Genesis 31:1-21 – On the Move

Jacob and Laban by Jean Restout
Jacob and Laban by French artist Jean Restout (1692-1768)

Jacob heard that Laban’s sons were saying, “Jacob has taken everything our father owned and has gained all this wealth from what belonged to our father.” And Jacob noticed that Laban’s attitude toward him was not what it had been.

Then the Lord said to Jacob, “Go back to the land of your fathers and to your relatives, and I will be with you.”

So, Jacob sent word to Rachel and Leah to come out to the fields where his flocks were. He said to them, “I see that your father’s attitude toward me is not what it was before, but the God of my father has been with me. You know that I have worked for your father with all my strength, yet your father has cheated me by changing my wages ten times. However, God has not allowed him to harm me. If he said, ‘The speckled ones will be your wages,’ then all the flocks gave birth to speckled young; and if he said, ‘The streaked ones will be your wages,’ then all the flocks bore streaked young. So, God has taken away your father’s livestock and has given them to me.

“In breeding season, I once had a dream in which I looked up and saw that the male goats mating with the flock were streaked, speckled or spotted. The angel of God said to me in the dream, ‘Jacob.’ I answered, ‘Here I am.’ And he said, ‘Look up and see that all the male goats mating with the flock are streaked, speckled, or spotted, for I have seen all that Laban has been doing to you. I am the God of Bethel, where you anointed a pillar and where you made a vow to me. Now leave this land at once and go back to your native land.’”

Then Rachel and Leah replied, “Do we still have any share in the inheritance of our father’s estate? Does he not regard us as foreigners? Not only has he sold us, but he has used up what was paid for us. Surely all the wealth that God took away from our father belongs to us and our children. So do whatever God has told you.”

Then Jacob put his children and his wives on camels, and he drove all his livestock ahead of him, along with all the goods he had accumulated in Paddan Aram, to go to his father Isaac in the land of Canaan.

When Laban had gone to shear his sheep, Rachel stole her father’s household gods. Moreover, Jacob deceived Laban the Aramean by not telling him he was running away. So, he fled with all he had, crossed the Euphrates River, and headed for the hill country of Gilead. (NIV)

Moving and changing are inevitable. Change and movement are built into all creation, from the seasons of the year to our physical bodies. Some changes and moves we deem as good, and others, not so much. Yet, whether good or bad, any switch or shift in life can be difficult to cope with.

Whatever the circumstance, God stands behind everything, working out his purposes. There are times and seasons in our lives in which we can get lost in our own stories. Ultimately, however, our transitions from one place to another are much more about our individual stories fitting into the larger story of God. Whenever we are unable to see how our own story and the story of God fit together, it is an opportunity to exercise our faith and trust God. Listening to God and responding to his call to move and change will at times be difficult due to the uncertainty of our future.

In today’s Old Testament lesson, Jacob has served his father-in-law Laban for twenty years. Now, he hears the call of God to move. The principal actor and center of the story is not Jacob, but God.  The primary point of the narrative is a revelation of who God is, with Jacob as the supporting actor in the story. God was watching over and protecting Jacob. The Lord was following through on his promise given to Jacob’s grandfather, Abraham, to go to the land he would show him – to make Abraham into a great nation so that all people-groups on earth would be blessed through him.  So, this story of Jacob is one piece in the unfolding drama of God’s redemption which would ultimately find its fulfillment in the person and work of Jesus.

Jacob had in-law issues. His relationship with his father-in-law was morphing into trouble. Laban’s attitude had changed toward his son-in-law, probably due to Jacob’s increasing wealth, and Laban’s decreasing assets. So, God showed up and told Jacob to return to the land of his fathers. Along with the call to make a change came a promise of God’s continued presence with Jacob. The grace given to Abraham when calling him out of Ur was renewed with more grace when calling Jacob back to the land of his father and grandfather.  It is in God’s nature to be gracious and to heap grace upon grace.

Jacob Fleeing Laban by Filippo Lauri
Jacob Fleeing Laban by Italian painter Filippo Lauri (1623-1694)

Jacob heeded call of the Lord and began laying plans to move back to Canaan. But how to tell his family about this? What are his wives going to say? After all, he is talking about moving away with kids and teenagers still in the tent. So, with some anxiety, Jacob called his wives, Rachel and Leah, out to the fields to talk.  Jacob laid out the story of himself and Laban, which he framed more as a contrasting story between God and Laban:

Laban’s attitude changed – God’s attitude does not change. God is not fickle.

Laban was unreliable, reneging on promises – God is reliable and trustworthy, keeping his promises.

Laban kept changing his mind – God stays the same, yesterday, today, and forever.

Laban saw only self-interest – God sees everyone and shows solidarity with the oppressed.

This same God is concerned for us and will not renege on his promises. God is providentially working out his agenda and concern for this earth, and we can bank on it.

The response from Jacob and Rachel to Laban was some tricky thievery. Jacob stealthily took his family and ran away from the situation. Rachel straight up stole Laban’s household gods. (Note: Old Testament narratives do not usually tell us whether something is bad or good but instead lets the story unfold and speak for itself so that we can see the ethics working itself out).  Jacob and Rachel had a less than stellar response to God’s grace. We do not know exactly what the household gods are, or why Rachel stole them. What we do know is that there was a bit of pagan practice mixed in with worship of the one, true God.

God wants to be our everything – the faithful, gracious, and present God – because God is good all the time. Our circumstances will forever be changing, and God may ask us to move and go do something somewhere else. Yet, no matter the situation and how different our surroundings may become, God does not change, and he is here with us; and, at the same time, is continually moving to accomplish his purposes.

Loving God, you have made the whole of human life in your image; each one of us shaped in love. Your goodness is ever-present within us all. Yet, there is so much evil and pain in our world; it comes at us from every direction. Teach us how to rediscover your love within us and to use that love as a force for good. Help us to turn our hearts toward the world in hope, praying for each other and regarding each other as a treasure. Join us all together in prayer so that we might be the light which darkness can never overcome, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Genesis 12:1-3 – The Blessing

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The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.

“I will make you into a great nation,
and I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
and you will be a blessing.
I will bless those who bless you,
and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth
will be blessed through you.” (NIV)

Words are powerful.  They have the power of life and of death, of blessing and cursing. Furthermore, withholding words of blessing and keeping silent is to withhold goodness and love from another.

Speaking words of blessing and backing up those words with an active commitment, is vital to humanity’s spiritual and emotional health.

The question for Abraham, and for us, is not only how we will respond to God’s commands but how we will react to his promise of blessing, and to be a blessing. Abraham left the city of Ur because he believed in the promise God was holding out to him of blessing.  It is the promises of God, not just the commands, which change our lives.  It is the promise, not only the command, which requires a decision and a change.  The world needs promise.  And promise is powered by blessing.

The term “blessing” in Scripture is a powerful communication of God’s presence and approval.  Notice some of the elements of God’s blessing to Abraham. God said that he would show Abraham the Promised Land, that is, he would be with Abraham. Abraham was neither alone nor on his own.  God provided Abraham with a peek into a special future – he would make Abraham into a great nation. What’s more, God would bless everyone else through Abraham. God’s approval was with Abraham – “I will bless you.”  Notice, also, God’s active commitment to Abraham: He would bless those who bless him and curse those who curse him.

This blessing was passed from generation to generation, from Abraham to Isaac, Isaac to Jacob, Jacob to his twelve sons; a blessing of God’s presence, approval; a blessing of a special future, and an active commitment.  The promise of the blessing found its ultimate fulfillment in the person of Jesus, who extended the original promise to the nations. I, as a Gentile believer, have come to faith because of this blessing.

Fathers and mothers everywhere across the world stand in a unique and special position as those who have the power of bestowing a blessing on their children – a blessing of being with them, approving of them, affirming their gifts and abilities, envisioning for them a special future of how God can use them. Those words of blessing have the power to help children navigate the world with assurance and confidence. Armed with blessing, they can filter-out the choices in front of them and walk in the way of God.

Notice in the New Testament Gospels how the God the Father blessed the Son:

As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water.  At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him.  And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:16-17).

God communicated his constant presence and an active commitment through the Spirit; God spoke words of approval and affirmation; God the Father had a special future for Jesus the Son, which helped Jesus to repel the words of Satan. Since Jesus needed and received a blessing from his Father, how much more do we?

Notice how Jesus passed on the blessing to his disciples with promise and commitment (giving them much more than only the command):

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely, I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20).

Jesus let his disciples know that his presence would be with them; he communicated an active commitment to give them authority to do the job of disciple-making; he pictured for them a special future of reaching the nations; he affirmed them and approved them. “The Great Commission” is really a re-statement of God’s original blessing to Abraham.

Once we begin to view Holy Scripture through the lens of promise and blessing, we begin to see it everywhere. Perhaps one more illustration of receiving and giving blessing will assist us:

Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through.  A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy.  He wanted to see who Jesus was, but being a short man, he could not, because of the crowd. So, he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way.  When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately.  I must stay at your house today.” So, he came down at once and welcomed him gladly.  All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a ‘sinner.’” But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord!  Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.”  Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham.  For the Son of Man came to seek and save what was lost.” (Luke 19:1-10).

Zacchaeus was transformed.  His life changed from one of cursing others through extortion to blessing others through giving. Jesus not once commanded him to do it. Instead, Jesus simply blessed him, and Zacchaeus, in turn, became a blessing. Being invited into someone’s house in the ancient world was in and of itself an act that communicated acceptance, approval, and encouragement.  The presence of Jesus changes people.

God is with us.  He has given us his very great and precious promises in Christ.  He has demonstrated his active commitment to us by giving us the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit has gifted each believer for service so that every individual may be a blessing to both the church and the world.

You and I already possess God’s blessing; there is no need to try and earn it.

We have the privilege and the ability to reverse the world’s curse and turn it into a blessing. Those blessed with money can be a blessing by giving it away. Those blessed by growing up in a loving family can provide love to others who are unloved and need a special blessing. Those blessed with wisdom can mentor and instruct those who need wisdom. Those blessed with the mercy of God can be merciful to others. Those blessed with a wonderful relationship with God can pray people into the kingdom of God.

Parents, it is never too late to bless your children, even if they are adults. Children, it is never too late to bless your parents and your siblings, even if they are prickly and hard. To not bless is to curse. Bless through words that build up, and do not tear down. Use those words to picture a special future of what God can do. Follow through with those words by demonstrating an active commitment to embodying blessing.

I leave you with a blessing, my dear readers:

May God answer you when you are in distress; and, may the name of Jesus protect you. 

May God send you help when you need it and give you support when you cry out to him. 

May the God of heaven remember all your good deeds done in faith and accept you just as you are. 

May God give you the desire of your heart and make all your plans succeed.

When the Almighty answers your prayers and goes out of the way to use you for his glory; then, I will be the first to shout with the loudest shout of joy that there ever was on the earth! 

I know that the Lord is God, and that he has a special future for you beyond what you can even ask or think.  And I will be there on the sidelines, encouraging you all the way. 

Some people trust in the political process, others trust in the strength of the economy; but we trust in the name of the Lord our God. 

May God answer when you call.

May God bless you with an everlasting love. 

May you know Christ, and him crucified, risen, and coming again. 

May God’s presence and power be with you now and forever.  Amen.

Click Blessings by Laura Story to remember that even in difficulty we are blessed.

Genesis 16:1-14

            The way the daily lectionary readings work is that Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday lessons reflect on the Scriptures for Sunday; and, the readings for Thursday, Friday, and Saturday anticipate the Scriptures for the upcoming Sunday.  So, in today’s Old Testament lesson, we get some further rumination on the theme from this past Sunday on listening to the voice of the Lord.
 
            God had told Abram that he would give him and his wife Sarai a son.  But years had passed and the promise had still not materialized.  Thus, in contrast to hearing and internalizing God’s voice, the text says that “Abram listened to the voice of Sarai” to have a child through her servant, Hagar.  In his impatience and discouragement, Abram thought that maybe he had to use some ingenuity and think up a plan in order to see God’s promise realized.
 
            But this was not God’s intention.  All along the Lord had promised to give Abram and Sarai a son, the two of them, despite their advanced age and Sarai’s barren womb.  It did not seem very probable, especially when times passes and nothing seems to be happening.  We might understand why Abram and Sarai went with their own plan, thinking that it might be God’s means of fulfilling his plan.  Yet, it was neither sage nor right.
 
            I wonder if you, like me, expect immediate results to the promise that Christ will build his Church?  Perhaps you, like me, grow weary waiting for God’s promises and his Word to be fulfilled.  Sticking with basic spiritual disciplines such as silence and solitude so that we can listen well to God is a wise plan; going off the spiritual reservation to look for answers to problems or dilemmas because we are not sure if God is going to show up to help is a foolish plan.  We must trust God in what he says, and live our lives consistent with what he has told us he will do.
            O God, I admit that I am growing weary waiting for you to work!  Forgive me for my impatience, and strengthen me in my faith so that I will fully trust your revealed promises in Jesus Christ.  Amen.