostitute had ever been there."
  23. "If you couldn't find her, we'll just let her keep the things I gave her," Judah answered. "And we'd better forget about the goat, or else we'll look like fools."
  24. About three months later someone told Judah, "Your daughter-in-law Tamar has behaved like a prostitute, and now she's pregnant!" "Drag her out of town and burn her to death!" Judah shouted.
  25. As Tamar was being dragged off, she sent someone to tell her father-in-law, "The man who gave me this ring, this cord, and this walking stick is the one who got me pregnant."
  26. "Those are mine!" Judah admitted. "She's a better person than I am, because I broke my promise to let her marry my son Shelah." After this, Judah never slept with her again.
  27. Tamar later gave birth to twins. But before either of them was born, one of them stuck a hand out of her womb. The woman who was helping tied a red thread around the baby's hand and explained, "This one came out first."
  28. (SEE 38:27)
  29. Right away his hand went back in, and the other child was born first. The woman then said, "What an opening you've made for yourself!" So they named the baby Perez.
  30. When the brother with the red thread came out, they named him Zerah.

    The account of Joseph's capture by his brothers and being sold into slavery is interrupted with this account of Judah's marriage to a Canaanite woman. What purpose does the account serve, inserted as it is here? It was Judah who suggested selling Joseph to the Ishmaelites, and this account certainly contrasts his character with that we will see emerge in Joseph in the forthcoming accounts. But is that the purpose intended for this account of Judah? It also introduces Tamar, Judah's daughter-in-law, who is listed in the geneology of Jesus. But again, is that its intended purpose?

    Obviously, we can only speculate concerning the reason for the insertion of Judah's marriage and eventual birth of twin sons by his daughter-in-law, Tamar. We have no similar accounts of marriages and families for Joseph's other brothers. One thing we can be certain of is that God does not operate by the customs, traditions, or logic of man. By man's customs the younger son, Joseph, would not be chosen to carry on the covenantal purpose God had for this family. But God did so with Joseph and with his father Jacob. By man's logic, the character of both Judah and Tamar portrayed in this chapter would disqualify them from being included in the geneology that produced the Messiah. But that was not God's choice.

    At various points in scripture we might wonder if God intentionally tries to confuse us. It is as if He does not want to be so predictable by man's standards that we come to think we have Him figured out. People will always have plenty of questions concerning why God does what He does and why He allows certain things to happen. But there will always be characteristics of God that we can depend on. His love is one of those characteristics as is His mercy. We can also depend on His dependability and faithfulness. When we entrust ourselves to Him we can depend on His taking care of us. But is it important that I understand everything that God does? Not as important as simply trusting Him in everything He does.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Reflections on Genesis 37

    Genesis 37 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. Jacob lived in the land of Canaan, where his father Isaac had lived,
  2. and this is the story of his family. When Jacob's son Joseph was seventeen years old, he took care of the sheep with his brothers, the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah. But he was always telling his father all sorts of bad things about his brothers.
  3. Jacob loved Joseph more than he did any of his other sons, because Joseph was born after Jacob was very old. Jacob had given Joseph a fancy coat
  4. to show that he was his favorite son, and so Joseph's brothers hated him and would not be friendly to him.
  5. One day, Joseph told his brothers what he had dreamed, and they hated him even more.
  6. Joseph said, "Let me tell you about my dream.
  7. We were out in the field, tying up bundles of wheat. Suddenly my bundle stood up, and your bundles gathered around and bowed down to it."
  8. His brothers asked, "Do you really think you are going to be king and rule over us?" Now they hated Joseph more than ever because of what he had said about his dream.
  9. Joseph later had another dream, and he told his brothers, "Listen to what else I dreamed. The sun, the moon, and eleven stars bowed down to me."
  10. When he told his father about this dream, his father became angry and said, "What's that supposed to mean? Are your mother and I and your brothers all going to come and bow down in front of you?"
  11. Joseph's brothers were jealous of him, but his father kept wondering about the dream.
  12. One day when Joseph's brothers had taken the sheep to a pasture near Shechem,
  13. his father Jacob said to him, "I want you to go to your brothers. They are with the sheep near Shechem." "Yes, sir," Joseph answered.
  14. His father said, "Go and find out how your brothers and the sheep are doing. Then come back and let me know." So he sent him from Hebron Valley. Joseph was near Shechem
  15. and wandering through the fields, when a man asked, "What are you looking for?"
  16. Joseph answered, "I'm looking for my brothers who are watching the sheep. Can you tell me where they are?"
  17. "They're not here anymore," the man replied. "I overheard them say they were going to Dothan." Joseph left and found his brothers in Dothan.
  18. But before he got there, they saw him coming and made plans to kill him.
  19. They said to one another, "Look, here comes the hero of those dreams!
  20. Let's kill him and throw him into a pit and say that some wild animal ate him. Then we'll see what happens to those dreams."
  21. Reuben heard this and tried to protect Joseph from them. "Let's not kill him," he said.
  22. "Don't murder him or even harm him. Just throw him into a dry well out here in the desert." Reuben planned to rescue Joseph later and take him back to his father.
  23. When Joseph came to his brothers, they pulled off his fancy coat
  24. and threw him into a dry well.
  25. As Joseph's brothers sat down to eat, they looked up and saw a caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead. Their camels were loaded with all kinds of spices that they were taking to Egypt.
  26. So Judah said, "What will we gain if we kill our brother and hide his body?
  27. Let's sell him to the Ishmaelites and not harm him. After all, he is our brother." And the others agreed.
  28. When the Midianite merchants came by, Joseph's brothers took him out of the well, and for twenty pieces of silver they sold him to the Ishmaelites who took him to Egypt.
  29. When Reuben returned to the well and did not find Joseph there, he tore his clothes in sorrow.
  30. Then he went back to his brothers and said, "The boy is gone! What am I going to do?"
  31. Joseph's brothers killed a goat and dipped Joseph's fancy coat in its blood.
  32. After this, they took the coat to their father and said, "We found this! Look at it carefully and see if it belongs to your son."
  33. Jacob knew it was Joseph's coat and said, "It's my son's coat! Joseph has been torn to pieces and eaten by some wild animal."
  34. Jacob mourned for Joseph a long time, and to show his sorrow he tore his clothes and wore sackcloth.
  35. All of Jacob's children came to comfort him, but he refused to be comforted. "No," he said, "I will go to my grave, mourning for my son." So Jacob kept on grieving.
  36. Meanwhile, the Midianites had sold Joseph in Egypt to a man named Potiphar, who was the king's official in charge of the palace guard.

    Deceit again raises its ugly head among the descendants of Abraham, playing a role in the continuing lineage of covenant bearers. One might be tempted to suggest that God initiates deceit to serve His purposes, but we know that would not fit God's character. No, God need not initiate deceit when He is dealing with sinful mankind, for deceit and sin go hand in hand. God merely uses man's sinfulness for His own purposes. And, He uses the suffering that sin causes to shape those He uses for His purposes.

    Parental favoritism was also repeated, again playing a role in pitting sibling against sibling which was the case with Jacob and his favoritism regarding Joseph, his first-born son to Rebekah, his favorite wife. By the time Joseph was 17, the jealousy of his brothers had grown strong. But Joseph was either too naive to recognize it or too honest and forthright to withhold his experiences from his jealous brothers. So, he shared with his brothers his two dreams which portrayed them bowing down to him. This stoked the fire of their jealousy even more and they began to plot his demise.

    When their father, Jacob, sent Joseph out to check on his brothers who were tending the herds, the opportunity was provided the brothers to act on their murderous desires. God had a plan for Joseph, though, and used their plotting to serve His own purposes. Two of Joseph's brothers, Reuben and Judah, interceded on his behalf to divert the brothers from killing Joseph outright. Reuben pleaded against bloodshed, suggesting they throw Joseph into a pit. Joseph would die in the pit, but not directly at their hands. Reuben's motive, however, was to allow him to return and rescue Joseph. Once Joseph was in the pit, Judah, appealed to their mercenary instincts, suggesting they come out ahead by selling Joseph to an approaching caravan of Ishmaelites. Together, the appeals of these two brothers saved Joseph's life, though it placed him in slavery far from his family.

    We sometimes question how a loving God could allow such cruel circumstances to happen to people. But God has a very different perspective on life, and pain and suffering in particular. He sees the benefit suffering can play in a person's life, shaping them from greater things. We only see our desire for a life that is as pain-free and prosperous as possible.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Reflections on Genesis 36

    Genesis 36 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. Esau, also known as Edom, had many descendants.
  2. He married three Canaanite women: The first was Adah, the daughter of Elon the Hittite, the second was Oholibamah, the daughter of Anah and the granddaughter of Zibeon the Hivite,
  3. the third was Basemath, who was Ishmael's daughter and Nebaioth's sister.
  4. Esau and his three wives had five sons while in Canaan. Adah's son was Eliphaz, Basemath's son was Reuel, Oholibamah's three sons were Jeush, Jalam, and Korah.
  5. (SEE 36:4)
  6. Esau took his children and wives, his relatives and servants, his animals and possessions he had gotten while in Canaan, and moved far from Jacob.
  7. He did this because the land was too crowded and could not support him and his brother with their flocks and herds.
  8. That's why Esau made his home in the hill country of Seir.
  9. Esau lived in the hill country of Seir and was the ancestor of the Edomites. Esau had three wives: Adah, Basemath, and Oholibamah. Here is a list of his descendants: Esau and Adah had a son named Eliphaz, whose sons were Teman, Omar, Zepho, Gatam, and Kenaz. Timna was the other wife of Esau's son Eliphaz, and she had a son named Amalek. Esau and Basemath had a son named Reuel, whose sons were Nahath, Zerah, Shammah, and Mizzah. Esau and Oholibamah had three sons: Jeush, Jalam, and Korah.
  10. (SEE 36:9)
  11. (SEE 36:9)
  12. (SEE 36:9)
  13. (SEE 36:9)
  14. (SEE 36:9)
  15. Esau and Adah's oldest son was Eliphaz, and the clans that descended from him were Teman, Omar, Zepho, Kenaz,
  16. Korah, Gatam, and Amalek. These and Esau's other descendants lived in the land of Edom.
  17. The clans that descended from Esau and Basemath's son Reuel were Nahath, Zerah, Shammah, and Mizzah.
  18. The clans that descended from Esau and Oholibamah the daughter of Anah were Jeush, Jalam, and Korah.
  19. All of these clans descended from Esau, who was known as Edom.
  20. Seir was from the Horite tribe that had lived in Edom before the time of Esau. The clans that had descended from him were Lotan, Shobal, Zibeon, Anah,
  21. Dishon, Ezer, and Dishan.
  22. Lotan's sons were Hori and Heman, his sister was Timna.
  23. Shobal's sons were Alvan, Manahath, Ebal, Shepho, and Onam.
  24. Zibeon's sons were Aiah and Anah--the same Anah who found an oasis in the desert while taking the donkeys of his father out to pasture.
  25. Anah's children were Dishon and Oholibamah.
  26. Dishon's sons were Hemdan, Eshban, Ithran, and Cheran.
  27. Ezer's sons were Bilhan, Zaavan, and Akan.
  28. Dishan's sons were Uz and Aran.
  29. The clans of the Horites were Lotan, Shobal, Zibeon, Anah,
  30. Dishon, Ezer, and Dishan, and they lived in the land of Seir.
  31. Before there were kings in Israel, the following kings ruled Edom one after another: Bela son of Beor from Dinhabah, Jobab son of Zerah from Bozrah, Husham from the land of Teman, Hadad son of Bedad from Avith (Bedad had defeated the Midianites in Moab), Samlah from Masrekah, Shaul from the city of Rehoboth on the Euphrates River, Baalhanan son of Achbor, Hadar from the city of Pau (his wife Mehetabel was the daughter of Matred and the granddaughter of Mezahab).
  32. (SEE 36:31)
  33. (SEE 36:31)
  34. (SEE 36:31)
  35. (SEE 36:31)
  36. (SEE 36:31)
  37. (SEE 36:31)
  38. (SEE 36:31)
  39. (SEE 36:31)
  40. The clans that descended from Esau took their names from their families and the places where they lived. They are Timna, Alvah, Jetheth,
  41. Oholibamah, Elah, Pinon,
  42. Kenaz, Teman, Mibzar,
  43. Magdiel, and Iram. These clans descended from Esau, who was known as Edom, the father of the Edomites. They took their names from the places where they settled.

    Before moving forward with the history of Jacob/Israel and his family, following the covenat fulfillment with the descendants of Abraham, the writer of Genesis wraps up the family lineage of Esau, Jacob's brother. Esau was prosperous, as was Jacob. So much so that the land could not support the herds of both brothers. Thus, Esau chose to move to the mountains of Seir, where he continued to prosper. When Esau's father, Isaac, blessed him, he told him, "your dwelling place will be away from the richness of the land, away from the dew of the sky above. You will live by your sword, and you will serve your brother. But when you rebel, you will break his yoke from your neck." (27:39-40) We see the fulfillment of this in these verses.

    The next mention of the people of Edom in scripture is of a people who opposed the Israelite nation in its procession through the wilderness toward its promised land. Though Jacob deceived his father out of the blessing Esau would otherwise have received, Esau could have enjoyed some of the blessings of those who were friends of God's chosen people, the Israelites. God's promise to Abraham was that, "I will bless those who bless you, I will curse those who treat you with contempt." (12:3) Esau and his descendants chose to treat them with contempt. Though he prospered and grew into a nation as did his brother Jacob, it was a nation that was cursed rather than blessed because of its treatment of Israel.

    In reading these accounts of God's hand on history, one might mistakenly think that people's destinies were set by God without them having any choice in the matter. But everyone makes their own choices, as was the case with Esau. He chose his own destiny. When Isaac told Esau he would live by the sword, he was prophecying rather than determining Esau's destiny.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Reflections on Genesis 35

    Genesis 35 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. God told Jacob, "Return to Bethel, where I appeared to you when you were running from your brother Esau. Make your home there and build an altar for me."
  2. Jacob said to his family and to everyone else who was traveling with him: Get rid of your foreign gods! Then make yourselves acceptable to worship God and put on clean clothes.
  3. Afterwards, we'll go to Bethel. I will build an altar there for God, who answered my prayers when I was in trouble and who has always been at my side.
  4. So everyone gave Jacob their idols and their earrings, and he buried them under the oak tree near Shechem.
  5. While Jacob and his family were traveling through Canaan, God terrified the people in the towns so much that no one dared bother them.
  6. Finally, they reached Bethel, also known as Luz.
  7. Jacob built an altar there and called it "God of Bethel," because that was the place where God had appeared to him when he was running from Esau.
  8. While they were there, Rebekah's personal servant Deborah died. They buried her under an oak tree and called it "Weeping Oak."
  9. After Jacob came back to the land of Canaan, God appeared to him again. This time he gave Jacob a new name and blessed him by saying: I am God All-Powerful, and from now on your name will be Israel instead of Jacob. You will have many children. Your descendants will become nations, and some of the men in your family will even be kings.
  10. (SEE 35:9)
  11. (SEE 35:9)
  12. I will give you the land that I promised Abraham and Isaac, and it will belong to your family forever.
  13. After God had gone,
  14. Jacob set up a large rock, so that he would remember what had happened there. Then he poured wine and olive oil on the rock to show that it was dedicated to God,
  15. and he named the place Bethel.
  16. Jacob and his family had left Bethel and were still a long way from Ephrath, when the time came for Rachel's baby to be born.
  17. She was having a rough time, but the woman who was helping her said, "Don't worry! It's a boy."
  18. Rachel was at the point of death, and right before dying, she said, "I'll name him Benoni." But Jacob called him Benjamin.
  19. Rachel was buried beside the road to Ephrath, which is also called Bethlehem.
  20. Jacob set up a tombstone over her grave, and it is still there.
  21. Jacob, also known as Israel, traveled to the south of Eder Tower, where he set up camp.
  22. During their time there, Jacob's oldest son Reuben slept with Bilhah, who was one of Jacob's other wives. And Jacob found out about it.
  23. Jacob had twelve sons while living in northern Syria. His first-born Reuben was the son of Leah, who later gave birth to Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, and Zebulun. Leah's servant Zilpah had two sons: Gad and Asher. Jacob and his wife Rachel had Joseph and Benjamin. Rachel's servant woman Bilhah had two more sons: Dan and Naphtali.
  24. (SEE 35:23)
  25. (SEE 35:23)
  26. (SEE 35:23)
  27. Jacob went to his father Isaac at Hebron, also called Mamre or Kiriath-Arba, where Isaac's father Abraham had lived as a foreigner.
  28. Isaac died at the ripe old age of one hundred eighty, then his sons Esau and Jacob buried him.
  29. (SEE 35:28)

    Chapter 35 records the ending of an era, during which Isaac was the bearer of the covenant, and the beginning of another era in which Jacob, who was renamed Israel, became the covenant bearer. The mantle was fully passed to Jacob/Israel at Bethel, the place of Jacob's spiritual roots. It was at Bethel that God came to Jacob when he fled from his brother Esau and went to his uncle Laban's. At that time God promised to give him and his offspring the land of Canaan, to make his offspring as plentiful as the "dust of the earth," and that "All the peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring." (28:14) Furthermore, God promised to be with him and watch over him and to bring him back to this land.

    When it was time for Jacob to leave his uncle Laban and return to Canaan, God came to him and told him to, "Get up, leave this land, and return to your native land." (31:13) When Jacob returned to Canaan, he first settled at Shechem. There is some question as to whether Jacob failed to fully follow God's instructions to him by not returning to Hebron, the home of his father Isaac. The question is prompted primarily by his problems at Shechem with the defilement of his daughter Dinah. But the presence of idols within Jacob's household also raises the question of whether Jacob was fully devoted to God, or at least if he was fully obedient.

    Whatever the situation, Jacob renewed his commitment to God by obediently packing to move to Bethel as God instructed. Included in this action was a call to his family to "Get rid of the foreign gods that are among you. Purify yourselves and change your clothes. We must get up and go to Bethel. I will build an altar there to the God who answered me in my day of distress. He has been with me everywhere I have gone." (35:2-3) Upon his arrival at Bethel, God appeared to Jacob and blessed him. This blessing was somewhat repetitious of His original blessing to Jacob at Bethel, but in addition to promising that he would inherit the land and have abundant offspring, God promised that an assembly of nations would come from him and there would be kings among his descendants. Along with these promises came a name change which was a symbol of God's covenant with him. Jacob became Israel.

    Jacob's relationship with God was a progressively maturing one that was not so different from what most of us experience. At his original encounter with God at Bethel Jacob did not immediately become the man God intended him to be. Nor do any of us become the people God plans us to be when we first commit our lives to Him. It is a lifetime process. At least it is if we remain faithful to Him throughout our lives and stay on the journey. In the later years of this journey it will not matter whether our deeds in God's service are considered great or small in the eyes of man. What will matter and will bring joy and fulfillment to us will be that we stayed on the journey and remained faithful. And we will be amazed at the blessings God has bestowed on us along the way.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Reflections on Genesis 34

    Genesis 34 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. Dinah, the daughter of Jacob and Leah, went to visit some of the women who lived there.
  2. She was seen by Hamor's son Shechem, the leader of the Hivites, and he grabbed her and raped her.
  3. But Shechem was attracted to Dinah, so he told her how much he loved her.
  4. He even asked his father to get her for his wife.
  5. Meanwhile, Jacob heard what had happened. But his sons were out in the fields with the cattle, so he did not do anything at the time.
  6. Hamor arrived at Jacob's home
  7. just as Jacob's sons were coming in from work. When they learned that their sister had been raped, they became furiously angry. Nothing is more disgraceful than rape, and it should not be tolerated in Israel.
  8. Hamor said to Jacob and his sons: My son Shechem really loves Dinah. Please let him marry her.
  9. Why don't you start letting your families marry into our families and ours marry into yours?
  10. You can share this land with us. Move freely about until you find the property you want, then buy it and settle down here.
  11. Shechem added, "Do this favor for me, and I'll give whatever you want.
  12. Ask anything, no matter how expensive. I'll do anything, just let me marry Dinah."
  13. Jacob's sons wanted to get even with Shechem and his father because of what had happened to their sister.
  14. So they tricked them by saying: You're not circumcised! It would be a disgrace for us to let you marry Dinah now.
  15. But we will let you marry her, if you and the other men in your tribe get circumcised.
  16. Then your families can marry into ours, and ours can marry into yours, and we can live together like one nation.
  17. But if you don't agree to get circumcised, we'll take Dinah and leave this place.
  18. Hamor and Shechem liked what was said.
  19. Shechem was the most respected person in his family, and he was so in love with Dinah that he hurried off to get everything done.
  20. The two men met with the other leaders of their city and told them:
  21. These people really are friendly. Why not let them move freely about until they find the property they want? There's enough land here for them and for us. Then our families can marry into theirs, and theirs can marry into ours.
  22. We have to do only one thing before they will agree to stay here and become one nation with us. Our men will have to be circumcised like their men.
  23. Just think! We'll get their property, as well as their flocks and herds. All we have to do is to agree, and they will live here with us.
  24. Every grown man followed this advice and got circumcised.
  25. Three days later the men who had been circumcised were still weak from pain. So Simeon and Levi, two of Dinah's brothers, attacked with their swords and killed every man in town,
  26. including Hamor and Shechem. Then they took Dinah and left.
  27. Jacob's other sons came and took everything they wanted. All this was done because of the horrible thing that had happened to their sister.
  28. They took sheep, goats, donkeys, and everything else that was in the town or the fields.
  29. After taking everything of value from the houses, they dragged away the wives and children of their victims.
  30. Jacob said to Simeon and Levi, "Look what you've done! Now I'm in real trouble with the Canaanites and Perizzites who live around here. There aren't many of us, and if they attack, they'll kill everyone in my household."
  31. They answered, "Was it right to let our own sister be treated that way?"

    Understanding the events of this chapter from God's perspective is difficult to grasp. Particularly since God is not mentioned in the chapter. Jacob appears weak and self-centered, thinking more about himself and his safety than about the injustice done to his daughter. He seemed to be passive toward the father and son who had defiled his daughter and passive toward his sons who were incensed by it. Rather than taking the initiative, he did nothing and allowed his sons to take charge. Whether or not this perspective of Jacob is accurate, it is possible that the outcome, in killing the men of that area, was an outcome intended by God as judgement on the Canaanites. But there is no way of knowing one way or the other.

    It is suggested by some that Dinah, Jacob's daughter who was raped, acted inappropriately by seeking to relate socially with the Canaanites. To honor God's covenant and keep pure distinctions between the people of God and the heathen of the land, Jacob's family needed to be in the land but not of the land and its people. The next chapter tells how God instructed Jacob to move on from this place. In doing so, Jacob instructed all his household to get rid of their "foreign gods." This would suggest that they had indeed mingled more than they should have in the culture of the land.

    Might Jacob have acted more wisely had he sought God's counsel when he first heard of the defilement against his daughter? Would it not have been better for him to have taken his sons and the situation in hand, insisting on waiting for a word from God before taking any action? We can only speculate.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Reflections on Genesis 33

    Genesis 33 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. Later that day Jacob met Esau coming with his four hundred men. So Jacob had his children walk with their mothers.
  2. The two servant women, Zilpah and Bilhah, together with their children went first, followed by Leah and her children, then by Rachel and Joseph.
  3. Jacob himself walked in front of them all, bowing to the ground seven times as he came near his brother.
  4. But Esau ran toward Jacob and hugged and kissed him. Then the two brothers started crying.
  5. When Esau noticed the women and children he asked, "Whose children are these?" Jacob answered, "These are the ones the LORD has been kind enough to give to me, your servant."
  6. Then the two servant women and their children came and bowed down to Esau.
  7. Next, Leah and her children came and bowed down, finally, Joseph and Rachel also came and bowed down.
  8. Esau asked Jacob, "What did you mean by these herds I met along the road?" "Master," Jacob answered, "I sent them so that you would be friendly to me."
  9. "But, brother, I already have plenty," Esau replied. "Keep them for yourself."
  10. "No!" Jacob said. "Please accept these gifts as a sign of your friendship for me. When you welcomed me and I saw your face, it was like seeing the face of God.
  11. Please accept these gifts I brought to you. God has been good to me, and I have everything I need." Jacob kept insisting until Esau accepted the gifts.
  12. "Let's get ready to travel," Esau said. "I'll go along with you."
  13. But Jacob answered, "Master, you know traveling is hard on children, and I have to look after the sheep and goats that are nursing their young. If my animals travel too much in one day, they will all die.
  14. Why don't you go on ahead and let me travel along slowly with the children, the herds, and the flocks. We can meet again in the country of Edom."
  15. Esau replied, "Let me leave some of my men with you." "You don't have to do that," Jacob answered. "I am happy, simply knowing that you are friendly to me."
  16. So Esau left for Edom.
  17. But Jacob went to Succoth, where he built a house for himself and set up shelters for his animals. That's why the place is called Succoth.
  18. After leaving northern Syria, Jacob arrived safely at Shechem in Canaan and set up camp outside the city.
  19. The land where he camped was owned by the descendants of Hamor, the father of Shechem. So Jacob paid them one hundred pieces of silver for the property,
  20. then he set up his tents and built an altar there to honor the God of Israel.

    Jacob demonstrated in the events of this chapter a mixture of faith and fear with which I have no difficulty identifying. Jacob had come from a personal encounter with God that had given him faith and confidence to move forward on his journey back to his homeland. In the knowledge that Esau was coming toward him with 400 men and the strong possibility that he desired revenge, Jacob was taking a big step of faith to continue moving forward in the direction of his brother. He risked losing everything, including his family, by doing so.

    As his brother and the sight of the 400 men came into view, Jacob reverted to fear, splitting up his household into groups according to their importance to him, and putting one group behind the other, a manuever designed to provide the greatest protection to those who were furthest in the rear. Jacob took the lead ahead of his household in approaching Esau, bowing to the ground "seven times" (33:3) as he approached. In blessing Jacob, his father Isaac had said that Esau would serve Jacob: "Be master over your brothers; may your mother's sons bow down to you." (27:29) But in this event it was Jacob who was playing the subservient role. Not only did Jacob bow to Esau, he referred to him as "lord" and himself as "your servant." Although feeling subservient when overpowered by a supposed opponent is understandable, it is not a demonstration of faith that God will protect. On the other hand, neither is it good to act arrogant. In contrast, Esau did none of these things. Though he did not act hostile, he either felt in control or confident in Jacob's reception of him. He simply embraced Jacob and referred to him as his brother.

    A proper mixture of faith and fear is natural and can be expected. The important thing is that Jacob did not shrink from being obedient to God's instruction to return to his homeland in spite of fear. The problem arises when fear trumps faith.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Reflections on Genesis 32

    Genesis 32 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. As Jacob was on his way back home, some of God's angels came and met him.
  2. When Jacob saw them, he said, "This is God's camp." So he named the place Mahanaim.
  3. Jacob sent messengers on ahead to Esau, who lived in the land of Seir, also known as Edom.
  4. Jacob told them to say to Esau, "Master, I am your servant! I have lived with Laban all this time,
  5. and now I own cattle, donkeys, and sheep, as well as many slaves. Master, I am sending these messengers in the hope that you will be kind to me."
  6. When the messengers returned, they told Jacob, "We went to your brother Esau, and now he is heading this way with four hundred men."
  7. Jacob was so frightened that he divided his people, sheep, cattle, and camels into two groups.
  8. He thought, "If Esau attacks one group, perhaps the other can escape."
  9. Then Jacob prayed: You, LORD, are the God who was worshiped by my grandfather Abraham and by my father Isaac. You told me to return home to my family, and you promised to be with me and make me successful.
  10. I don't deserve all the good things you have done for me, your servant. When I first crossed the Jordan, I had only my walking stick, but now I have two large groups of people and animals.
  11. Please rescue me from my brother. I am afraid he will come and attack not only me, but my wives and children as well.
  12. But you have promised that I would be a success and that someday it will be as hard to count my descendants as it is to count the stars in the sky.
  13. After Jacob had spent the night there, he chose some animals as gifts for Esau:
  14. two hundred female goats and twenty males, two hundred female sheep and twenty males, thirty female camels with their young, forty cows and ten bulls, and twenty female donkeys and ten males.
  15. (SEE 32:14)
  16. Jacob put servants in charge of each herd and told them, "Go ahead of me and keep a space between each herd."
  17. Then he said to the servant in charge of the first herd, "When Esau meets you, he will ask whose servant you are. He will want to know where you are going and who owns those animals in front of you.
  18. So tell him, 'They belong to your servant Jacob, who is coming this way. He is sending them as a gift to his master Esau.' "
  19. Jacob also told the men in charge of the second and third herds and those who followed to say the same thing when they met Esau.
  20. And Jacob told them to be sure to say that he was right behind them. Jacob hoped the gifts would make Esau friendly, so Esau would be glad to see him when they met.
  21. Jacob's men took the gifts on ahead of him, but he spent the night in camp.
  22. Jacob got up in the middle of the night and took his wives, his eleven children, and everything he owned across to the other side of the Jabbok River for safety.
  23. (SEE 32:22)
  24. Afterwards, Jacob went back and spent the rest of the night alone. A man came and fought with Jacob until just before daybreak.
  25. When the man saw that he could not win, he struck Jacob on the hip and threw it out of joint.
  26. They kept on wrestling until the man said, "Let go of me! It's almost daylight." "You can't go until you bless me," Jacob replied.
  27. Then the man asked, "What is your name?" "Jacob," he answered.
  28. The man said, "Your name will no longer be Jacob. You have wrestled with God and with men, and you have won. That's why your name will be Israel."
  29. Jacob said, "Now tell me your name." "Don't you know who I am?" he asked. And he blessed Jacob.
  30. Jacob said, "I have seen God face to face, and I am still alive." So he named the place Peniel.
  31. The sun was coming up as Jacob was leaving Peniel. He was limping because he had been struck on the hip,
  32. and the muscle on his hip joint had been injured. That's why even today the people of Israel don't eat the hip muscle of any animal.

    Jacob had just had an encounter with his father-in-law over his leaving and then made a treaty with him that the two of them would never pass beyond a certain point to go to the other to do harm. Now Jacob was traveling back to his homeland. As he traveled, he was met by God's angel. It is significant that Jacob had a visit from God on the occasion when he left his homeland and also when he returned. I recognize that every time my life took a new direction was also a high point for me spiritually. These were times when God met me up close and personal and led me through a transition He had planned for my life. I see this as Jacob's experience as it was for Abraham and Isaac and many others throughout scripture. The events that lead to the most significant redirections of our lives are also the most significant spiritual highs of our lives. These high points, though, are often preceded by some of the most significant low points in our lives.

    This was the sequence for Jacob. He had a low point in his life in which he recognized the threat present for him with Laban and his sons. He tried to escape this threat and it followed him and caught up with him. God protected him, though, and he came through this threat with a treaty from Laban that he would do no harm. Next Jacob was faced by the threat of his brother Esau as he returned to his homeland. But as he faced this threat God was very present with him, preparing him to face the threat with his brother and to face the new chapter of his life he was entering into which would lead toward the fulfillment of the promise God made to Abraham and Isaac before him and also to Jacob.

    Jacob had a spiritual high point the night before he was to meet his brother Esau. God met him through an angel and wrestled with him all night. Jacob's earlier encounter with God as he left his homeland to go to Laban's house corrected his deceitfulness. This encounter corrected his willfulness. Jacob wrestled with the angel all night unwilling to give up and give in until finally, near daybreak, the angel dislocated his hip socket and he realized he could not prevail. He then submitted to the angel, and to God, and sought a blessing. As a reminder of this encounter, Jacob, who was now renamed Israel, walked with a limp the rest of his life.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Reflections on Genesis 31

    Genesis 31 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. Jacob heard that Laban's sons were complaining, "Jacob is now a rich man, and he got everything he owns from our father."
  2. Jacob also noticed that Laban was not as friendly as he had been before.
  3. One day the LORD said, "Jacob, go back to your relatives in the land of your ancestors, and I will bless you."
  4. Jacob sent for Rachel and Leah to meet him in the field where he kept his sheep,
  5. and he told them: Your father isn't as friendly with me as he used to be, but the God my ancestors worshiped has been on my side.
  6. You know that I have worked hard for your father
  7. and that he keeps cheating me by changing my wages time after time. But God has protected me.
  8. When your father said the speckled sheep would be my wages, all of them were speckled. And when he said the spotted ones would be mine, all of them were spotted.
  9. That's how God has taken sheep and goats from your father and given them to me.
  10. Once, when the flocks were mating, I dreamed that all the rams were either spotted or speckled.
  11. Then God's angel called me by name. I answered,
  12. and he said, "Notice that all the rams are either spotted or speckled. I know everything Laban is doing to you,
  13. and I am the God you worshiped at Bethel, when you poured olive oil on a rock and made a promise to me. Leave here right away and return to the land where you were born."
  14. Rachel and Leah said to Jacob: There's nothing left for us to inherit from our father.
  15. He treats us like foreigners and has even cheated us out of the bride price that should have been ours.
  16. Now do whatever God tells you to do. Even the property God took from our father and gave to you really belongs to us and our children.
  17. Then Jacob, his wives, and his children got on camels and left
  18. for the home of his father Isaac in Canaan. Jacob took all of the flocks, herds, and other property that he had gotten in northern Syria.
  19. Before Rachel left, she stole the household idols while Laban was out shearing his sheep.
  20. Jacob tricked Laban the Aramean by not saying that he intended to leave.
  21. When Jacob crossed the Euphrates River and headed for the hill country of Gilead, he took with him everything he owned.
  22. Three days later Laban found out that Jacob had gone.
  23. So he took some of his relatives along and chased after Jacob for seven days, before catching up with him in the hill country of Gilead.
  24. But God appeared to Laban in a dream that night and warned, "Don't say a word to Jacob. Don't make a threat or a promise."
  25. Jacob had set up camp in the hill country of Gilead, when Laban and his relatives came and set up camp in another part of the hill country. Laban went to Jacob
  26. and said: Look what you've done! You've tricked me and run off with my daughters like a kidnapper.
  27. Why did you sneak away without telling me? I would have given you a going-away party with singing and with music on tambourines and harps.
  28. You didn't even give me a chance to kiss my own grandchildren and daughters good-by. That was really foolish.
  29. I could easily hurt you, but the God your father worshiped has warned me not to make any threats or promises.
  30. I can understand why you were eager to return to your father, but why did you have to steal my idols?
  31. Jacob answered, "I left secretly because I was afraid you would take your daughters from me by force.
  32. If you find that any one of us has taken your idols, I'll have that person killed. Let your relatives be witnesses. Show me what belongs to you, and you can take it back." Jacob did not realize that Rachel had stolen the household idols.
  33. Laban searched the tents of Jacob, Leah, and the two servant women, but did not find the idols. Then he started for Rachel's tent.
  34. She had already hidden them in the cushion she used as a saddle and was sitting on it. Laban searched everywhere and did not find them.
  35. Rachel said, "Father, please don't be angry with me for not getting up, I am having my period." Laban kept on searching, but still did not find the idols.
  36. Jacob became very angry and said to Laban: What have I done wrong? Have I committed some crime? Is that why you hunted me down?
  37. After searching through everything I have, did you find anything of yours? If so, put it here, where your relatives and mine can see it. Then we can decide what to do.
  38. In all the twenty years that I've worked for you, not one of your sheep or goats has had a miscarriage, and I've never eaten even one of your rams.
  39. If a wild animal killed one of your sheep or goats, I paid for it myself. In fact, you demanded the full price, whether the animal was killed during the day or at night.
  40. I sweated every day, and I couldn't sleep at night because of the cold.
  41. I had to work fourteen of these twenty long years to earn your two daughters and another six years to buy your sheep and goats. During that time you kept changing my wages.
  42. If the fearsome God worshiped by Abraham and my father Isaac had not been on my side, you would have sent me away without a thing. But God saw my hard work, and he knew the trouble I was in, so he helped me. Then last night he told you how wrong you were.
  43. Laban said to Jacob, "Leah and Rachel are my daughters, and their children belong to me. All these sheep you are taking are really mine too. In fact, everything you have belongs to me. But there is nothing I can do to keep my daughters and their children.
  44. So I am ready to make an agreement with you, and we will pile up some large rocks here to remind us of the agreement."
  45. After Jacob had set up a large rock,
  46. he told his men to get some more rocks and pile them up next to it. Then Jacob and Laban ate a meal together beside the rocks.
  47. Laban named the pile of rocks Jegar Sahadutha. But Jacob named it Galeed.
  48. Laban said to Jacob, "This pile of rocks will remind us of our agreement." That's why the place was named Galeed.
  49. Laban also said, "This pile of rocks means that the LORD will watch us both while we are apart from each other." So the place was also named Mizpah.
  50. Then Laban said: If you mistreat my daughters or marry other women, I may not know about it, but remember, God is watching us!
  51. Both this pile of rocks and this large rock have been set up between us as a reminder. I must never go beyond them to attack you, and you must never go beyond them to attack me.
  52. (SEE 31:51)
  53. My father Nahor, your grandfather Abraham, and their ancestors all worshiped the same God, and he will make sure that we each keep the agreement. Then Jacob made a promise in the name of the fearsome God his father Isaac had worshiped.
  54. Jacob killed an animal and offered it as a sacrifice there on the mountain, and he invited his men to eat with him. After the meal they spent the night on the mountain.
  55. Early the next morning, Laban kissed his daughters and his grandchildren good-by, then he left to go back home.

    Jacob had a visit from God on his journey to Laban's house 20 years earlier. (chapter 28) In this visit God renewed the promises He had made with Abraham of giving him the land, of numberless descendants, and of all people being blessed through him and his offspring. Then God said to Jacob, "I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go. I will bring you back to this land, for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you." (28:15) In response Jacob made the vow that, "If God will be with me and watch over me on this journey, if He provides me with food to eat and clothing to wear, and if I return safely to my father's house, then the LORD will be my God." (28:20-21)

    Since that time Jacob left behind his deceptive ways. Though Laban deceived Jacob multiple times and changed his wages "10 times," Jacob was always honest with Laban. When Jacob approached Laban about returning to his homeland, Laban offered to pay him wages if he would stay. Jacob refused any wages, but asked that he be given the spotted and dark-colored sheep and goats with which to breed for his own herd. Then there would be no question about which sheep and goats belonged to Jacob and which to Laban. He was dealing with Laban as honestly as he could. But God continued to bless Jacob. Everything he did prospered. His herds continued to grow. Yet regardless of Jacob's honest dealings with Laban, Laban's sons were now saying, "Jacob has taken all that was our father's and has built this wealth from what belonged to our father." (31:1) They were overlooking the fact that Laban was now much more prosperous since Jacob came to him than he was before. Jacob had prospered, but so had Laban. Besides what the sons were saying, Jacob could tell that Laban's attitude toward him had changed.

    Jacob simply did what God led him to do and he prospered. His prosperity caused jealousy among Laban and his sons. They were undoubtedly going to deal unscrupulously with Jacob again if he remained with them. At this point, God told Jacob it was time to return to his homeland. In so doing, God would be with him and protect him. When we determine to follow God, we should not expect that everyone will understand our motives or intentions. In fact, we will often be misunderstood, whether by intent or by honest confusion. But this should not sway us from following God. Gaining the favor of those who misunderstand has nothing to offer and God has much to offer. Not only will God bless us but He will also protect us.

    We may remain stuck where we are because of fear. It may be in a bad situation or may merely be a situation that is leading nowhere, certainly not to the abundant life that God gives. But we are too concerned about what others will think or say or do. And, it may be family members who are our greatest threat in this regard, as it was with Jacob. But the abundant life is with God. It does not come from any other. Jacob had God's promise to be with him in the face of the threat posed by Laban and his sons if he did what God told him to do and return to his homeland. This, too, is our issue of trust if we do what God tells us to do. Can we trust His protection and blessing against what may be very real threats of being ostracized by others or of material loss?

Monday, July 18, 2011

Reflections on Genesis 30

    Genesis 30 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. Rachel was very jealous of Leah for having children, and she said to Jacob, "I'll die if you don't give me some children!"
  2. But Jacob became upset with Rachel and answered, "Don't blame me! I'm not God."
  3. "Here, take my servant Bilhah," Rachel told him. "Have children by her, and I'll let them be born on my knees to show that they are mine."
  4. Then Rachel let Jacob marry Bilhah,
  5. and they had a son.
  6. Rachel named him Dan, because she said, "God has answered my prayers. He has judged me and given me a son."
  7. When Bilhah and Jacob had a second son,
  8. Rachel said, "I've struggled hard with my sister, and I've won!" So she named the boy Naphtali.
  9. When Leah realized she could not have any more children, she let Jacob marry her servant Zilpah,
  10. and they had a son.
  11. "I'm really lucky," Leah said, and she named the boy Gad.
  12. When they had another son,
  13. Leah exclaimed, "I'm happy now, and all the women will say how happy I am." So she named him Asher.
  14. During the time of the wheat harvest, Reuben found some love flowers and took them to his mother Leah. Rachel asked Leah for some of them,
  15. but Leah said, "It's bad enough that you stole my husband! Now you want my son's love flowers too." "All right," Rachel answered. "Let me have the flowers, and you can sleep with Jacob tonight."
  16. That evening when Jacob came in from the fields, Leah told him, "You're sleeping with me tonight. I hired you with my son's love flowers." They slept together that night,
  17. and God answered Leah's prayers by giving her a fifth son.
  18. Leah shouted, "God has rewarded me for letting Jacob marry my servant," and she named the boy Issachar.
  19. When Leah had another son,
  20. she exclaimed, "God has given me a wonderful gift, and my husband will praise me for giving him six sons." So she named the boy Zebulun.
  21. Later, Leah had a daughter and named her Dinah.
  22. Finally, God remembered Rachel--he answered her prayer by giving her a son. "God has taken away my disgrace," she said.
  23. (SEE 30:22)
  24. "I'll name the boy Joseph, and I'll pray that the LORD will give me another son."
  25. After Joseph was born, Jacob said to Laban, "Release me from our agreement and let me return to my own country.
  26. You know how hard I've worked for you, so let me take my wives and children and leave."
  27. But Laban told him, "If you really are my friend, stay on, and I'll pay whatever you ask. I'm sure the LORD has blessed me because of you."
  28. (SEE 30:27)
  29. Jacob answered: You've seen how hard I've worked for you, and you know how your flocks and herds have grown under my care.
  30. You didn't have much before I came, but the LORD has blessed everything I have ever done for you. Now it's time for me to start looking out for my own family.
  31. "How much do you want me to pay you?" Laban asked. Then Jacob told him: I don't want you to pay me anything. Just do one thing, and I'll take care of your sheep and goats.
  32. Let me go through your flocks and herds and take the sheep and goats that are either spotted or speckled and the black lambs. That's all you need to give me.
  33. In the future you can easily find out if I've been honest. Just look and see if my animals are either spotted or speckled, or if the lambs are black. If they aren't, they've been stolen from you.
  34. "I agree to that," was Laban's response.
  35. Before the end of the day, Laban had separated his spotted and speckled animals and the black lambs from the others and had put his sons in charge of them.
  36. Then Laban made Jacob keep the rest of the sheep and goats at a distance of three days' journey.
  37. Jacob cut branches from some poplar trees and from some almond and evergreen trees. He peeled off part of the bark and made the branches look spotted and speckled.
  38. Then he put the branches where the sheep and goats would see them while they were drinking from the water trough. The goats mated there
  39. in front of the branches, and their young were spotted and speckled.
  40. Some of the sheep that Jacob was keeping for Laban were already spotted. And when the others were ready to mate, he made sure that they faced in the direction of the spotted and black ones. In this way, Jacob built up a flock of sheep for himself and did not put them with the other sheep.
  41. When the stronger sheep were mating near the drinking place, Jacob made sure that the spotted branches were there.
  42. But he would not put out the branches when the weaker animals were mating. So Jacob got all of the healthy animals, and Laban got what was left.
  43. Jacob soon became rich and successful. He owned many sheep, goats, camels, and donkeys, as well as a lot of slaves.

    In the accounts of this chapter, the women (Rachel & Leah) were manuevering to gain children, and the men (Laban & Jacob) were maneuvering to gain sheep and goats. The gains that came by both accounts (children and sheep) came inspite of the manuevering and not because of it. It was not the shrewd strategy or bargaining that brought the gain, but the Lord's hand in it all.

    Entering chapter 30, Rachel was still childless and her sister Leah had stopped having children after having four sons. In desperation Rachel resorted to the same ploy as did Abraham's wife Sarah. She had Jacob sleep with her handmaid who conceived and had a son. Seeing what Rachel had done, Leah did the same and gave her handmaid to Jacob for childbearing purposes. Through this phase of childbearing, the two sister's handmaids each had two sons. Next, Rachel, who had not given up on bearing a child herself, saw one of Leah's sons bring home some mandrakes, a plant that was thought to be an aphrodisiac, that is, to increase sexual desire. Seeing the mandrakes, Rachel decided to use them to help her have a child. She eventually did bear two sons, but it was much later after using the mandrakes, and thus not a result of their effects.

    Once Rachel bore her first son, Joseph, Jacob decided it was time to leave his uncle Laban and return to Canaan, his homeland. Laban, however, had prospered as a result of God's blessing on Jacob and did not want him to leave. Thus Laban bargained for Jacob to stay. Jacob responded with a plan by which he would take from Laban's herds "every sheep that is speckled or spotted, every dark-colored sheep among the lambs, and the spotted and speckled among the female goats." These were to be considered his wages for the years he had worked for Laban. Having agreed to Jacob's terms, Laban proceeded to remove all the dark-colored and spotted sheep and goats and give them to his sons leaving none for Jacob to take. In spite of Laban's maneuverings, God blessed Jacob at Laban's expense. Through a process of selective breeding, which God blessed, dark-colored and spotted sheep and goats were born to Laban's unspotted and white-colored sheep and goats which were added to Jacob's herds. The heartier sheep and goats were born to Jacob and the weaker ones to Laban.

    When we agree to God's plan for our lives, as had Jacob, we do not stop being human. We still are flawed and sinful human beings who have chosen God's way rather than our own. We will make mistakes and we will become prideful thinking at times that it is our plan rather than God's that has brought success. But as we focus and refocus and commit and recommit ourselves to God's plan over our own, God will use us and we will be blessed. The greatest fulfillment in life is not successes gained by our own powers and abilities, but those gained through partnership with God in fulfillment of His plans. Our plans pale in comparison to His and the outcomes far less reaching than His.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Reflections on Genesis 29

    Genesis 29 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. As Jacob continued on his way to the east,
  2. he looked out in a field and saw a well where shepherds took their sheep for water. Three flocks of sheep were lying around the well, which was covered with a large rock.
  3. Shepherds would roll the rock away when all their sheep had gathered there. Then after the sheep had been watered, the shepherds would roll the rock back over the mouth of the well.
  4. Jacob asked the shepherds, "Where are you from?" "We're from Haran," they answered.
  5. Then he asked, "Do you know Nahor's grandson Laban?" "Yes we do," they replied.
  6. "How is he?" Jacob asked. "He's fine," they answered. "And here comes his daughter Rachel with the sheep."
  7. Jacob told them, "Look, the sun is still high up in the sky, and it's too early to bring in the rest of the flocks. Water your sheep and take them back to the pasture."
  8. But they replied, "We can't do that until they all get here, and the rock has been rolled away from the well."
  9. While Jacob was still talking with the men, his cousin Rachel came up with her father's sheep.
  10. When Jacob saw her and his uncle's sheep, he rolled the rock away and watered the sheep.
  11. He then kissed Rachel and started crying because he was so happy.
  12. He told her that he was the son of her aunt Rebekah, and she ran and told her father about him.
  13. As soon as Laban heard the news, he ran out to meet Jacob. He hugged and kissed him and brought him to his home, where Jacob told him everything that had happened.
  14. Laban said, "You are my nephew, and you are like one of my own family." After Jacob had been there for a month,
  15. Laban said to him, "You shouldn't have to work without pay, just because you are a relative of mine. What do you want me to give you?"
  16. Laban had two daughters. Leah was older than Rachel, but her eyes didn't sparkle, while Rachel was beautiful and had a good figure.
  17. (SEE 29:16)
  18. Since Jacob was in love with Rachel, he answered, "If you will let me marry Rachel, I'll work seven years for you."
  19. Laban replied, "It's better for me to let you marry Rachel than for someone else to have her. So stay and work for me."
  20. Jacob worked seven years for Laban, but the time seemed like only a few days, because he loved Rachel so much.
  21. Jacob said to Laban, "The time is up, and I want to marry Rachel now!"
  22. So Laban gave a big feast and invited all their neighbors.
  23. But that evening he brought Leah to Jacob, who married her and spent the night with her.
  24. Laban also gave Zilpah to Leah as her servant woman.
  25. The next morning Jacob found out that he had married Leah, and he asked Laban, "Why did you do this to me? Didn't I work to get Rachel? Why did you trick me?"
  26. Laban replied, "In our country the older daughter must get married first.
  27. After you spend this week with Leah, you may also marry Rachel. But you will have to work for me another seven years."
  28. At the end of the week of celebration, Laban let Jacob marry Rachel, and he gave her his servant woman Bilhah. Jacob loved Rachel more than he did Leah, but he had to work another seven years for Laban.
  29. (SEE 29:28)
  30. (SEE 29:28)
  31. The LORD knew that Jacob loved Rachel more than he did Leah, and so he gave children to Leah, but not to Rachel.
  32. Leah gave birth to a son and named him Reuben, because she said, "The LORD has taken away my sorrow. Now my husband will love me more than he does Rachel."
  33. She had a second son and named him Simeon, because she said, "The LORD has heard that my husband doesn't love me."
  34. When Leah's third son was born, she said, "Now my husband will hold me close." So this son was named Levi.
  35. She had one more son and named him Judah, because she said, "I'll praise the LORD!"

    This account of Jacob leaving home and establishing a life independent of his parents parallels that of his father and even his grandfather at a couple of points.  His "happenstance" meeting of Rachel at the well as he arrived near her home parallels that of his grandfather's servant happening to meet Rebekah at the well near her home. In both instances, it was Laben's home they were approaching. In the first instance it was his sister being sought as a wife, and in the second, his daughter. Each of the patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac, Jacob) married beautiful wives who each were barren for a number of years into their marriage.

    However, unlike his father and grandfather before him, Jacob had children by more than one woman who were considered descendants under Abraham's covenant with God. Some of these children Jacob had by the servants of his wives. But in the case of Abraham, the son he had by his wife's handmaid was not allowed to be a part of the covenant. Scripture often does not explain the reasons for God's actions. We are prone to speculate concerning these reasons, but in the end, it is not important that we know or understand God's reasons. What is important is that we trust God and His reasons, trusting that His reasons are always best and His motives always in our best interest. We do not always like what God brings our way, but what He brings us is always in our best interest. Our dislike is usually due to our lack of trust.

    Jacob's visit from God on his journey to Laban's house changed his life, and his years within his uncle Laban's household served to disciple and shape him. He left home intent on escaping his brother's wrath. But he left his meeting with God intent on finding a wife and fulfilling God's purpose for his life. Ironically, the discipline Jacob received at the hand of his uncle paralleled the circumstances of his deception with his brother and father. In his circumstance with his brother, Jacob was the younger son trying to usurp the birthright of his older brother whose right it was by custom. If this right was to be turned over to the younger son, better to allow God to bring that to pass than to usurp it by deception. In the case of acquiring his wife, Jacob was again attempting to usurp the right of an elder child by a younger one. In this case Jacob did not use deception, but his uncle did in overthrowing his attempt to marry the younger daughter first. This time Jacob was the victim of deception, and through it he could better understand his brother's feelings when deceived out of his birthright.

    Jacob was to emerge from his years with Laban a wealthy man positioned to fulfill the role God had for him. If we will endure the time of struggle that God brings into our lives, seeking to learn what He has for us to learn, we will emerge prepared for the purpose for which He was directing our lives, and for the blessings that come with it.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Reflections on Genesis 28

    Genesis 28 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. Isaac called in Jacob, then gave him a blessing, and said: Don't marry any of those Canaanite women.
  2. Go at once to your mother's father Bethuel in northern Syria and choose a wife from one of the daughters of Laban, your mother's brother.
  3. I pray that God All-Powerful will bless you with many descendants and let you become a great nation.
  4. May he bless you with the land he gave Abraham, so that you will take over this land where we now live as foreigners.
  5. Isaac then sent Jacob to stay with Rebekah's brother Laban, the son of Bethuel the Aramean.
  6. Esau found out that his father Isaac had blessed Jacob and had warned him not to marry any of the Canaanite women. He also learned that Jacob had been sent to find a wife in northern Syria
  7. and that he had obeyed his father and mother.
  8. Esau already had several wives, but he realized at last how much his father hated the Canaanite women.
  9. So he married Ishmael's daughter Mahalath, who was the sister of Nebaioth and the granddaughter of Abraham.
  10. Jacob left the town of Beersheba and started out for Haran.
  11. At sunset he stopped for the night and went to sleep, resting his head on a large rock.
  12. In a dream he saw a ladder that reached from earth to heaven, and God's angels were going up and down on it.
  13. The LORD was standing beside the ladder and said: I am the LORD God who was worshiped by Abraham and Isaac. I will give to you and your family the land on which you are now sleeping.
  14. Your descendants will spread over the earth in all directions and will become as numerous as the specks of dust. Your family will be a blessing to all people.
  15. Wherever you go, I will watch over you, then later I will bring you back to this land. I won't leave you--I will do all I have promised.
  16. Jacob woke up suddenly and thought, "The LORD is in this place, and I didn't even know it."
  17. Then Jacob became frightened and said, "This is a fearsome place! It must be the house of God and the ladder to heaven."
  18. When Jacob got up early the next morning, he took the rock that he had used for a pillow and stood it up for a place of worship. Then he poured olive oil on the rock to dedicate it to God,
  19. and he named the place Bethel. Before that it had been named Luz.
  20. Jacob solemnly promised God, "If you go with me and watch over me as I travel, and if you give me food and clothes
  21. and bring me safely home again, you will be my God.
  22. This rock will be your house, and I will give back to you a tenth of everything you give me."

    Events of this chapter are significant in that they confirm what has just transpired with blessing Jacob over Esau, and they solidly establish Jacob as the bearer of the Abrahamic covenant.

    Chapter 27 closes with a threat on the life of Jacob by his brother Esau. Esau's threat was reported to Rebekah and she told Jacob to leave and go to the home of her brother Laban in Haran. Her intent was that he should be away only a short time until Esau's anger subsided. Having told Jacob of his brother's threat and of his need to leave, Rebekah then went to Isaac with a different approach. The concern she presented to him was the need for Jacob to marry a woman who was not Hittite. Though it seems her primary concern was a dislike for the Hittite women that Esau had married, avoidance of intermarriage with other peoples was important to the keeping of the Abrahamic covenant and establishment of a people who were loyal to God.

    Following Rebekah's conversation with Isaac, Isaac summoned Jacob and gave him the full Abrahamic blessing and commanded him not to marry any of the Canaanite women. To avoid this, he was to go to the house of Bethuel, Rebekah's father, and marry one of Laban's daughters. So, while Rebekah's purpose in sending Jacob away was to protect him from Esau, Isaac's purpose in sending him away was for him to marry within the clan. We also see in this emphasis on the importance of marriage within the clan that Esau had already disqualified himself from receiving his father's blessing, and the Abrahamic covenant that went with it, because of his Hittite marriages. This and his easy disregard of his birthright for a bowl of stew point out his lack of character for the role of bearing the covenant. Esau further confirmed this by marrying a daughter of Ishmael. He realized that his father disapproved of his Hittite wives and thus sought to gain his father's approval by marrying a daughter of one of Abraham's sons. He just didn't get it. Even had he married an "approved" woman, which Ishmael's daughter was not, it would not have corrected his existing marriages to unapproved women. Nor did he understand that just because Ishmael was Abraham's son he was not a son of the covenant since his mother was Hittite, thus his daughter was not an approved wife.

    God placed His official stamp of approval on Jacob in the closing verses of the chapter. On Jacob's journey to his uncle Laban's, God visited him and renewed the covenant He had made with Abraham, promising to continue the covenant through Jacob. Through repentance we can be accepted by God and receive His blessings regardless of previous choices we have made, but those choices may still disqualify us from playing certain roles in God's service.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Reflections on Genesis 27

    Genesis 27 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. After Isaac had become old and almost blind, he called in his first-born son Esau, who asked him, "Father, what can I do for you?"
  2. Isaac replied, "I am old and might die at any time.
  3. So take your bow and arrows, then go out in the fields, and kill a wild animal.
  4. Cook some of that tasty food that I love so much and bring it to me. I want to eat it once more and give you my blessing before I die."
  5. Rebekah had been listening, and as soon as Esau left to go hunting,
  6. she said to Jacob, "I heard your father tell Esau
  7. to kill a wild animal and cook some tasty food for your father before he dies. Your father said this because he wants to bless your brother with the LORD as his witness.
  8. Now, my son, listen carefully to what I want you to do.
  9. Go and kill two of your best young goats and bring them to me. I'll cook the tasty food that your father loves so much.
  10. Then you can take it to him, so he can eat it and give you his blessing before he dies."
  11. "My brother Esau is a hairy man," Jacob reminded her. "And I am not.
  12. If my father touches me and realizes I am trying to trick him, he will put a curse on me instead of giving me a blessing."
  13. Rebekah insisted, "Let his curse fall on me! Just do what I say and bring me the meat."
  14. So Jacob brought the meat to his mother, and she cooked the tasty food that his father liked.
  15. Then she took Esau's best clothes and put them on Jacob.
  16. She also covered the smooth part of his hands and neck with goatskins
  17. and gave him some bread and the tasty food she had cooked.
  18. Jacob went to his father and said, "Father, here I am." "Which one of my sons are you?" his father asked.
  19. Jacob replied, "I am Esau, your first-born, and I have done what you told me. Please sit up and eat the meat I have brought. Then you can give me your blessing."
  20. Isaac asked, "My son, how did you find an animal so quickly?" "The LORD your God was kind to me," Jacob answered.
  21. "My son," Isaac said, "come closer, where I can touch you and find out if you really are Esau."
  22. Jacob went closer. His father touched him and said, "You sound like Jacob, but your hands feel hairy like Esau's."
  23. And so Isaac blessed Jacob, thinking he was Esau.
  24. Isaac asked, "Are you really my son Esau?" "Yes, I am," Jacob answered.
  25. So Isaac told him, "Serve me the wild meat, and I can give you my blessing." Jacob gave him some meat, and he ate it. He also gave him some wine, and he drank it.
  26. Then Isaac said, "Son, come over here and kiss me."
  27. While Jacob was kissing him, Isaac caught the smell of his clothes and said: "The smell of my son is like a field the LORD has blessed.
  28. God will bless you, my son, with dew from heaven and with fertile fields, rich with grain and grapes.
  29. Nations will be your servants and bow down to you. You will rule over your brothers, and they will kneel at your feet. Anyone who curses you will be cursed, anyone who blesses you will be blessed."
  30. Right after Isaac had given Jacob his blessing and Jacob had gone, Esau came back from hunting.
  31. He cooked the tasty food, brought it to his father, and said, "Father, please sit up and eat the meat I have brought you, so you can give me your blessing."
  32. "Who are you?" Isaac asked. "I am Esau, your first-born son."
  33. Isaac started trembling and said, "Then who brought me some wild meat right before you came in? I ate it and gave him a blessing that cannot be taken back."
  34. Esau cried loudly and begged, "Father, give me a blessing too!"
  35. Isaac answered, "Your brother tricked me and stole your blessing."
  36. Esau replied, "My brother deserves the name Jacob, because he has already cheated me twice. The first time he cheated me out of my rights as the first-born son, and now he has cheated me out of my blessing." Then Esau asked his father, "Don't you still have any blessing left for me?"
  37. "My son," Isaac answered, "I have made Jacob the ruler over you and your brothers, and all of you will be his servants. I have also promised him all the grain and grapes that he needs. There's nothing left that I can do for you."
  38. "Father," Esau asked, "don't you have more than one blessing? You can surely give me a blessing too!" Then Esau started crying again.
  39. So his father said: "Your home will be far from that fertile land, where dew comes down from the heavens.
  40. You will live by the power of your sword and be your brother's slave. But when you decide to be free, you will break loose."
  41. Esau hated his brother Jacob because he had stolen the blessing that was supposed to be his. So he said to himself, "Just as soon as my father dies, I'll kill Jacob."
  42. When Rebekah found out what Esau planned to do, she sent for Jacob and told him, "Son, your brother Esau is just waiting for the time when he can kill you.
  43. Now listen carefully and do what I say. Go to the home of my brother Laban in Haran
  44. and stay with him for a while. When Esau stops being angry
  45. and forgets what you have done to him, I'll send for you to come home. Why should I lose both of my sons on the same day?"
  46. Rebekah later told Isaac, "Those Hittite wives of Esau are making my life miserable! If Jacob marries a Hittite woman, I'd be better off dead."

    The scene played out in chapter 27 was prepared in chapter 25 with the introduction of parental favoritism of Rebekah for Jacob and Isaac for Esau. The scene seems motivated more by this favoritism than by a desire to follow God's leading. Rebekah might be credited for trying to do the right thing in accordance with God's word to her when she inquired of Him about the babies in her womb during her pregnancy. At that time God told her "the older will serve the younger." (25:23) Was Rebekah driven in her plan to deceive her husband by a desire to protect God's intent or to protect her favorite son? And, besides, does God's intent really need our help - particularly through deception? Yet, how often have I seen such reasoning in play to justify all sorts of ungodly behavior on the part of those who call themselves Christian and purport to be church leaders? More importantly to me, though. How often has my own behavior been less than honorable due to such reasoning?

    What about Isaac? What motives were driving him? He undoubtedly knew of God's word to Rebekah concerning the older serving the younger. Was it right for him to give his blessing to the older according to tradition rather than honor what God had told Rebekah? Was not his preference for Esau influencing his actions? And was not this favoritism toward Esau also blinding him to Esau's unwise choices?  Most importantly, though, was there any attempt to seek God's guidance in this delimma concerning which son to bless? Reminder to self: If you intend to follow God and allow God to guide you, direct you through the landmines of life and bless you, it is required that you seek His guidance and instruction.

    Failure to seek God's wisdom and guidance rather than seeking one's own selfish desires through deceptive means led to family dysfunction and murderous intent. God's intent would be accomplished despite this blundering, but Isaac and his family would pay a price for their deception and selfishness.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Reflections on Genesis 26

    Genesis 26 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. Once during Abraham's lifetime, the fields had not produced enough grain, and now the same thing happened. So Isaac went to King Abimelech of the Philistines in the land of Gerar,
  2. because the LORD had appeared to Isaac and said: Isaac, stay away from Egypt! I will show you where I want you to go.
  3. You will live there as a foreigner, but I will be with you and bless you. I will keep my promise to your father Abraham by giving this land to you and your descendants.
  4. I will give you as many descendants as there are stars in the sky, and I will give your descendants all of this land. They will be a blessing to every nation on earth,
  5. because Abraham did everything I told him to do.
  6. Isaac moved to Gerar
  7. with his beautiful wife Rebekah. He was afraid that someone might kill him to get her, and so he told everyone that Rebekah was his sister.
  8. After Isaac had been there a long time, King Abimelech looked out a window and saw Isaac hugging and kissing Rebekah.
  9. Abimelech called him in and said, "Rebekah must be your wife! Why did you say she is your sister?" "Because I thought someone would kill me," Isaac answered.
  10. "Don't you know what you've done?" Abimelech exclaimed. "If someone had slept with her, you would have made our whole nation guilty!"
  11. Then Abimelech warned his people that anyone who even touched Isaac or Rebekah would be put to death.
  12. Isaac planted grain and had a good harvest that same year. The LORD blessed him,
  13. and Isaac was so successful that he became very rich.
  14. In fact, the Philistines were jealous of the large number of sheep, goats, and slaves that Isaac owned,
  15. and they stopped up the wells that Abraham's servants had dug before his death.
  16. Finally, Abimelech said, "Isaac, I want you to leave our country. You have become too powerful to stay here."
  17. Isaac left and settled in Gerar Valley,
  18. where he cleaned out those wells that the Philistines had stopped up. Isaac also gave each of the wells the same name that Abraham had given to them.
  19. While his servants were digging in the valley, they found a spring-fed well.
  20. But the shepherds of Gerar Valley quarreled with Isaac's shepherds and claimed the water belonged to them. So the well was named "Quarrel," because they had quarreled with Isaac.
  21. Isaac's servants dug another well, and the shepherds also quarreled about it. So that well was named "Jealous."
  22. Finally, they dug one more well. There was no quarreling this time, and the well was named "Lots of Room," because the LORD had given them room and would make them very successful.
  23. Isaac went on to Beersheba,
  24. where the LORD appeared to him that night and told him, "Don't be afraid! I am the God who was worshiped by your father Abraham, my servant. I will be with you and bless you, and because of Abraham I will give you many descendants."
  25. Isaac built an altar there and worshiped the LORD. Then he set up camp, and his servants started digging a well.
  26. Meanwhile, Abimelech had left Gerar and was taking his advisor Ahuzzath and his army commander Phicol to see Isaac.
  27. When they arrived, Isaac asked, "Why are you here? Didn't you send me away because you hated me?"
  28. They answered, "We now know for certain that the LORD is with you, and we have decided there needs to be a peace treaty between you and us. So let's make a solemn agreement
  29. not to harm each other. Remember, we have never hurt you, and when we sent you away, we let you go in peace. The LORD has truly blessed you."
  30. Isaac gave a big feast for them, and everyone ate and drank.
  31. Early the next morning Isaac and the others made a solemn agreement, then he let them go in peace.
  32. Later that same day Isaac's servants came and said, "We've struck water!"
  33. So Isaac named the well Shibah, and the town is still called Beersheba.
  34. When Esau was forty, he married Judith the daughter of Beeri the Hittite and Basemath the daughter of Elon the Hittite.
  35. But these two women brought a lot of grief to his parents Isaac and Rebekah.

    Chapter 26 could easily be confused with chapter 20, they are so similar. As there were similarities between Isaac and his father Abraham regarding the inability to have children, so also there was similarity in how they dealt with danger in another country. As with his father, when famine came, Isaac proposed to move to Egypt but God came to him and told him not to go there. So Isaac went to Gerar where his father had also gone for a time. In Gerar, history repeated itself. As with Abraham, Isaac passed off his wife as his sister for fear of being killed because of her, he was rebuked by Abimelech because of his deception, there was strife between the men of Gerar and Isaac's servants over wells, Isaac grew wealthy in Gerar, and Abimelech made a treaty with Isaac.

    When God instructed Isaac not to go to Egypt, He also confirmed His covenant with Abraham, assuring Isaac that the covenant would continue with him: "For I will give all these lands to you and your offspring, and I will confirm the oath that I swore to your father Abraham. I will make your offspring as numerous as the stars of the sky, I will give your offspring all these lands, and all the nations of the earth will be blessed by your offspring." (26:3-4) With the assurance of God's blessing fresh in his mind, Isaac went to Gerar and right away used deception as a cloak of protection. Unlike his father, Isaac could not ease his conscience with the knowledge of his wife being his half sister. Why would Isaac fall back to deception when feeling threatened despite the fact that he had been assured of God's blessing? Maybe for the same reasons any of us do it.

    One of the most likely reasons I would act similarly in Isaac's situation is that I would feel the need to be actively involved in addressing the threat rather than waiting on God's solution, which would seem like doing nothing to protect oneself. When feeling threatened, all our senses tell us to "Do something." But seeking God's help and waiting for it to come is doing something whether it feels like it or not. And, it is doing the best thing we can do, a much better solution than Isaac's deception. Regardless of how we might want to frame Isaac's attempt at protecting himself, it was a lapse of faith.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Reflections on Genesis 25

    Genesis 25 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. Abraham married Keturah,
  2. and they had six sons: Zimran, Jokshan, Medan, Midian, Ishbak, and Shuah.
  3. Later, Jokshan became the father of Sheba and Dedan, and when Dedan grew up, he had three sons: Asshurim, Letushim, and Leummim.
  4. Midian also had five sons: Ephah, Epher, Hanoch, Abida, and Eldaah.
  5. While Abraham was still alive, he gave gifts to the sons of Hagar and Keturah. He also sent their sons to live in the east far from his son Isaac, and when Abraham died, he left everything to Isaac.
  6. (SEE 25:5)
  7. Abraham died at the ripe old age of one hundred seventy-five.
  8. (SEE 25:7)
  9. His sons Isaac and Ishmael buried him east of Hebron in Machpelah Cave that was part of the field Abraham had bought from Ephron son of Zohar the Hittite. Abraham was buried there beside his wife Sarah.
  10. (SEE 25:9)
  11. God blessed Isaac after this, and Isaac moved to a place called "The Well of the Living One Who Sees Me."
  12. Ishmael was the son of Abraham and Hagar, the slave woman of Sarah.
  13. Ishmael had twelve sons, in this order: Nebaioth, Kedar, Adbeel, Mibsam,
  14. Mishma, Dumah, Massa,
  15. Hadad, Tema, Jetur, Naphish, and Kedemah.
  16. Each of Ishmael's sons was a tribal chief, and a village was named after each of them.
  17. Ishmael had settled in the land east of his brothers, and his sons settled everywhere from Havilah to Shur, east of Egypt on the way to Asshur. Ishmael was one hundred thirty-seven when he died.
  18. (SEE 25:17)
  19. Isaac was the son of Abraham,
  20. and he was forty years old when he married Rebekah, the daughter of Bethuel. She was also the sister of Laban, the Aramean from northern Syria. Almost twenty years later,
  21. Rebekah still had no children. So Isaac asked the LORD to let her have a child, and the LORD answered his prayer.
  22. Before Rebekah gave birth, she knew she was going to have twins, because she could feel them inside her, fighting each other. She thought, "Why is this happening to me?" Finally, she asked the LORD why her twins were fighting,
  23. and he told her: "Your two sons will become two separate nations. The younger of the two will be stronger, and the older son will be his servant."
  24. When Rebekah gave birth,
  25. the first baby was covered with red hair, so he was named Esau.
  26. The second baby grabbed on to his brother's heel, so they named him Jacob. Isaac was sixty years old when they were born.
  27. As Jacob and Esau grew older, Esau liked the outdoors and became a good hunter, while Jacob settled down and became a shepherd.
  28. Esau would take the meat of wild animals to his father Isaac, and so Isaac loved him more, but Jacob was his mother's favorite son.
  29. One day, Jacob was cooking some stew, when Esau came home hungry
  30. and said, "I'm starving to death! Give me some of that red stew right now!" That's how Esau got the name "Edom."
  31. Jacob replied, "Sell me your rights as the first-born son."
  32. "I'm about to die," Esau answered. "What good will those rights do me?"
  33. But Jacob said, "Promise me your birthrights, here and now!" And that's what Esau did.
  34. Jacob then gave Esau some bread and some of the bean stew, and when Esau had finished eating and drinking, he just got up and left, showing how little he thought of his rights as the first-born.

    The first portion of this chapter (verses 1-18) serves as a historical footnote, providing an account of the roots of other people groups that entered into the life of the nation Israel. The Midianites, descendants of Keturah's son Midian, are one example. Also mentioned in this footnote is Ishmael to whom God told his mother that 12 sons would be born. These sons are listed in this footnote. Following this brief sidetrack, the narrative picks up again with the account of the covenantal lineage through Isaac.

    Isaac's experience was similar to his father's in that his wife was for many years barren. God had made a promise of many descendants of Abraham through Isaac who was considered the "only son" of Abraham in terms of the covenant. The question must have arisen in Isaac's mind as to whether God had forgotten His promise. Whereas Abraham made a plan of his own to have children, Isaac prayed for God to provide them. God answered this prayer and gave not one, but two sons to Isaac and his wife Rebekah. Isaac was 40 when he married Rebekah and 60 when these sons were born. Because of the activity of these children in her womb, Rebekah inquired of the Lord as to what was happening in her. God told her what was to be: "Two nations are in your womb; two people will come from you and be separated. One people will be stronger than the other, and the older will serve the younger." (25:23)

    So Jacob, the supplanter, and Esau, the hairy one, were born to Isaac and Rebekah. The one who did not have the birthright, by right of birth, valued it, and the one to whom it belonged did not. The writer of Hebrews considered this to stem from an immoral and irreverent character. Though God foretold that Esau would serve his brother, it was Esau who was born first and thus had the birthright. Had God not given him this gift of the birthright? And, did not Esau place more value on a bowl of stew than on the gift God had given him? We can debate the issue of God's election of one over the other, but the responsibility of choice was still there for these two brothers. Did not Esau have the option to choose differently than he did? And could not history have turned out differently had he done so? If truly we have a God-given freedom of choice, then it seems the answer to both question should be "yes." But it is not, in my mind, an issue of having the right to choose my own way that is of greatest importance, but to choose the way God desires for me. I am thankful for this freedom of choice God has given me and am convinced that the best choices I can make are those that are discerned through seeking God's council.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Reflections on Genesis 24

    Genesis 24 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. Abraham was now a very old man. The LORD had made him rich, and he was successful in everything he did.
  2. One day, Abraham called in his most trusted servant and said to him, "Solemnly promise me
  3. in the name of the LORD, who rules heaven and earth, that you won't choose a wife for my son Isaac from the people here in the land of Canaan.
  4. Instead, go back to the land where I was born and find a wife for him from among my relatives."
  5. But the servant asked, "What if the young woman I choose refuses to leave home and come here with me? Should I send Isaac there to look for a wife?"
  6. "No!" Abraham answered. "Don't ever do that, no matter what.
  7. The LORD who rules heaven brought me here from the land where I was born and promised that he would give this land to my descendants forever. When you go back there, the LORD will send his angel ahead of you to help you find a wife for my son.
  8. If the woman refuses to come along, you don't have to keep this promise. But don't ever take my son back there."
  9. So the servant gave Abraham his word that he would do everything he had been told to do.
  10. Soon after that, the servant loaded ten of Abraham's camels with valuable gifts. Then he set out for the city in northern Syria, where Abraham's brother Nahor lived.
  11. When he got there, he let the camels rest near the well outside the city. It was late afternoon, the time when the women came out for water.
  12. The servant prayed: You, LORD, are the God my master Abraham worships. Please keep your promise to him and let me find a wife for Isaac today.
  13. The young women of the city will soon come to this well for water,
  14. and I'll ask one of them for a drink. If she gives me a drink and then offers to get some water for my camels, I'll know she is the one you have chosen and that you have kept your promise to my master.
  15. While he was still praying, a beautiful unmarried young woman came by with a water jar on her shoulder. She was Rebekah, the daughter of Bethuel, the son of Abraham's brother Nahor and his wife Milcah. Rebekah walked past Abraham's servant, then went over to the well, and filled her water jar. When she started back,
  16. (SEE 24:15)
  17. Abraham's servant ran to her and said, "Please let me have a drink of water."
  18. "I'll be glad to," she answered. Then she quickly took the jar from her shoulder and held it while he drank.
  19. After he had finished, she said, "Now I'll give your camels all the water they want." She quickly poured out water for them, and she kept going back for more, until his camels had drunk all they wanted.
  20. (SEE 24:19)
  21. Abraham's servant did not say a word, but he watched everything Rebekah did, because he wanted to know for certain if this was the woman the LORD had chosen.
  22. The servant had brought along an expensive gold ring and two large gold bracelets. When Rebekah had finished bringing the water, he gave her the ring for her nose and the bracelets for her arms.
  23. Then he said, "Please tell me who your father is. Does he have room in his house for me and my men to spend the night?"
  24. She answered, "My father is Bethuel, the son of Nahor and Milcah.
  25. We have a place where you and your men can stay, and we also have enough straw and feed for your camels."
  26. Then the servant bowed his head and prayed,
  27. "I thank you, LORD God of my master Abraham! You have led me to his relatives and kept your promise to him."
  28. Rebekah ran straight home and told her family everything.
  29. Her brother Laban heard her tell what the servant had said, and he saw the ring and the bracelets she was wearing. So Laban ran out to Abraham's servant, who was standing by his camels at the well.
  30. (SEE 24:29)
  31. Then Laban said, "The LORD has brought you safely here. Come home with me. There's no need for you to keep on standing outside. I have a room ready for you in our house, and there's also a place for your camels."
  32. Abraham's servant went home with Laban, where Laban's servants unloaded his camels and gave them straw and feed. Then they brought water into the house, so Abraham's servant and his men could wash their feet.
  33. After that, they brought in food. But the servant said, "Before I eat, I must tell you why I have come." "Go ahead and tell us," Laban answered.
  34. The servant explained: I am Abraham's servant.
  35. The LORD has been good to my master and has made him very rich. He has given him many sheep, goats, cattle, camels, and donkeys, as well as a lot of silver and gold, and many slaves.
  36. Sarah, my master's wife, didn't have any children until she was very old. Then she had a son, and my master has given him everything.
  37. I solemnly promised my master that I would do what he said. And he told me, "Don't choose a wife for my son from the women in this land of Canaan.
  38. Instead, go back to the land where I was born and find a wife for my son from among my relatives."
  39. I asked my master, "What if the young woman refuses to come with me?"
  40. My master answered, "I have always obeyed the LORD, and he will send his angel to help you find my son a wife from among my own relatives.
  41. But if they refuse to let her come back with you, then you are freed from your promise."
  42. When I came to the well today, I silently prayed, "You, LORD, are the God my master Abraham worships, so please lead me to a wife for his son
  43. while I am here at the well. When a young woman comes out to get water, I'll ask her to give me a drink.
  44. If she gives me a drink and offers to get some water for my camels, I'll know she is the one you have chosen."
  45. Even before I had finished praying, Rebekah came by with a water jar on her shoulder. When she had filled the jar, I asked her for a drink.
  46. She quickly lowered the jar from her shoulder and said, "Have a drink. Then I'll get water for your camels." So I drank, and after that she got some water for my camels.
  47. I asked her who her father was, and she answered, "My father is Bethuel the son of Nahor and Milcah." Right away I put the ring in her nose and the bracelets on her arms.
  48. Then I bowed my head and gave thanks to the God my master Abraham worships. The LORD had led me straight to my master's relatives, and I had found a wife for his son.
  49. Now please tell me if you are willing to do the right thing for my master. Will you treat him fairly, or do I have to look for another young woman?
  50. Laban and Bethuel answered, "The LORD has done this. We have no choice in the matter.
  51. Take Rebekah with you, she can marry your master's son, just as the LORD has said."
  52. Abraham's servant bowed down and thanked the LORD.
  53. Then he gave clothing, as well as silver and gold jewelry, to Rebekah. He also gave expensive gifts to her brother and her mother.
  54. Abraham's servant and the men with him ate and drank, then spent the night there. The next morning they got up, and the servant told Rebekah's mother and brother, "I would like to go back to my master now."
  55. "Let Rebekah stay with us for a week or ten days," they answered. "Then she may go."
  56. But he said, "Don't make me stay any longer. The LORD has already helped me find a wife for my master's son. Now let us return."
  57. They answered, "Let's ask Rebekah what she wants to do."
  58. They called her and asked, "Are you willing to leave with this man right now?" "Yes," she answered.
  59. So they agreed to let Rebekah and an old family servant woman leave immediately with Abraham's servant and his men.
  60. They gave Rebekah their blessing and said, "We pray that God will give you many children and grandchildren and that he will help them defeat their enemies."
  61. Afterwards, Rebekah and the young women who were to travel with her prepared to leave. Then they got on camels and left with Abraham's servant and his men.
  62. At that time Isaac was living in the southern part of Canaan near a place called "The Well of the Living One Who Sees Me."
  63. One evening he was walking out in the fields, when suddenly he saw a group of people approaching on camels. So he started toward them. Rebekah saw him coming, she got down from her camel, and asked, "Who is that man?" "He is my master Isaac," the servant answered. Then Rebekah covered her face with her veil.
  64. (SEE 24:63)
  65. (SEE 24:63)
  66. The servant told Isaac everything that had happened.
  67. Isaac took Rebekah into the tent where his mother had lived before she died, and Rebekah became his wife. He loved her and was comforted over the loss of his mother.

    Chapter 24 contains a beautiful story of God's leading in the lives of those who trust in Him and are obedient to His leading. We may identify with it more than other accounts of God's leading in Abraham's life to fulfill His covenant with him. In the major covenant events to this point God spoke directly to Abraham as if it were in an audible voice. In this account there was no such communication from God, nor was it only Abraham who obediently followed God's leading. Those actively involved in this account and who responded positively to God's leading include: Abraham, Abraham's servant, Rebekah, Rebekah's brother Laban and her mother, and then Isaac. As each person took a step of obedience at each juncture in the account, God revealed the next step they were to take.

    The account begins with Abraham's obedience to his covenant with God. He was not to take a wife for Isaac from the Canaanite women nor was Isaac to leave that land to go back to his father's home in order to get a wife. Abraham was firm on these two things in obedience to God's instructions to him. Obedience to God is always an act of faith. Faith that God will make possible what He tells a person to do, and faith that in following God's leading events will turn out good for all concerned, to name a couple of acts of faith. The list could go on and on, though.

    Abraham's servant demonstrated a similar faith to that of his master Abraham. Most likely he had seen enough of God's blessing in Abraham's life to have gained a strong trust in God. When the servant arrived at the well near Rebekah's home, he trusted God to reveal his next step, and prayed for a sign that would lead him. God granted his request and the sign pointed to Rebekah as the wife he was to take back for Isaac. When the servant revealed to Rebekah how God had led him, she also responded in faith as God was leading her. When the servant told the whole account of God's leading to Rebekah's brother Laban and to her mother, they too responded in faith to God's leading. Finally, there was Isaac who accepted Rebekah without question to be his wife and loved her.

    Throughout the account there was no audible voice from God and no angels that appeared. Everyone responded obediently to the inner voice or the open signs that they received. And throughout God opened the way to bring success to the mission. Any one of the persons involved could have refused to do what was asked of them and the account would have taken a different turn. But God would have chosen to bring success to the mission through other means. It was His mission, after all, and not that of the persons involved. Therefore, the responsibility was on God to bring success and not on those persons. And so it is in our obedience to God. When He leads and we follow, it is His mission to which we respond and His responsibility to bring success. It is our responsibility merely to be obedient.