Thursday, March 31, 2016

Struggling Under the Blessing (Part 4)

There is one more application I think can be legitimately drawn from Jacob’s life. His life, as recorded in Genesis, teaches us, in part, that God is always pursuing us to bring us to the point where we can experience being delivered and brought into the covenant relationship with him. This process happens in the same way it did for Jacob: Through surrender to the living God when confronted with the Truth about God’s grace and demands upon us.

This work of bringing us to the point of repentance and surrender is absolutely necessary for us to come under God’s covenant blessing of Abraham. Or as the Lord Jesus said, repentance is necessary to enter God’s Kingdom that has now arrived. Repentance is to turn around and change directions to go in the right way; if genuine it is fruit of spiritual surrender to God.       

In the end, when Jacob finally learned the necessity of surrender, he began to change to obey God’s direction for his life. What he found was mercy instead of hatred from his brother. He discovered the bounty of God’s grace upon his arrival home—that he was welcome and that God was faithful to his promise and gave him the inheritance. But now he knew that it was not because he was merely the grandson of Abraham.

He now understood that he must directly and honestly learn to do God’s will first; he cannot take the blessing for granted but must be responsive to God as the heir of the covenant. Indeed, the writer of Hebrews observes, “By faith Jacob, when dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, ‘bowing in worship over the top of his staff’.” (Hebrews 11:21, NRSV) Thus we see the elderly Jacob who has learned to surrender and worship Almighty God; he now feared God himself because God’s mercy had been granted to him.   

Like Jacob, in order for us to live under the covenant blessing, we must learn to listen and obey God according to the knowledge given to us of God’s will. In doing so we will find spiritual blessing that makes us contagious with the divine blessing in Christ. We become one of God’s chosen people and thus take on the responsibility of being God’s representatives on earth to bear witness to the Gospel.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Struggling Under the Blessing (Part 3)

Jacob was a schemer. Not to say that he was a cruel man. Rather he was one who that depended upon his own cleverness and intellect to get through life. Scheming persons are deeply distrusting and they only act to change when the pain threshold gets high enough. Jacob is an example of how God works with such a person: God takes the consequences of their actions and pressing them into their souls he pushes for response to God’s mercy which is always being offered. The utmost patience is shown in Jacob’s life for the sake of the promise made to Abraham. God took the relational wreckage Jacob left and formed a people from his children; he took the one who “struggled with God” (thus the meaning of his name) and made of him a man of faith. In the end he did become a faithful man who lived under God’s blessing.

He became over time a man of faith who could hear and prophesy about his descendants. What gives us evidence of his transformed character and faith is that he had the courage to face his past and return home and make things right. And as we read on through Genesis we see him (very imperfectly) practicing faith at those moments of crucial importance to him and his family. At his meeting with the Pharaoh he gave him a blessing in the Name (Genesis 47:1-10). He blessed Joseph and one of his two sons with the primary inheritance among all his sons—unlike his father Isaac insisting that it be the younger and not the older (Genesis 48). He prophesied by the Spirit regarding all his sons and descendants (Genesis 29:1-28).  This prophesy included a reference to the Messiah, our Lord (Genesis 49:9-10; see Numbers 24:17).    

I want to look at some specific applications from Jacob’s life. At least in part, Jacob’s story is an example of the fact that while we are all profoundly affected by the example and beliefs of our family and significant others, nevertheless we each are accountable to God as individuals. What your parents or grandparents’ faith or response to God (or non-response) was is irrelevant to the fact that you are being addressed directly by God. You and I are accountable to God for what we do with the truth we are given in this life; we each will have to give an account for our actions and words done in the body. 

Jacob had to endure difficulties directly as a result of his own sins of deception. The consequences over what he and his mother did—even though they were trying to make the prophecy of God happen—still spilled into everyone’s lives. One way that God brought back upon Jacob the fruit of his deception was leading him to Laben. Laben was even more conniving than Jacob! His sin brought him into dangerous situations which, had he taken the route of radical trust in God, he probably could have avoided.

Again, if we take the story out further into the narratives about Joseph, we find the same paradoxical principals at work. On the one hand, because of Jacob’s favoritism in parenting and general self-centeredness he reaped extraordinary trouble among his sons. And this brought him great grief as an old man in being told that he lost his two favorite sons. But on the other hand, God’s merciful hand was extended to him and his family. Instead of death God worked out redemption for not only Joseph but also for the whole family. Again, Jacob became the recipient of grace from God through someone in his family (namely, Joseph). God’s grace triumphed over his self-centeredness and sin and the sin of his sons who were following the example of their father!

God’s merciful hand is extended to us. He has preserved our lives—allowing us to escape from our own stupidity and folly and shielding us from the full consequences of our choices in this life. God is close and acts in ways we are completely unaware of to preserve our lives and give us opportunities to listen to his voice of love. As Jacob said, at the end of his life to his son Joseph, “The God before whom my ancestors Abraham and Isaac walked, the God who has been my shepherd all my life to this day, the angel who has redeemed me from all harm…” (Genesis 48:15-16) Jacob testified of God’s faithfulness to him and affirmed that God’s dealings with him personally were consistent with what God did with his fathers. Jacob had eventually responded in faith.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Struggling Under the Blessing (Part 2)

Jacob has resolved to go meet his brother after many years. First he sent his wives and children and servant and wealth ahead of him and he stayed behind. In keeping with his normal mode of relating to others he is suspicious of his brother and still fears for his life. Thus his plan is to “butter up” his brother with gifts so as to soften any hostility he may have still toward him (Genesis 32:13-21). But before he has that encounter with his brother he meets God in a way that he never expected and never forgot! This unwelcomed visit from God’s Messenger (God himself Jacob finds out) becomes the turning point of his whole life. (Genesis 32:22-32)

Notice that he is attacked while he is alone—he is ambushed and has to engage in a strenuous wrestling match against this man he does not know. Jacob is used to fighting to survive. And he fights for his life against him. And in this case this “man” cannot master him in the wrestling contest (v.25). But he knew how to force him to surrender—touching his hip and put it out of joint.   

Here he tries to out wrestle God! Jacob is nothing if not persistent! Though he cannot win he still persists in trying to control this strange visitor: Demanding that he be “blessed” before the man departs (v.26). Jacob is always striving to get the blessing of God—even to the point of threatening to use every bit of strength he has left to simply prevent this man from leaving.

The mysterious stranger asks him a simply question: “What is your name?” (v.27) A name in ancient times had profound meaning. The name one was given spoke of one’s character and/or destiny. In response to Jacob’s demand for a blessing the Man asks him his name. And then speaks over him a declaration of his character and future. He declares that his name will be changed from “Jacob” (one who supplants or a deceiver) to “Israel” (one who struggles but prevails). This change was again confirmed later in a direct word to Jacob (Genesis 35:10).

Yet having been defeated Jacob is still not done trying to get some advantage over this man. For he returns the question back to him: “What is your name?” You see now he knows that this is not merely a man he has been wrestling with. And thus he wants to know just who this is! “Please tell me your name.” (v.29) He cannot control or manipulate this Person. He merely deflects the question back at him: “Why is it that you ask my name?” (Or perhaps, Why must you ask? Do you really not know who I am?) For this non-response was a “no” answer but also a challenge to Jacob to believe God and stop trying to manipulate God! Then and only then did he got the blessing he wanted—by an act of grace. 

Jacob knew that this encounter was with God Almighty himself. How he realized this is not spelled out in the text but we know he concluded this because of the saying preserved which explains why he named that place as he did: “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved.” (v.30, NRSV; c.f., 49:15-16) He left there a marked man—literally marked by a limp (v.31). He had met God and had been spared and been given God’s blessing.

What did Jacob learn? He had heard God speak to him before and affirm the covenant promises given to Abraham and to Isaac. What made this encounter different was that he was brought to the end of himself; he could not manipulate or control his own circumstances. This Man pinned him down and forced him to surrender. Before he had always thought that he could figure out a way to control his own life and direct it as he willed—and this included “managing” God. Before he had believed in the God of his fathers but now he had been directly confronted with God and God’s demands upon him personally. He had now stepped closer to the radical faith of his grandfather Abraham. He knew that being under God’s covenant was serious business; that he must trust God and obey him.