July 30, 2023
Scripture Reading: Genesis 29:14b-28
We’ve been following the lives of the Patriarchs in Genesis and have made our way from Abraham to his son, Isaac, and now Isaac’s son, Jacob. Just a quick review of the story of Jacob so far:
JACOB THE TRICKSTER
He was one of twins and the second born. Which meant in his culture that there were certain benefits (inheritance-wise, and general respect and status) that culturally went to the first born, Esau. (You might not like the implications of such an arrangement, but it was what it was). Jacob wanted more than what he was entitled to – he wanted everything Esau had. Encouraged by his mother Rebekah, he was willing to do whatever he could to get around the cultural rules and cheat his
slightly-older brother out of what was rightfully his. He and his mother succeeded and Esau hated him for it. And Esau hated his parents for letting it happen.
The name Jacob means: One who supplants, unseats or dethrones. He lived into his name and adopted a lifestyle of trickery and deceit. He was not a nice person.
The turn around for Jacob – his “conversion,” if you will, was a process and it started with a gradual awakening to the futility of his life choices. He started to realize that he had broken all the connections that really mattered by his insistence that everything had to be his way – and that who you hurt along the way doesn’t matter!
In the middle of the desert, on a 500 mile trip to find a wife among his mother’s relatives, he met God in a dramatic dream. The God he encountered there on that barren rocky knoll was not vindictive or scheming, but full of love, forgiveness, and grace. Jacob had cut off every precious connection but God had not done the same. God was still eager to restore that priceless connection that Jacob had treated so lightly.
It was a profound moment, and you might think it would have straightened Jacob out, but he was not done learning his lesson! Oh, wouldn’t it be nice if we could all master each life lesson the first time around? As a young man, I remember a dear friend of the family saying to me: “Only a fool falls into the same trap twice!” That little saying sounded true to me, but by that definition, I’ve been a fool more than once and I watched that family friend fall into the same trap again and again.
When Jacob finally arrived at the end of his 500 mile trip to the village of his mother’s brother Laban, he went to the well. He hadn’t been there very long when a beautiful girl shepherdess came along with her flock of sheep. She was stunning! Jacob moved a great stone off the well and watered her sheep! When he mentioned to this beautiful woman that he was a distant relative of her father’s and apparently happened to let her know that he was available, she ran to Daddy to tell him
the good news.
Now Daddy had two daughters that he was eager to marry off! And Rachael was the second born daughter. It wasn’t proper in that culture to arrange for the younger daughter to be married first even though Rachael was clearly more attractive than her older sister Leah. Do you see a familiar theme showing up here? Shades of Jacob’s cheating his older brother of his rightful birthright even though it was Esau’s right to that honor!
Laban (brother to Jacob’s Mom Rebekah) says to Jacob: “Looks like you might be hanging around a while. I wouldn’t want you to work for nothing, so what kind of salary would you like in trade for your work?” Jacob says: How about a wife for me? Laban’s mind begins to turn, and he begins to calculate how he might sneakily work out a way to arrange for two weddings in this deal. Jacob offers: “How about I work for 7 years for Rachael?” Laban thinks that’s reasonable and they make a
deal. The months pass like water in the creek and the wedding day approaches. Jacob is so delighted to finally be married to this beautiful veiled bride but in the morning light, guess what? This bride was not the beautiful Rachel but her not-so-attractive older sister!
THE TRICKSTER TRICKED
It seems to me, at this point in the story, some warning bells should be ringing in Jacob’s head! This situation is familiar somehow! It’s like I’ve been here before! The deceiver has been deceived! But, this time he is on the receiving end of the trick. The trickster, tricked! And now, the best deal the manipulator could weasel out of his new father-in-law, was to work another 7 years for the woman he loved dearly.
What kind of person faces the same lesson over and over again and can’t seem to learn from it and move on? I’m afraid the answer is: A person like me! When I was here in Troy some 25 years ago now, I went to see a counselor whose name was Curt Crowther and he told me in one of our sessions that everybody has lessons that they need to learn in their journey on earth. He said if we don’t pay attention and learn the lesson in front of us, it will return again and again until we learn it. But, he said, the thing we don’t always understand is that God tends to turn up the volume each time we fail to learn the lesson in front of us.
The volume level on the lesson Jacob was learning has been increased!
Jacob is such an interesting and sometimes infuriating character. I don’t quite understand how he became one of the prominent OT characters – a model of a God-follower – a Patriarch of all things!\ He was one of the three that were sited even by Jesus when asked about God. It is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob!
And here he is, acting as if he and God had never met! A poor example at best! And a slow, slow learner! And yet God still is gracious and forgiving and oh, so patient!
If the truth is known, I’m relieved that Jacob could reach such status in the Bible because that gives me hope and it tells me something about the nature of God – about grace, forgiveness, and longsuffering. How many times have I stumbled over the very same lesson? How often could someone look at me and say: “Will he never learn?”
The other thing that Jacob does for me is challenge my tendency to judge other people too harshly. It is so easy to write off someone because they do a stupid or foolish or cruel thing again and again. How often does our judgment actually make the journey back to God that much harder for fellow travelers?
The Amazing Grace of God is astounding! It’s no wonder that people looked at Jesus and saw the face of God. His capacity for patience and longsuffering with his thick-headed, slow-learning disciples was almost beyond belief.
Christian community is our God-given laboratory where we practice and perfect grace with one another! We won’t get it the first time, for sure, and maybe not the 5th or 25th time, but “We are climbing Jacob’s ladder and every rung goes higher, higher.”