Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 14 August 2017

 By faith Jacob, when he was dying, blessed each of Joseph’s sons, and worshiped as he leaned on the top of his staff.  Hebrews 11, verse 21.

Jacob:   he is revered yet he is reviled.   I’ve heard Biblical critics savage the Scriptures because of Jacob.   He was a liar, a cheat, a scoundrel.  He was the radically imperfect vessel through whom God chose to display His grace.   Later there was Moses, and Ruth, and David, and the prophets, and Paul.   Much later came you and me.   Like it or not, got skin, got sin.   You, Jacob, and I are cut from the same cloth.

Yet you and I aren’t going to be remembered in the Bible whereas those other people are.   Jacob was an old man by the time the story of Joseph fully played out.   He had known the consequences of the sins of his youth as well as those perpetrated against him.   He married two sisters who quarreled.   Said two sisters hated their father, and this animosity carried over into the next two generations.   His wife had played favorites with their children, just as Jacob’s had; just as Jacob did himself.  Those children, twelve sons from multiple women, quarreled again and sold their youngest brother into slavery.   When Jacob was praying like this, he was in danger of losing both his life and his family.  Indeed, at the time Jacob praying while leaning on his staff, he and everyone around him was still in real danger of starving to death.

Through all of it, two things remained.   One, Jacob remained a cheeky fellow, and two, Jacob came to rely more and more on God.  God had sustained him when he journeyed in the desert to his uncle’s land.  The pillow, the ladder, the visions, the miracle food:  all God’s provision.  In return, Jacob worshipped and prayed, built altars, dug wells, and dedicated his life to God.  Through God’s woven plan, Jacob regained the son whom he thought had died.  When his life was nearly over, he blessed his sons and their future in the name of the God he had come to know well, the God who had sustained him physically and spiritually against long odds.

Do you know any Jacobs in the world today?  Better yet, do you know of any in your own life?   Are you one of them?

I’ll admit:   I have a soft spot for Jacob.   When I was a boy, I was quiet like he was; I would have rather stayed around the house than go out hunting in the open country.   I’m still that way.  I’ve done my share of deceiving to get what I wanted, and I’ve come to own the consequences of sins I wish I had never done.   Yet I also know God.   I rely on Him more and more, even as so many times I still rail against Him.   I’m not wealthy like Jacob, and I haven’t yet known real famine.   Yet I have been in real danger of destitution and death many times, many of them times of my own making.   In all of them, I grew closer to my Maker because He sustains me in the bad times and provides for me in everything.   Anything good I have known is from God and nobody else.

Sometimes I see Jacob in the mirror.   God hasn’t made me into an Israel yet, but there’s still time.  What He has done is bring me from long ago days that seem fearfully ancient into today, where I am unafraid to talk of God and talk about Him in this life.   Where there have been mixed blessings, the ‘mixed’ part has always been because of something I or someone else did.  The blessings overwhelmingly come from God.  There are people who revere and revile me equally; it’s all fair.   Put it on my tombstone that I wish for them to revere God instead and revile the bad choices they, too, have made.   I’m Jacob.   How about you?

For further reading:  Genesis 48-49.

My Lord, You and only You sustain me, just as You did Your servant, Jacob.   Thank You for this.

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 10 August 2017

By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau in regard to their future.  Hebrews 11, verse 20.

Perhaps the story of Jacob and Esau is a good example of ‘mixed blessings.’  If you don’t know much about Jacob and Esau, they were twins born to Isaac and his wife, Rebekah.  Esau was born first, only minutes before his brother, but was the blood-born heir as firstborn.   Yet God wasn’t with Esau as He was with Jacob, and Jacob shrewdly talked his brother out of Esau’s birthright, then deceitfully gained his father’s first-born blessing by posing as Esau.  Shady story?   Perhaps, yet I’d ask you whether or not such things happen in our world today.   You know they do:  from families to nation-states, each of us acts in our own best interests.

Sometimes those interests are in line with how God is blessing us.  That was the case with Jacob.

When Isaac was old and nearly blind, he wanted to give his formal, ecclesiastical blessing to his first-born son.   In cahoots with their mother, Jacob and Rebekah schemed to deceive Isaac so that Jacob, and not Esau, would receive that blessing.   You’d be mad enough to kill if your younger brother had taken away everything that was supposed to be yours.   Esau was, and he swore to kill Jacob, then prepared to make good on that vow.  That’s what happened yet in being both fascinated and repulsed by this story, don’t overlook the miracle of it.

Isaac blessed his sons because he had faith his God would bless them accordingly.   What’s more, God blesses Jacob and Esau both after the deception.

Isaac lived his life knowing God, having seen God bless both his father, Abraham, and himself.  Isaac gave his blessing when he was old and while Abraham was still alive.   In doing this, Isaac is a witness to his belief that God was good and would bless and prosper the world as He said He would.   Such faith in adherence with worldly customs like birthright blessing shows trust in God and thankfulness for all that God has given us.  Isaac seems like a bit-player in Biblical history yet his faith is most important.   God made the covenant with Abraham to bless the world through him.  It is Isaac who puts that covenant into motion by passing on his faith-based blessing to his son.   God kept that covenant promise despite Abraham’s shortcomings (like lying about the identity of his wife) or Isaac’s (who did the same thing about his own).

And when the world (via Jacob) intervenes with the sin of deceit, God still uses that to make good on what He promised.  Hearing about Esau’s vow, Jacob, again with the help of his mother, flees to her homeland and is, himself, deceived by his uncle.   Jacob falls in love with his cousin, Rachel, yet is deceived by Rachel’s father into marrying her sister, Leah, in exchange for seven years of work.    Eventually, Jacob marries both Leah and Rachel and fathers twelve sons who will become the progenitors of the Twelve Tribes of Israel.

In the meantime, God blesses Esau by giving him wealth and a large family through his cousin Ishmael’s line.  Esau never forgot his vow to kill his brother, yet God blesses him with the spiritual gift of mercy.   Many years later, a wealthy Jacob returns home to submit to his brother’s will (itself an act of faith).   Instead of murder, Esau forgives his brother, and the families are reconciled.   When God sees Jacob’s willingness to submit to his brother’s punishment for the deceit of years before, His heart is moved and He renames Jacob “Israel.”   The rest, as they say, is history.

Read the story of Isaac, Jacob and Esau in Genesis; start in Genesis 27.   I’m hoping you see how yesterday’s themes of foreshadowing, devotion, reason and resurrection play out in all their lives because, in some ways, they are both the picture of the life of Jesus to come as well as a picture of the kind of lives even we live today.  Each of our lives is a bag of mixed blessings.   It’s my prayer you come to see how, mixed or otherwise, they’re all still blessings from above.

For further reading:  Genesis 27.

Lord, thank You for mixed blessings.   And thanks for the story of Isaac and his dysfunctional family.   May it be a blessing to my own.