Jacob

The Slave

Master Sergeant Roddie Edmonds was captured by the Nazis at the Battle of the Bulge. He along with 1,000 captives were sent to a German POW camp. As soon as the men arrived at the camp, they were questioned on their religion. At the time of the capture, the largest death camps had been liberated, but all Jewish officers were sent to a slave-labor camp where survival was also minimal. American Jewish officers were trained to destroy their dog tags upon capture so as not to reveal their Jewish heritage. As the leading non-commissioned officer, Edmonds was the first one questioned. He turned to his men right before the questioning began and told them, “We are all Jews here.”

The German commander came to Edmonds, took out a pistol, and held it to his head. He gave him one last chance to reveal the truth. With a gun held against his head, Edmonds replied, “If you are going to shoot, you are going to have to shoot all of us because we know who you are and you'll be tried for war crimes when we win this war.[1]” The German officer relented and Edmonds’ bravery saved 200 Jewish-American soldiers that day. God used the capture and courage of a soldier to save the lives of his brothers-in-arms. God has used, and will continue to use, the evil actions of men to accomplish his purposes. 

Beloved, we cannot escape evil. The evil actions of wicked men dominate our news headlines. How do you respond to it? Are you overwhelmed with it? Do you ever ask, “Where is God in the midst of this?” How about the evil done to you in your own life? I am sure that many of you know people who have turned away from God, not because of the evil in the world, but the evil in their world. The story of Joseph helps us to see how God uses the evil actions of sinful men to bring about his ultimate purposes. As God would use the capture and the courage of a soldier to save his brothers, so also God would use the capture and the courage of a slave to save his brothers.

The Beloved Son

            Joseph was the youngest son born to Jacob with Rachel, Jacob’s beloved wife. Joseph was the delight of his father, but his father’s extravagant delight created a prideful, spoiled child which did not help Joseph’s relationships with his brothers. Genesis 37:2-4,

These are the generations of Jacob. Joseph, being seventeen years old, was pasturing the flock with his brothers. He was a boy with the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah, his father's wives. And Joseph brought a bad report of them to their father. Now Israel loved Joseph more than any other of his sons, because he was the son of his old age. And he made him a robe of many colors. But when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, they hated him and could not speak peacefully to him. (Genesis 37:2-4)

Joseph was the beloved son. And the favoritism that Jacob showed Joseph did not help form strength of character. The picture of Joseph is that he is a spoiled teenager who annoys and tattles on his brothers.

            Jacob gave Joseph a robe of many colors or more, literally a robe with long sleeves. The robe was Jacob’s way of showing his love for his youngest son, but also to give him prominence. Bruce Watke comments that many “suggest it (the robe) has something to do with royalty…By this regal apparel Jacob publicly designates Joseph as the ruler over the family…Jacob thereby designated his son as his special heir.” This special designation did not help Jacob’s relationship with his brothers. They hated him and could not even speak peacefully with him. Joseph got under his brothers’ skin so that his mere presence annoyed them to the point they could not stand being nice to him at all. Child favoritism does not help anyone.

            Notice that through this section of Scripture there is no reference of God. Although we know that God is working, the narrative does not give him an active role…yet. Joseph has a dream, clearly these dreams are from the Lord, but the story leaves him out,

Now Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers they hated him even more. He said to them, “Hear this dream that I have dreamed: Behold, we were binding sheaves in the field, and behold, my sheaf arose and stood upright. And behold, your sheaves gathered around it and bowed down to my sheaf.” His brothers said to him, “Are you indeed to reign over us? Or are you indeed to rule over us?” So they hated him even more for his dreams and for his words. Then he dreamed another dream and told it to his brothers and said, “Behold, I have dreamed another dream. Behold, the sun, the moon, and eleven stars were bowing down to me.” But when he told it to his father and to his brothers, his father rebuked him and said to him, “What is this dream that you have dreamed? Shall I and your mother and your brothers indeed come to bow ourselves to the ground before you?” And his brothers were jealous of him, but his father kept the saying in mind. (Genesis 37:5-11)

Jacob did not keep his dreams to himself. The text says that his brothers hated him because of his dreams (which Joseph could not control) and for his words (which he could control). The root of the brothers’ hatred was jealousy. We must guard our hearts from the bitter fruit of jealousy.

            On commentary of Song of Solomon 8:6, “Love is strong as death; jealousy is cruel as the grave,” Charles Spurgeon writes,

Jealousy has often proved itself “cruel as the grave.” You have only to recall the most appalling murders that have been committed within your memory, or, if you please, those you have read of in the history of nations, and you will find that jealousy has instigated those that were most vindictive and relentless. When jealousy begins to turn its sharp tooth upon a man’s heart, his reason fails him. Madness takes possession of his faculties. A determined purpose, which he would not have dared to contemplate under the influence of a well-balanced judgment, prompts, plans and performs almost without premeditation, an atrocious crime, when jealousy rules the cruel hour! We believe it and we deplore it! No revenge has ever been found too bitter, too malicious, and too lawless for jealousy to inflict. Relentless as the grave, it spares not youth nor beauty, respects neither fame nor fortune, but accounts all comers for its prey![2]

Are you prone to jealousy? Is it easy to envy the goods or the lives of others? Beware, of the bitter fruit of jealousy. We must guard our hearts with contentment in the Lord. John Flavel writes, “Every man loves the mercies of God (his gifts), but a saint loves the God of His mercies.” Love the God who give gifts rather the gifts that come from God and you will have contentment.

            Jacob did not appreciate his son’s dreams, but kept the saying in mind. For Jacob knew that God spoke through dreams, but was not ready to fully trust that which was revealed to Joseph. Was Joseph God’s beloved son who would rule over his brothers?

The Brothers’ Sin

            The scene changed with the brothers going to keep the flock in Shechem while the favored Joseph stayed at home. Israel (Jacob) sent Joseph to check on his brothers. We see the bitter fruit of jealousy take hold of his brothers’ hearts,

Now his brothers went to pasture their father's flock near Shechem. And Israel said to Joseph, “Are not your brothers pasturing the flock at Shechem? Come, I will send you to them.” And he said to him, “Here I am.” So he said to him, “Go now, see if it is well with your brothers and with the flock, and bring me word.” So he sent him from the Valley of Hebron, and he came to Shechem. And a man found him wandering in the fields. And the man asked him, “What are you seeking?” “I am seeking my brothers,” he said. “Tell me, please, where they are pasturing the flock.” And the man said, “They have gone away, for I heard them say, ‘Let us go to Dothan.’” So Joseph went after his brothers and found them at Dothan. They saw him from afar, and before he came near to them they conspired against him to kill him. They said to one another, “Here comes this dreamer. Come now, let us kill him and throw him into one of the pits. Then we will say that a fierce animal has devoured him, and we will see what will become of his dreams.” (Genesis 37:12-20)

They could see his robes from afar and their jealous anger burned against him.

            The plan was simple. They were going to kill him and throw him in a pit and deceive their father by saying he was devoured by fierce animals. The natural animal-like instinct of the brothers obscured the fear of God. Reuben, the oldest brother, provided a middle ground solution. He did not confront his brothers’ sin, but worked a plan to rescue Joseph. Half-way obedience is not obedience. Genesis 37:21-24,

But when Reuben heard it, he rescued him out of their hands, saying, “Let us not take his life.” And Reuben said to them, “Shed no blood; throw him into this pit here in the wilderness, but do not lay a hand on him”—that he might rescue him out of their hand to restore him to his father. So when Joseph came to his brothers, they stripped him of his robe, the robe of many colors that he wore. And they took him and threw him into a pit. The pit was empty; there was no water in it.

The once talkative Joseph is no longer heard from again in his story. He now suffers in silence. Rueben planned to come back and rescue him while his brothers were going to let him starve. They stripped him of his robe and his special status. And by stripping him of their robes, they hoped to silence his dreams and to control the will of God.

            Reuben leaves his brothers and while he is gone, the narrative takes a turn. Judah speaks up and offers another plan,

Then they sat down to eat. And looking up they saw a caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead, with their camels bearing gum, balm, and myrrh, on their way to carry it down to Egypt. Then Judah said to his brothers, “What profit is it if we kill our brother and conceal his blood? Come, let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, and let not our hand be upon him, for he is our brother, our own flesh.” And his brothers listened to him. Then Midianite traders passed by. And they drew Joseph up and lifted him out of the pit, and sold him to the Ishmaelites for twenty shekels of silver. They took Joseph to Egypt. When Reuben returned to the pit and saw that Joseph was not in the pit, he tore his clothes and returned to his brothers and said, “The boy is gone, and I, where shall I go?” Then they took Joseph's robe and slaughtered a goat and dipped the robe in the blood. And they sent the robe of many colors and brought it to their father and said, “This we have found; please identify whether it is your son's robe or not.” And he identified it and said, “It is my son's robe. A fierce animal has devoured him. Joseph is without doubt torn to pieces.” Then Jacob tore his garments and put sackcloth on his loins and mourned for his son many days. All his sons and all his daughters rose up to comfort him, but he refused to be comforted and said, “No, I shall go down to Sheol to my son, mourning.” Thus his father wept for him. (Genesis 37:25-35)

Jacob, like his father, receives the deception of his sons. Jacob refused to be comforted and chose to live in his grief.

            The brothers’ sinned against their brother, their father and against God. Their selfish jealousy gave birth to grievous sin. James 1:13-15,

Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.

We must sever the root of sin, lest it grow and give birth to sin in our own lives. We are tempted to say that we could never do something as horrible as Joseph’s brothers, but in all our hearts we have the capacity for all kinds of grievous sins. Do not be deceived by the deceitfulness of sin. It lures, it entices and it tempts in many ways. If we are honest, we are probably more like these brothers than we realize. We may not have attempted to kill our brother and sell them into slavery, but we may hold on to the same root sin of jealousy and anger and bitterness. Friends, we are sinners like these brothers. And we, like them, need salvation. They, like we, will receive salvation, when the Beloved Son, becomes the Beloved Slave.

The Beloved Slave

            As grief fills the home of Jacob and his brother, the story ends with the beginning of how God is going to use this captured slave to save his brothers, “Meanwhile the Midianites had sold him in Egypt to Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh, the captain of the guard.” (Genesis 37:36) Joseph, the beloved son, has become a slave. It is only through Joseph’s slavery that he can save his brothers. Joseph’s story foreshadows the story of Jesus Christ. As one scholar notes,

Through his suffering and eventual ascension to rulership Joseph saved God’s people Israel, Jesus, similarly, through his suffering, death, resurrection and ascension would save God’s people…as Joseph’s brothers “conspired to kill him” (Gen. 37:18), so, according to Matthew, Jesus brothers, the chief priests and the elders, “conspired to arrest Jesus by stealth and kill him” (Matthew 26:4); as Joseph’s brothers sold him for twenty pieces of silver, so Jesus disciple Judas sold Jesus for thirty pieces of silver (Matthew 26:15); as Joseph’s brothers handed him over the Gentiles, so Jesus’ brothers “handed him over to Pilate the governor” (Matthew 27:2); as Joseph suffered in silence, so Jesus suffered in silence (Matthew 26:63); and as God used the evil deeds of Joseph’s brothers to save his people, so God used the evil deeds of Jesus’ “brothers” to save his people.[3]

Salvation came when the Beloved Son became the beloved slave to save his brothers from their sin.

            Joseph will save Israel from famine while Jesus Christ will save his people from eternal death. Jesus took on the very nature of slave, being made in human likeness. The sinless Son of God was killed as sinful servant so showing that Jesus was not ashamed to call us brothers (Heb. 2:11). As Roddie Edmonds identified with brothers-in-arms, saying, “We are all Jews” so, too, Jesus identifies with us. Jesus was poured out his soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors; and yet he bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors (Isaiah 53:12). Jesus died and rose again so that now anyone who repents of their sin and trust in Him, will be adopted as children of God with Jesus Christ as our elder brother who ever lives to intercede for us.

            Beloved, we are more like Joseph’s brothers than we realize. Our jealousy may be for our neighbors, but our greatest form of jealousy is our desire for God’s glory. We desire the glory that rightfully belongs only to God. We are sinners deserving of eternal punishment, but God sent the Son to be a slave so we could receive mercy, being adopted into God’s family. Romans 8:16-17, “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.” We can be children and heirs if we suffer with him. We identify with Christ’s death and resurrection first in baptism then in communion. The Lord’s Table is the Christian’s way to publicly proclaim the death of Christ until he comes. Jesus invites you to his table as members of his family.

The Lord’s Table is for sinners, but it is only for those sinners who have trusted in his death and resurrection for salvation. If you are a baptized believer and a member in good standing of a church in like faith and order, you are welcome to come identify yourself with the “death” of Christ by symbolically feasting on the body and blood of Christ. If you have never made the decision to publicly identify with Christ, I ask that you allow the elements to pass and reflect on how the Beloved Son of God became a slave to save you from your sins. As God would use the capture of Joseph to save his jealous, hateful brothers, God uses Jesus Christ to save jealous, hateful sinners by becoming like them so that by the grace of God might taste death for everyone. As we taste the bread and the cup, let us proclaim that Christ has tasted death for us and made us children of God.

 

 

 

 

[1] http://www.cbsnews.com/news/roddie-edmonds-american-wwii-vet-first-soldier-honored-for-saving-jews/ accessed. 5.28.16

[2] http://www.spurgeongems.org/vols61-63/chs3516.pdf accessed 5.29.16

[3] Syndy Griedanus, 356.

The Struggle

In the 1988 Olympics, 10 minutes before the start of the 400-meter race, Derek Redmond had to withdraw due to an injury in his Achilles tendon. Can you imagine struggling hour after hour in training to make the Olympics, only to withdraw from the medal round 10 minutes before the race due to an injury? Redmond left Seoul without a medal. The following year Redmond experienced 5 separate surgeries. He worked hard to recover from his injuries and finally qualified for the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona.

            Redmond made it all the way back to the semi-finals. This was finally going to be his time to show the world that his struggle would pay off in gold. He was the top finisher in two qualifying heats. He lined up at the starting line, with years of struggle behind him, the gun went off, and he burst from the line. Redmond had the lead going into the back half of the race when he heard a pop. His tore his hamstring. His dreams of winning the gold medal were over, but the race was not. The medical team raced out with a stretcher to help, but Redmond picked himself off the ground and continuing struggling toward the finish the line. His face grimaced in pain with every step. He struggled for this day for four years. He was going to finish the race, but he could barely walk.

            As Redmond continued to struggle towards the finish line limping in agony, his father jumps the railing, barrels past a security guard and runs towards his son. Jim Redmond made it to son. His son threw his arms around his father sobbing as his father softly said, “I’m here son. We’ll finish together.[1]” As father and son struggled towards the finish line together, arm in arm, several people tried to tell Jim that he could not help his son, but he brushed them off. He would not leave his son. Derek Redmond’s struggle did not earn him the gold medal, but it enabled him to cross the finish line. He finished the race with a limp, being carried by the love of his father.

            As Redmond lived his whole life to cross the finish his race at the Olympics, we are called to finish our race to glory. The Christian life is a race. We are called to struggle to finish the race. Hebrews 12:1b, “Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:1b-2) At the end of Paul’s life, he said, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.” (2 Timothy 4:7-8). Are you struggling to finish the race? Are you struggling for the promise land?

            Jacob was in the promise the land, but was forced to leave the land because he deceived his father into bestowing upon him the blessing of the firstborn. His brother, Esau, wanted to kill him, so Jacob went to his grandfather, Abraham’s, homeland. While in Haran, Jacob would be locked in a battle of deception with Laban. Laban would deceive Jacob into marrying Leah, securing seven more years of labor from Jacob to marry Rachel. Jacob would deceive Laban to receive the healthy flock securing great wealth. Jacob would flee Laban and try to make his way back to the land of promise. Jacob, the deceiver, would need to change if he was going to enter the promise land. As we examine Jacob’s struggle, I want to ask you two questions to see if you are struggling to finish the race to cross into the promise land. First question,

Are you Struggling in Self-Sufficiency against God?

            Jacob had struggled against God his whole life. He struggled with Esau in the womb holding on to his heel at birth. He struggled against Esau, deceiving him into selling his birthright for stew. He struggled against his father, Isaac, deceiving him into blessing him with the blessing of the firstborn. He struggled against Laban, deceiving him to receive the healthiest among the flocks. Jacob left the promise land alone and had become a wealthy man with a large family and 11 sons. Jacob was a self-made man. He was independent and self-sufficient. He was wealthy and prosperous. By worldly standards, he had achieved it all, but he was still outside the promise land.

God will not allow self-sufficient, independent people to enter the promise land. Jacob must change before he will be allowed to enter the promise land. After Adam and Eve were sent out of the garden, God made sure that no one would return to His land without trusting him. Genesis 3:22-24,

Then the LORD God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil. Now, lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever—” therefore the LORD God sent him out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken. He drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life. (Genesis 3:22-24)

God placed his angels to guard the entrance into the promise land. Jacob decides to return home to the land of promise and on his way we see in that Genesis 32:1, “the angels of God met him. And when Jacob saw them he said, ‘This is God’s camp!’” God could not allow the self-sufficient, independent Jacob into his “camp,” just as God will not allow self-sufficient, independent people into his heaven.

            Years later, Jesus looked at a self-sufficient, independent rich young ruler and told him that if he was going to inherit eternal life, he must go and sell all and give to the poor and then follow Jesus. The rich, self-sufficient ruler walked away sad, because he did not want to give up his wealth. Jesus then said to his disciples,

Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished, saying, “Who then can be saved?” [In other words, how can we cross the finish line of our race to the promise land?] But Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” (Matthew 19:23-26)

Genesis is about salvation. Genesis answers the question, “who then can be saved?” As Abraham believed God and it was counted to him as righteousness, so, too, when we believe God’s Word about the promised Son it to will be counted to us as righteousness (Romans 4).

            Jacob was trying to enter the promise land. Jesus said, “For many, I tell you will seek to enter and will not be able.” (Luke 13:24) How will Jacob be able to enter the promise land? God must break Jacob’s proud, self-sufficiency, as God must break ours. We will not enter the promise land if we struggle in our pride and independence against God. If we think our good works will allow us to enter the promise land, we are struggling against God. If we think we deserve to enter on the basis of anything other faith in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, we are striving in self-sufficiency. Friends, many will try to cross into the promise land, but will not be able to enter.

            C.S. Lewis called pride the great sin. He believed man’s quest for self-sufficiency without God was the spark that brought the world into misery. He writes in Mere Christianity,

According to Christian teachers, the essential vice, the utmost evil, is Pride. Unchastity, anger, greed, drunkenness, and all that, are mere fleabites in comparison: it was through Pride that the devil became the devil: Pride leads to every other vice: it is the complete anti-God state of mind… it is Pride which has been the chief cause of misery in every nation and every family since the world began.[2]

And Jonathan Edwards similarly writes of Christians,

The first and worst cause of errors that abound in our day and age is spiritual pride. This is the main door by which the devil comes into the hearts of those who are zealous for the advancement of Christ. It is the chief inlet of smoke from the bottomless pit to darken the mind and mislead the judgment. Pride is the main handle by which he has hold of Christian persons and the chief source of all the mischief that he introduces to clog and hinder a work of God. Spiritual pride is the main spring or at least the main support of all other errors. Until this disease is cured, medicines are applied in vain to heal all other diseases[3]

How do we know we are struggling in self-sufficiency against God? We neglect prayer. Our prayer life is an indicator of whether we are struggling in self-sufficiency or humility. This was true for Jacob’s life. Jacob had many reasons to pray and submit himself to God, but we do not see him pray until fear overtakes him.

            There are several times in Jacob’s life where he gives honor to the Lord for his success. He built an altar after seeing the ladder where angels were ascending and descending from heaven. He gave God credit for the success in working among Laban’s flocks. Although there were moments he gave God credit, we never see him make his decisions in submission to God. It isn’t until he is about to cross over into the promise land to see his brother Esau that Jacob realizes that he cannot enter on his own. He cannot face Esau alone. Jacob must have the hand of God. Jacob sent messengers to try to soften Esau’s anger, promising him wealth, but the messengers returned saying, Genesis 32:6, “We came to your brother Esau, and he is coming to meet you, and there are four hundred men with him.” Four hundred men. Esau is coming towards him with a small army. What is Jacob to do?

            Jacob’s first response shows his self-sufficiency. The first thing he does in response to his fear is to try and solve the problem himself. Genesis 32:7-8,

Then Jacob was greatly afraid and distressed. He divided the people who were with him, and the flocks and herds and camels, into two camps, thinking, “If Esau comes to the one camp and attacks it, then the camp that is left will escape.”

Jacob is still scheming using his human cunning to minimize the consequences of deception. And yet, he knows deep down that his only hope is Lord, so we see him pray. It is the longest prayer in Genesis and the first time we see Jacob pray.

And Jacob said, “O God of my father Abraham and God of my father Isaac, O LORD who said to me, ‘Return to your country and to your kindred, that I may do you good,’ I am not worthy of the least of all the deeds of steadfast love and all the faithfulness that you have shown to your servant, for with only my staff I crossed this Jordan, and now I have become two camps. Please deliver me from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau, for I fear him, that he may come and attack me, the mothers with the children. But you said, ‘I will surely do you good, and make your offspring as the sand of the sea, which cannot be numbered for multitude.’” (Genesis 32:9-12)

Jacob finally admits that he is not worthy of God’s steadfast love and faithfulness. Jacob admits his need. And he confesses to the God of his fathers. This confession is the beginning of Jacob’s change, but he still has scheming heart.

            Jacob sends his wealth over in phases to soften Esau’s anger. He is still hoping and resting in his scheming to save him. Jacob thought to himself, Genesis 32:20, “I may appease him with the present that goes ahead of me, and afterward I shall see his face. Perhaps he will accept me.” Jacob didn’t know how to struggle with God for his entire life was lived against him. Can you relate?

Second Question,

Are you Struggling in Self-Sacrifice with God?

            Jacob has sent most of his wealth ahead to meet Esau, but he can’t sleep. He knows that this is the day of reckoning. Genesis 32:22-23, “The same night he arose and took his two wives, his two female servants, and his eleven children, and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. He took them and sent them across the stream, and everything else that he had.” He sacrifices all. Jacob is surrendering his life and possessions creating a sense of suspense in the narrative, but in theological retrospect, we see that Jacob must face God alone.

And Jacob was left alone. And a man wrestled with him until the breaking of the day. When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he touched his hip socket, and Jacob's hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. Then he said, “Let me go, for the day has broken.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” (Genesis 32:24-26)

The narrative does not reveal who the man is that Jacob struggles against. The man touches Jacob on the hip and cripples him. Jacob is still fighting for the blessing. In asking for the man to bless him, we realize that Jacob believes this either to be God or one of his messengers. Either way, he has the power to bless him.

            Jacob wants a blessing from the man, but the man first asks Jacob a question. He said to him, “What is your name?” Remember this question has been asked Jacob before when he was in his father’s tent the last time he asked for a blessing. His father asked him his name only for him to lie. This time, when the stranger asks, “What is your name?” he says plainly, “Jacob.” I am the cheater; the deceiver, the schemer, the liar, heel-grabber. I am Jacob. He is finally able to admit his sin. He is able to confess who he really is; a prideful, self-sufficient cheat.

            Friend, do you realize how hard it is to answer that question? We are taught from birth to try and defend ourselves and to justify our mistakes by comparing ourselves to others or minimizing the offense, but we are “Jacob.” We are schemers, deceivers, and prideful, self-sufficient cheats. The Bible says, “For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” All have robbed or cheated God from his glory. Jacob confesses the truth and God shows him grace. It is the last thing we expect to happen to him as it is the last thing we expect would happen to us. The stranger reveals who He is by saying,

Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed.”

God changed Jacob’s name. He no longer is one who struggles against God in deception, Jacob but now one who struggles with God for his blessing, Israel.

Jacob received his blessing because of God’s grace. Now God’s people would always be known as those who struggle with Him to experience His blessing. Every time they would hear Israel, they would remember that they are not worthy of the steadfast love and faithfulness of God, but God showed them mercy.

Then Jacob asked him, “Please tell me your name.” But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And there he blessed him. So Jacob called the name of the place Peniel, saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life has been delivered.” The sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel, limping because of his hip. Therefore to this day the people of Israel do not eat the sinew of the thigh that is on the hip socket, because he touched the socket of Jacob's hip on the sinew of the thigh. (Genesis 32:29-32)

Many scholars believed that Jacob was wrestling with the pre-incarnate Christ known as a Christophany. For God, the text says, met Jacob face to face. Jacob was delivered just as he asked the God of his fathers in his prayer. Jacob thought he needed deliverance from Esau, but he really needed deliverance from God. God only used earthly circumstances to expose his real need. What earthly circumstances is the Lord using in your life to expose your real need?

            Jacob, now Israel, would meet Esau face to face and experience the earthly deliverance and reconciliation with his brother. Jacob says to Esau, “For I have seen your face, which is like seeing the face of God, and you have accepted me.” The main human obstacle from keeping Jacob from entering the promise land, Esau, steps aside and allows Jacob, now Israel, to enter, “And Jacob came safely to the city of Shechem, which is in the land of Canaan (the promise land)….There he erected an altar and called it El-Elohe-Israel (meaning God, the God of Israel). (Genesis 33:18; 20) Jacob no longer addresses the God of his fathers, but now addresses his God, the God of Israel. God made a way for Jacob to enter the promise land. God had to change Jacob to Israel before he was able to cross into the land. He walked with a limp, but he crossed the finish line.

            The people of Israel would have heard this story as they were about to enter the promise land. Their forefathers were proud and self-sufficient and perished outside of the land of promise. Israel would have been reminded that they needed to trust God, for He has already given them a new name. They are no longer Jacob, but Israel. They are called to struggle with God for his blessing. As Jacob met his enemy Esau and was delivered, so too Israel would be delivered from the Canaanites. God was calling Israel to trust him and to remember that He will go before them. God said to Joshua, “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9). God is with you. It is as if God is asking, “What is your name?” You are Israel. Always remember your name.

And like Israel, God must change us before we are able to enter the promise land. The only way we are able to cross the finish line if receive a new name. We must receive the name of Him who chose to walk with a limp on our behalf. Genesis 3:15 says to Serpent that he would bruise the heel of the promised seed. Jesus would experience the “bruised heel” on the cross. Jesus would die to pay for our pride and self-sufficiency. He would be identified as “Jacob” on the cross so we would be able to be grafted into “Israel.” Jesus was bruised on the cross, but he crushed the head of the serpent in his resurrection from the dead. Jesus delivered us from our greatest enemy, death, giving us the opportunity to enter into the land of promise by the mercy of God. He invites all to enter, but we must be changed first. We must receive the name of Jesus Christ. We must lose our life for Jesus. We must sacrifice our self-sufficiency for the way of the cross. We must forsake all and follow Jesus.

Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” Jacob humbled himself and became Israel. Saul humbled himself and became Paul. Simon humbled himself and became Peter. Have you humbled yourself to become One with Christ? Have you received the name “Christian” by turning from your sins and trusting in bruised heel of Jesus (the cross) and the crushed head of the serpent (the resurrection)? Are you with Christ?

I love the picture of Derek Redmond struggling so hard to finish the race only to realize that he could not cross the finish line without the help of his father. “I’m here son. We’ll finish together.” God does that for us. God sent Jesus from heaven to become a man so that we could enter the promise land. In the incarnation of Jesus, God says to you and me, “I’m here my children. We’ll finish together.” Beloved, we must “walk with a limp.” We must admit our sin and identify ourselves with the bruised heel of Christ. It is only then that we realize that God is the one who will carry us across the finish line into the promise land. Therefore, let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus who says, “I am with you. We will finish this together.”

 

[1] http://espn.go.com/espn/espn25/story?page=moments/94 accessed 5.21.2016

[2] C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: Simon & Schuster Touchstone edition, 1996), 109, 111.

[3] Jonathan Edwards, The Works of Jonathan Edwards (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1974), 1:398–404.

The Deceiver

I grew up watching sports. I do not believe I ever had the desire or the inclination to watch a musical, but love makes you do funny things. Ellen was once a part of the famed Troubadours of Northwestern High School. She grew up singing and going to musicals. As a couple, I have introduced Ellen to the NFL and rivalry weekend while she has introduced me to musicals. New Year’s Eve 2004, I got Ellen and me tickets to see Les Miserables in Washington D.C. I had no idea what to expect. The performance was absolutely incredible. I walked into the theater still skeptical of musicals only to leave deeply moved by the glorious redemption and the transforming love of the thief Jean Valjean.

In Victor Hugo’s classic Les Miserables, Jean Valjean was arrested for stealing a loaf of bread for his sister’s baby. He was sentenced to 19 years in prison. After his release, he landed at the home of a local bishop. In the middle of the night, Valjean wakes up and can’t sleep. All he can think of is the silver that was sitting on the table. He battled his conscience for an hour before deciding to steal the silver and leaving the bishop’s house in the dark of night. He stole the bread for his starving nephew, but this time, he stole the goods from an honest, faithful man who opened up his home to bless him. He stole from a man acting like a father. Valjean was arrested the next day and brought back to the Bishop. Hugo magnificently writes,

The door opened. A singular and violent group made its appearance on the threshold. Three men were holding a fourth man by the collar. The three men were gendarmes; the other was Jean Valjean. A brigadier of gendarmes, who seemed to be in command of the group, was standing near the door. He entered and advanced to the Bishop, making a military salute. "Monseigneur" said he. At this word, Jean Valjean, who was dejected and seemed overwhelmed, raised his head with an air of stupefaction… "Ah! here you are!" he exclaimed, looking at Jean Valjean. "I am glad to see you. Well, but how is this? I gave you the candlesticks too, which are of silver like the rest, and for which you can certainly get two hundred francs. Why did you not carry them away with your forks and spoons?"

Jean Valjean opened his eyes wide, and stared at the venerable Bishop with an expression which no human tongue can render any account of… "In that case," replied the brigadier, "we can let him go?" "Certainly," replied the Bishop. The gendarmes released Jean Valjean, who recoiled. "Is it true that I am to be released?" he said, in an almost inarticulate voice, and as though he were talking in his sleep. "Yes, thou art released; dost thou not understand?" said one of the gendarmes. "My friend," resumed the Bishop, "before you go, here are your candlesticks. Take them…”

Jean Valjean was trembling in every limb. He took the two candlesticks mechanically, and with a bewildered air. Jean Valjean was like a man on the point of fainting. The Bishop drew near to him, and said in a low voice: "Do not forget, never forget, that you have promised to use this money in becoming an honest man…

"Jean Valjean, my brother, you no longer belong to evil, but to good. It is your soul that I buy from you; I withdraw it from black thoughts and the spirit of perdition, and give it to God.

That one act kindness to a thief was the beginning of the redemption of Jean Valjean. Valjean cared for silver, but the Bishop cared for his soul. Valjean is redeemed, then becomes a tool of redemption.

            God saves thieves. God saves and uses deceivers to accomplish his purposes. If you are deceiver, God can save you. If you are one who has been deceived, God can use it to save others. God will use all kinds of peoples and all kinds of activities to bring about his purposes.

The Dying Wish of Blessing of a Father

            Last week, we saw how God appointed a wife, Rebekah, for Isaac. There was a mother in Israel who would carry the seed of the woman, but there was a problem. Rebekah, like Sarah, was barren. The problem does not take up much of the narrative for Isaac prayed to the Lord and the Lord answered his prayer and Rebekah conceived. It was a challenging pregnancy which began a challenging marriage. Genesis 25:22-28,

The children struggled together within her, and she said, “If it is thus, why is this happening to me?” So she went to inquire of the LORD. And the LORD said to her, “Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you shall be divided; the one shall be stronger than the other, the older shall serve the younger.” When her days to give birth were completed, behold, there were twins in her womb. The first came out red, all his body like a hairy cloak, so they called his name Esau. Afterward his brother came out with his hand holding Esau's heel, so his name was called Jacob. Isaac was sixty years old when she bore them. When the boys grew up, Esau was a skillful hunter, a man of the field, while Jacob was a quiet man, dwelling in tents. Isaac loved Esau because he ate of his game, but Rebekah loved Jacob.

There was a prophecy given to Rebekah that Jacob, whose name means ‘deceiver’ rule over his older brother Esau. In that day, the firstborn son would receive everything from his father. Isaac loved his strong, skillful, manly son Esau while Rebekah loved her thoughtful, pensive, quiet son Jacob. The home became divided as these parents put their children before their marriage. Parents, the best thing you can do for your children is to honor your marriage above your children.

            God reaffirmed his promise to Isaac saying, “I will establish the oath that I swore to Abraham your father. I will multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and will give your offspring all these lands. In your offspring all the nations of the earth shall be blessed.” (Gen. 26:3b-4) The promise of God is still the central theme of Genesis. Isaac knows that his offspring will carry on the promise. It must be his firstborn son, Esau, right? Genesis 27:1-4,

When Isaac was old and his eyes were dim so that he could not see, he called Esau his older son and said to him, “My son”; and he answered, “Here I am.” He said, “Behold, I am old; I do not know the day of my death. Now then, take your weapons, your quiver and your bow, and go out to the field and hunt game for me, and prepare for me delicious food, such as I love, and bring it to me so that I may eat, that my soul may bless you before I die.”

The dying wish of Isaac is to bless his son Esau. Remember Isaac loved Esau, but Esau is not worthy of God’s promise.

Isaac is blind in his love for Esau. There are several reasons why Esau is not fit to be the bearer of the promise. First, he sold his birthright for some red stew. Genesis 25:29-34,

Once when Jacob was cooking stew, Esau came in from the field, and he was exhausted. And Esau said to Jacob, “Let me eat some of that red stew, for I am exhausted!” (Therefore his name was called Edom.) Jacob said, “Sell me your birthright now.” Esau said, “I am about to die; of what use is a birthright to me?” Jacob said, “Swear to me now.” So he swore to him and sold his birthright to Jacob. Then Jacob gave Esau bread and lentil stew, and he ate and drank and rose and went his way. Thus Esau despised his birthright.

(Remember years later when Israel heard this, they would have been arch enemies of Edom.) Esau did not think much of the promise if he sold it for a cup of stew.

Secondly, Esau was not worthy because he married women from Canaan. He would have known how and why his parents met. Abraham sent his servant to his homeland because he was adamant that Isaac could not take a wife for the Canaanites, for they were destined to disinherit the land.

When Esau was forty years old, he took Judith the daughter of Beeri the Hittite to be his wife, and Basemath the daughter of Elon the Hittite, and they made life bitter for Isaac and Rebekah. (Genesis 26:34-35)

Isaac and Rebekah both knew what these marriages meant. Their life was bitter because their son disregarded God’s promise. Isaac should have known better than to desire to bless Esau, but he was blinded by his love for his son. As one scholar notes,

He should have noticed Esau was not worthy of representing God’s special people. But Isaac pushes blindly ahead. Isaac, like Esau, is controlled by his appetite. In his chapter, the narrator repeats the word game eight times and tasty food 6 times. Before he dies, Isaac wishes to savor once more the delicious game…[1]

Isaac, like Adam and Eve before him, was governed by his appetite (fruit was good for food). His love for Esau made Isaac turn from the love of God.  How often do we choose our love for people, even with the best of intentions, over the love of God?

The Deceptive Ways for Blessing of a Family

            The dysfunction of Isaac and Rebekah’s home continues to be put on display. Rebekah hears Isaac’s plan and decides to use her son to deceive her husband.

Now Rebekah was listening when Isaac spoke to his son Esau. So when Esau went to the field to hunt for game and bring it, Rebekah said to her son Jacob, “I heard your father speak to your brother Esau, ‘Bring me game and prepare for me delicious food, that I may eat it and bless you before the LORD before I die.’ Now therefore, my son, obey my voice as I command you. Go to the flock and bring me two good young goats, so that I may prepare from them delicious food for your father, such as he loves. And you shall bring it to your father to eat, so that he may bless you before he dies.”

And Jacob hearing his mother’s plan does not object on the basis of his moral compass, but on whether he feels it will succeed.

But Jacob said to Rebekah his mother, “Behold, my brother Esau is a hairy man, and I am a smooth man. Perhaps my father will feel me, and I shall seem to be mocking him and bring a curse upon myself and not a blessing.” His mother said to him, “Let your curse be on me, my son; only obey my voice, and go, bring them to me. So he went and took them and brought them to his mother, and his mother prepared delicious food, such as his father loved. Then Rebekah took the best garments of Esau her older son, which were with her in the house, and put them on Jacob her younger son. And the skins of the young goats she put on his hands and on the smooth part of his neck. And she put the delicious food and the bread, which she had prepared, into the hand of her son Jacob.” (Genesis 27:5-17)

This is an intricate, premeditated plan of deception. This was no momentary lie for passion or fear, but willful deception.

            Jacob had followed his mother’s command and was ready to deceive his father, but would he go through it? Could he walk into his blind, dying father’s tent and lie to him to steal his blessing from his brother?

So he went in to his father and said, “My father.” And he said, “Here I am. Who are you, my son?” Jacob said to his father, “I am Esau your firstborn. I have done as you told me; now sit up and eat of my game, that your soul may bless me.” (First lie.)

But Isaac said to his son, “How is it that you have found it so quickly, my son?” He answered, “Because the LORD your God granted me success.” (Second lie, actually blaspheming the LORD)

Then Isaac said to Jacob, “Please come near, that I may feel you, my son, to know whether you are really my son Esau or not.” So Jacob went near to Isaac his father, who felt him and said, “The voice is Jacob's voice, but the hands are the hands of Esau.” And he did not recognize him, because his hands were hairy like his brother Esau's hands. So he blessed him. He said, “Are you really my son Esau?” He answered, “I am.” (Third lie)

Then he said, “Bring it near to me, that I may eat of my son's game and bless you.” So he brought it near to him, and he ate; and he brought him wine, and he drank. Then his father Isaac said to him, “Come near and kiss me, my son. So he came near and kissed him.” (Genesis 27:18-27a)

Isaac tests Jacob three times and Jacob lies to him three times. He was so bold in his betrayal that he walked up and kissed his father. And his deception is rewarded,

So he came near and kissed him. And Isaac smelled the smell of his garments and blessed him and said, “See, the smell of my son is as the smell of a field that the LORD has blessed! May God give you of the dew of heaven and of the fatness of the earth and plenty of grain and wine. Let peoples serve you, and nations bow down to you. Be lord over your brothers, and may your mother's sons bow down to you. Cursed be everyone who curses you, and blessed be everyone who blesses you!” As soon as Isaac had finished blessing Jacob, when Jacob had scarcely gone out from the presence of Isaac his father, Esau his brother came in from his hunting. (Genesis 27:27-30)

As narrative progresses, it is apparent that Jacob is not worthy of the blessing just like Esau. Jacob is a deceiver. Does Jacob receiving God’s blessing mean that God approves of this deception? Jacob acted wickedly, but was blessed. Where are his consequences? And what of Rebekah, who masterminded the deception?

            Jacob and Rebekah would both pay for their deception. Rebekah is forced to send Jacob away to her brother Laban and never sees her beloved son again. Her death not even mentioned in the Bible, but only alluded to with the death of her nurse. Jacob, the deceiver, would be deceived. Laban would deceive Jacob into marrying Leah instead of Rachel. He also would be deceived by his sons, who told him his beloved son Joseph was killed. “Jacob deceived his father with two young goats; his sons deceive him with the blood of a goat.” Jesus said, “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.” (Matthew 7:1-12) You reap what you sow. Never mistake delayed consequences as approval. God will not be mocked.

The Divine Will of Blessing of the Father

            When I first read this account, I felt so bad for Isaac and Esau. The raw emotion of the deception and loss is gripping. It is hard to read, but remember that Isaac and Esau were governed by their appetites. They both were blind to the promises of God. The pain and anguish you see here is only a glimpse of the pain caused by sin. It is a sad day when one experiences the harsh consequences of sin.

He also prepared delicious food and brought it to his father. And he said to his father, “Let my father arise and eat of his son's game, that you may bless me.” His father Isaac said to him, “Who are you?” He answered, “I am your son, your firstborn, Esau.” Then Isaac trembled very violently and said, “Who was it then that hunted game and brought it to me, and I ate it all before you came, and I have blessed him? Yes, and he shall be blessed.” As soon as Esau heard the words of his father, he cried out with an exceedingly great and bitter cry and said to his father, “Bless me, even me also, O my father!” But he said, “Your brother came deceitfully, and he has taken away your blessing.” Esau said, “Is he not rightly named Jacob? For he has cheated me these two times. He took away my birthright, and behold, now he has taken away my blessing.” Then he said, “Have you not reserved a blessing for me?” Isaac answered and said to Esau, “Behold, I have made him lord over you, and all his brothers I have given to him for servants, and with grain and wine I have sustained him. What then can I do for you, my son?” Esau said to his father, “Have you but one blessing, my father? Bless me, even me also, O my father.” And Esau lifted up his voice and wept. (Genesis 27:31-38)

The day is bitter for all involved. And yet, God’s promise continues.

            The purpose of the narrative is to show how God’s promise continues even in the midst of people of a sinful people. God will use the worst of people to bring about his pre-determined plan. Israel needed the reminder as they stared into Canaan that God’s plan cannot be thwarted. We know that God can use evil to bring about his purposes. God would use the greatest act of evil the world has even seen in the slaying of the sinless son of God to save his people from their sins. Isaiah prophesied how the Messiah was going to die by the will of God. He said, “It was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief.” During the Last Supper, Jesus said speaking of his coming death, says, “The Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed.” God would use Judas’s appetite for silver to betray his friend with a kiss. Isaac betrayed his father with kiss as Jesus was betrayed by his friend with a kiss. And yet, it was all part of the plan of God. Peter preached at Pentecost,

“Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know—this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it. (Acts 2:22-24)

God used a deceiver to extend his promise to Jacob, a deceiver. God used a deceiver, Judas, to extend his promise to deceivers, like you and I. We all have deceptive hearts. Jeremiah 17:9, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” No one can understand it. We all have a heart problem. We need new hearts. We need redemption. God promised his people in Ezekiel 36:26a, “And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you.” God sent Jesus to the cross to solve our heart problem. He died, but God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death. The resurrection of Jesus is the verification that if anyone calls upon the name of the Lord they will be saved. Have you experienced a new heart? Have you confessed your deception to God? Confess today and receive a new heart by the Holy Spirit.

We are not saved by our birthright or by our works, but on God’s mercy. When Paul taught on Jacob and Esau, he used it as an illustration on the immense mercy of God. Romans 9:10-16,

And not only so, but also when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God's purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls—she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God's part? By no means! For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. (Romans 9:10-16)

Salvation depends on God.

            Jean Valjean was a deceiver, but the bishop showed him mercy. He responded to that mercy, by asking, “Is it true?” When we, fellow deceivers, hear of God’s mercy, and ask, “Could it be true?” Beloved, remember the great hymn of the faith,

He left His Father’s throne above
So free, so infinite His grace—
Emptied Himself of all but love,
And bled for Adam’s helpless race:
’Tis mercy all, immense and free,
For O my God, it found out me!
’Tis mercy all, immense and free,
For O my God, it found out me

Amazing love! How can it be,
That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?

 

His mercy all, immense and free, for O my God has found out me. God’s promise cannot be stopped, for salvation is all of mercy. Have you fallen on God’s mercy? Do it today.

 

[1] Sydney Griedanus. 273.