Thursday, July 28, 2011

Genesis 34:13-24

Now Jacob’s sons had come in from the fields as soon as they heard what had happened. They were filled with grief and fury, because Shechem had done a disgraceful thing in Israel by lying with Jacob’s daughter—a thing that should not be done. . .

Because their sister Dinah had been defiled, Jacob’s sons replied deceitfully as they spoke to Shechem and his father Hamor. They said to them, “We can’t do such a thing; we can’t give our sister to a man who is not circumcised. That would be a disgrace to us. We will give our consent to you on one condition only: that you become like us by circumcising all your males. Then we will give you our daughters and take your daughters for ourselves. We’ll settle among you and become one people with you. But if you will not agree to be circumcised, we’ll take our sister and go.” (Gen 34:7,13-17)

In today’s lesson, we’ll look at the aftermath of the rape of Dinah: the emotional responses and the reactions. Jacob’s sons, Dinah’s brothers, are shocked when they hear about what Shechem had done to Dinah. Their emotions seem to start with great grief for their precious sister and then turn to fury. That is a strong word! The Message version translates it this way: They were outraged, explosive with anger. However, they do nothing at first - instead they devise a plot to take vengeance. They appear to agree with the business proposal to give Dinah to Shechem in return for intermarriage and consolidation of the two groups of people, including their possessions, if Hamor, Shechem, and all of their men will submit to circumcision as a sign of unity.

Note that they say nothing of the importance of circumcision as a sign of the covenant with God. God is certainly not brought into this bargain. It would seem that Jacob’s sons have not personalized their faith in God, for their reaction contains no prayer, no seeking of God’s help or wisdom. They don’t even ask God to bless their plans. This makes me wonder about exactly why the boys are outraged here. Is it their concern for Dinah herself? Is it that the rape is an offense against God? Or is it a personal offense - having something of theirs taken by force?? Nowhere in this chapter do we see the brothers show a love and concern for Dinah. When they take her back (vs.26), there is no mention of care, compassion, or comfort given to Dinah. In fact, in the verses above they say, “. . . [giving our sister to an uncircumcised man] would be a disgrace to us.”

Now, I’m wondering what could possibly convince a bunch of pagan men to line up for circumcision!! Apparently greed is a strong motivator - and so is Shechem, for verses 23-24 tell us what he says and how they respond:

“. . . Won’t their livestock, their property and all their other animals become ours? So let us give our consent to them, and they will settle among us.”

All the men who went out of the city gate agreed with Hamor and his son Shechem, and every male in the city was circumcised.

At this point, I’m wanting to shout, “Men are pigs!” But, then God seems to be pointing out to me my own problem with motivation. I have to ask myself, when I am hurt or angry what is the reason? If someone offends or hurts me, am I upset because of the offense to God - or to my pride? My reaction will probably answer that question. If I respond with fury that leaves no place for God to work, only my flesh, then I would have to assume that my fury is not righteous indignation - but stung pride! If I am looking for my own vengeance, watch out! And then, what motivates me to do the hard things (obviously something other than circumcision...) ? What makes me get out of my comfort zone? Is it a heart that is obedient to God’s call or a heart that craves the praise of men? Is it a desire to see God’s work go forth or is it a yearning for material gain? We are not really so different from these men are we? YIKES!

Still so much more to learn - and, unfortunately, the carnage is about to begin! We will view that next time. This is a difficult chapter!!!

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Genesis 34:1-12

Today we begin a chapter that is filled with violence! As my friend, Marin, put it, this is one of those stories that you will never see on a flannel board in Sunday School! But God has included in His Word stories that are true, real, and cover every human experience. This one is ugly!

Now Dinah, the daughter Leah had borne to Jacob, went out to visit the women of the land. When Shechem son of Hamor the Hivite, the ruler of that area, saw her, he took her and violated her. His heart was drawn to Dinah daughter of Jacob, and he loved the girl and spoke tenderly to her. And Shechem said to his father Hamor, “Get me this girl as my wife.” (Gen 34:1-4)

This is a story right out of today’s headlines! A young girl, who goes out to visit some girlfriends, ends up raped and basically kidnapped. Not only did Shechem force himself on her, but he took her and kept her. [ Note that in verse 5 we are told that Jacob did not SEE that his daughter had been defiled - he HEARD it. ] Dinah remained with Shechem, who for some perverse reason, then fell for her. We know that most rapes are motivated by a need for power and control over the victim, not by a need for sexual pleasure, so Shechem’s change of emotions does not mitigate the violence done to Dinah.

Amazingly, there is no recording of Dinah’s reaction, so we are left to speculate. Obviously, this would have been a horrifying experience for Dinah. The text uses the words “violated” and “defiled.” At the end of the chapter, Dinah’s brothers ask, “Should he have treated our sister like a prostitute?” (vs. 31) So, the innocence of Dinah was completely shattered, as with all victims of rape. Beth Moore, in analyzing this passage, asks what would Dinah need most once she returned home. My guess is that she would have desperately needed the comfort and love of her mother, Leah, and her aunts. More importantly, even prior to returning home, when she was alone among the people of Shechem, she surely needed assurance from God that she was still His and worthy of His love. Beth refers to two verses from the Psalms that speak of God’s care for all who need this assurance:

The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. (Psalm 34:18)

He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds. (Psalm 147:3)

My assumption is that God would have been ministering to her immediately!

We will see in the rest of the chapter that women were considered as mere chattel, the property of their men, to be traded and used for political and economic gain when possible. In such an atmosphere we can see how Shechem felt no shame in just grabbing Dinah. He surely was a young man who had been completely enabled by his father to just take what he wanted when he wanted it, without concern for consequences, because he apparently had never known any. And, truly, his father gives him none here. Instead Hamor goes to Jacob’s family, without apology, to negotiate for Dinah to become Shechem’s wife:

Then Shechem’s father Hamor went out to talk with Jacob. Now Jacob’s sons had come in from the fields as soon as they heard what had happened. They were filled with grief and fury, because Shechem had done a disgraceful thing in Israel by lying with Jacob’s daughter—a thing that should not be done.

But Hamor said to them, “My son Shechem has his heart set on your daughter. Please give her to him as his wife. Intermarry with us; give us your daughters and take our daughters for yourselves. You can settle among us; the land is open to you. Live in it, trade in it, and acquire property in it.”

Then Shechem said to Dinah’s father and brothers, “Let me find favor in your eyes, and I will give you whatever you ask. Make the price for the bride and the gift I am to bring as great as you like, and I’ll pay whatever you ask me. Only give me the girl as my wife.” (vs. 6-12)

Dinah’s brothers have an appropriate reaction of grief and anger, although they will take inappropriate actions later. However, Hamor, Shechem’s father, takes a “boys will be boys” attitude and wants to not only sweep the whole thing under the rug, but strike a deal that will economically enrich his family! We had a famous case in our area several years ago in which three boys gang-raped a girl in the home of one of the boys, whose father happened to be high up in the County Sheriff’s office. The father immediately hired the best attorney who tried to get the boys off with that whole “boys will be boys” defense, placing the blame on the victim, who was not known for her purity. Thankfully, the boys (adult men now) are in jail in spite of the attorney’s efforts to press the point that “she asked for it!”

Beth Moore asks, “Could some have said Dinah never should have left the family encampment? That she should never have put herself in such a position? . . . In Dinah’s culture, her decision to visit the women of the land without male protection was probably considered as risky as a woman in our culture going out alone to a club. . . This point needs pressing because many victims of rape are vastly impeded in their healing by the suggestion - however carefully implied - that they were partially to blame. After all, they placed themselves in a vulnerable position. Certainly we can all stand to be wiser about high-risk environments, but to suggest a victim asked to be raped by being in a certain place is not only devastatingly ignorant but also shifts the criminal’s blame to the victim.” (The Patriarchs, P.156).

We will continue with this horrifying story, which only gets worse, and look for lessons for our lives. Nothing is in God’s Word by accident! He did not clean up the circumstances or just give us a lovely book of poetry to contemplate. Real lives contain real danger, violence, and SIN! We see it all here!

Friday, July 22, 2011

Genesis 33:16-20

At the end of this chapter Jacob convinces Esau to go on ahead without him, promising to follow. However, we see that Jacob does not follow Esau, but instead settles in Shechem in Canaan, the land promised to him by God:

So that day Esau started on his way back to Seir. Jacob, however, went to Succoth, where he built a place for himself and made shelters for his livestock. That is why the place is called Succoth.

After Jacob came from Paddan Aram, he arrived safely at the city of Shechem in Canaan and camped within sight of the city. For a hundred pieces of silver, he bought from the sons of Hamor, the father of Shechem, the plot of ground where he pitched his tent. There he set up an altar and called it El Elohe Israel. (Gen 33:16-20)

It doesn’t appear that Jacob purposefully lied to Esau when he said he would follow him. He apparently just decided to take God up on His promises! If you look ahead to chapter 35:29 (where Esau and Jacob bury Isaac together) and 36:6-8 (which explains why Esau was in Seir), it seems that they separated on good terms for practical reasons.

Note that Jacob immediately sets up an altar and names it El Elohe Israel, which means God, the God of Israel. Beth Moore points out here that Israel at this point does not refer to the nation, but to the man, Jacob. Jacob is affirming here that the personal God of Abraham and Isaac is also the God of Israel! We know that God does not have grandchildren. He is your Father and you are His child because you make a personal decision to believe Him and in His Son and the finished work on the cross. You cannot become His child because your parents or grandparents were believers. Every one of us has to make that personal decision and answer the question that Jesus asked Peter in Mark 8: 29, when Peter told Jesus what others were saying about who Jesus was: “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” That is the only question that matters!

Now, before leaving this chapter, I wanted to point out some other things about this reunion of Jacob and Esau. There had been so much anticipation on Jacob’s part - he was dreading it - and yet, it turned out well! It would appear that Esau had done some changing as well as Jacob. Was he finally one of the “good guys?” Apparently not! Even though Esau was able to make peace with his brother, he apparently did NOT make his peace with God. In Hebrews 12:16-17 we read the following about Esau:

See that no one is sexually immoral, or is godless like Esau, who for a single meal sold his inheritance rights as the oldest son. Afterward, as you know, when he wanted to inherit this blessing, he was rejected. He could bring about no change of mind, though he sought the blessing with tears.

No matter what other “good” things Esau did in his lifetime, he did not meet God’s standard of faith (see Hebrews 11:6). He never put his faith in the God of his father. He is remembered in scripture as being “godless.” What a sad epitaph! Yet, at their reunion it is Jacob, the one who knows God, who is limping while Esau, who rejects God, is running! What does this tell us? Beth Moore writes, “ . . .sometimes God will wound His own child to make him walk differently while the profane and ungodly seem to run with endless confidence and vitality. We are to walk as people who have encountered God, and some of the most transforming encounters are wrestling matches. . . the lost do not wrestle with God nearly as much as we who belong to Him. The profane and ungodly don’t care enough to wrestle. We who are His often wrestle with Him most, and at times we also seem to hurt the most. (The Patriarchs, P. 153) Then Beth quotes 2 Cor. 4:17 to remind us that our pain is only temporary:

For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.

Often it may appear to us that the ungodly are more successful, or are getting away with things - that somehow God doesn’t see. They seem to run with energy as we limp along. David wrestled with this issue in Psalm 73 and came to this conclusion:

When I tried to understand all this, it was oppressive to me till I entered the sanctuary of God; then I understood their final destiny... Those who are far from you will perish; you destroy all who are unfaithful to you. But as for me, it is good to be near God. I have made the Sovereign LORD my refuge; I will tell of all your deeds. (Ps 73:16-17, 27-28)

You really need to read that entire Psalm - I love it! So, even though Esau appeared to have abundant blessings - several wives, many children, much property and wealth, and at least 400 “friends” who formed his “army” of followers -  he himself did not follow after God. It’s easy to get into the trap of comparing ourselves to the ungodly (whether self-righteously in judgment or with discontentment and envy) - but man’s comparisons mean nothing in light of eternity! Man looks on the outward appearance, but God looks at the heart! And as He’s choosing His team, He takes the weak and lame over the strong every time! That’s how I qualified! :)

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Genesis 33:1-15

Today’s story tugs at my heart! I love witnessing reunions of long-lost family members - whether in the news or in a movie - they always make me cry! In Genesis 33, we finally witness the reunion of estranged brothers, Jacob and Esau :

Jacob looked up and there was Esau, coming with his four hundred men; so he divided the children among Leah, Rachel and the two maidservants. He put the maidservants and their children in front, Leah and her children next, and Rachel and Joseph in the rear. He himself went on ahead and bowed down to the ground seven times as he approached his brother.

But Esau ran to meet Jacob and embraced him; he threw his arms around his neck and kissed him. And they wept. (Gen 33:1-4)

After his encounter with God, Jacob is now ready for this next encounter with Esau. This time there is no mention of fear specifically, but when Jacob sees the 400 men, he is strategic. When we become Christians we don’t automatically lose all fear, but, the longer we know Him, the more we are able to move ahead in our walk with greater assurance that He knows what He is doing, and that He is with us. We give our fears to Him and allow Him to fight the battles for us. So, Jacob places himself at the front and then lines up his family on a priority basis, with his beloved Rachel and Joseph in the rear, where they were more likely protected. This doesn’t settle well with me, so I can only imagine how it may have hurt Leah, not to mention the other children and the maidservants! No matter how you slice it, polygamy leads to all kinds of issues between the wives and children. Jacob had lived this with his own father showing partiality to Esau, but he doe not see it in himself!

So Jacob limps ahead of his entourage, and then he sees Esau - RUNNING to meet him! That fourth verse gets to me every time I read it. Does it remind you of another reunion in the New Testament? I immediately thought of the father who runs to greet his prodigal son, also throwing his arms around his neck and kissing him (Luke 15:20). Reunions are wonderful, but especially so when there has been some estrangement and there seems to be a coming together again with forgiveness. Jacob was rightfully expecting revenge from Esau, but instead he received grace! I’d say that God surely changed Esau’s heart toward Jacob!

Then Esau looked up and saw the women and children. “Who are these with you?” he asked.

 Jacob answered, “They are the children God has graciously given your servant.”

Then the maidservants and their children approached and bowed down. Next, Leah and her children came and bowed down. Last of all came Joseph and Rachel, and they too bowed down.

Esau asked, “What do you mean by all these droves I met?”

“To find favor in your eyes, my lord,” he said.

But Esau said, “I already have plenty, my brother. Keep what you have for yourself.”

“No, please!” said Jacob. “If I have found favor in your eyes, accept this gift from me. For to see your face is like seeing the face of God, now that you have received me favorably. Please accept the present that was brought to you, for God has been gracious to me and I have all I need.” And because Jacob insisted, Esau accepted it. (vs. 5-11)

Notice that Jacob takes a subservient attitude with his brother - calling himself “your servant” and calling Esau “my lord.” Even Jacob’s family members bow before Esau. Esau is taken back by the droves of cattle and sheep that Jacob had sent ahead and asks Jacob what it’s all about. Jacob admits he was seeking Esau’s favor. Esau does not need Jacob’s gifts, but Jacob insists, so Esau relents. In my mind that is a good sign, because it indicates that he is able to let go of pride, and understands Jacob’s need to be generous. Note, too, that Jacob gives the glory to God for all of his blessings.

So, Esau’s ready to lead Jacob home, but Jacob begs off, because he doesn’t want to rush the children and animals. Beth Moore makes an interesting conjecture here. We aren’t told of any ulterior motives on Jacob’s part, and if we just read it as written, we take at face value that Jacob is being sincere (that’s my preference). However, Beth wonders if maybe Jacob is a little leery of his hot-headed brother, and if maybe Jacob figures it’s best not to linger with Esau. She writes, “Did you wonder if Jacob thought he and Esau had better stop while they were ahead? Their immediate encounter went well. Why push it? Sometimes a relationship has such a troubled history that short, sweet visits are preferable to longer ones. Volatile relationships are safer in small doses . . . if you know what I mean.” (The Partiarchs, P. 152)

I don’t know about you, but I’m shouting “Amen!” to that one! :)

Monday, July 18, 2011

Genesis 32:22-32 PART 2

I want to start today with a verse that Beth Moore refers to as it pertains to this last scene in Genesis 32:

But thou, O LORD, art a shield for me; my glory, and the lifter up of mine head. (Psalm 3:3 KJV)

I LOVE this verse! I need a shield around me - Someone protecting me not only from my enemies, but from myself and my foolish, disobedient heart. When I’ve fallen, when I’ve blown it in a relationship or completely damaged my witness because of something I’ve said or done, I feel so horrible - and Satan begins the condemnation. That’s when I cling to this verse! I love that He lifts my head! When I am bowed in shame before Him, He lifts my chin that I might look full into His face. What a tender and gracious Father we have! And this is the situation with Jacob here:

Then the man said, “Let me go, for it is daybreak.”
But Jacob replied, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”
The man asked him, “What is your name?”
“Jacob,” he answered.

Then the man said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with men and have overcome.”

Jacob said, “Please tell me your name.”

But he replied, “Why do you ask my name?” Then he blessed him there.

So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, “It is because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared.” The sun rose above him as he passed Peniel, and he was limping because of his hip. (Gen 32:26-31)

As Jacob is preparing to meet Esau, he has to be reliving his deception and the consequences that followed. And also anticipating the consequences that may be ahead of him in this reunion. Surely he must have felt guilt and shame. God knows this. Note that God asks Jacob what his name is. This is not because God is looking for the answer - He KNOWS with whom He is wrestling! He asks Jacob the question because He wants Jacob to think about the answer. Jesus used this technique of questioning all the time to bring people to a realization about their beliefs. [I do this as a teacher often when I’m trying to make a point with a student]. So when Jacob has to say his own name, what he is basically saying is, “I am Jacob - a liar, a conniving deceiver!”

And our gracious Father responds with a name change! He has already touched Jacob’s hip so that his walk will never be the same again, but now God changes Jacob’s name to Israel, which means struggles with God, so that Jacob, himself, will never be the same. God now sees Him through eyes of grace as one who works through all things with His God in a new, intimate relationship.

Note that Jacob wants to know God’s name, but God doesn’t respond. Jacob will learn all of the names of God throughout the rest of his lifetime. He’ll learn about Jehovah-Jireh, the God who provides, Jehovah-Shammah, the God who is present, El-Roi, the strong God who sees, and El-Elyon, the Most High God who is all-powerful and holy. He’ll experience moments of great peace with Jehovah-Rohi, His great Shepherd, and Jacob will know the protection that comes from Jehovah-Sabbaoth, the Lord of Hosts.

And some of that will come through the struggles that Jacob will continue to have. But after this one encounter, Jacob is forever changed! And He has learned that even when it seems that God is against us, as in this wrestling match, He is really always FOR us! He WANTS us to become overcomers - which means we will be given plenty of opportunities in our lives which will require struggle and perseverance.
God wants to give us a new name. In fact we are told in Revelation 2:17 that one day each of us will be given a new name that will be known only to God and us. It will be a name that reflects our walk with God. It will be a name that does not condemn but one that lifts our head! I can’t wait to find out what mine will be!!!


Thursday, July 14, 2011

Genesis 32:22-32

In today’s story from Genesis, Jacob has a need for a face-to-face encounter with God, because he is so fearful of seeing Esau’s face. If Jacob were meeting Esau with a clear conscious, he would not need to be fearful. However, increasing the fear is the shame he bears for his trickery with his brother. So, God has some work to do in Jacob this night, and He keeps him up all night in a wrestling match. What in the world is this all about? Well, with a little help from Hosea, Jon Courson, and Beth Moore, we’ll get a full picture of what God and Jacob are doing here. First read the passage in its entirety to see the the complete event.

Jacob has sent his wives and children and all of his possessions on ahead across the river. He is now all alone, with none of his people, no TV, no cell phone, no video games to distract him. When we are surrounded by people and sounds and gadgets, we don’t have to deal with what’s going on inside us. We can barely hear the sounds of nature, let alone the voice of God! There is definitely a need for us to “be still and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:10) And sometimes is takes clearing everyone and everything else out to be only with our Father. Jesus modeled this over and over when He would leave the crowds to pray.

So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak. When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man. Then the man said, “Let me go, for it is daybreak.”
But Jacob replied, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” (Gen 32:24-27)

In Hosea 12:3-5 we get more insight into this scene:

In the womb he grasped his brother’s heel; as a man he struggled with God. He struggled with the angel and overcame him; he wept and begged for his favor. He found him at Bethel and talked with him there— the LORD God Almighty, the LORD is his name of renown!

Jon Courson looks at this wrestling match as a lesson in persistence in prayer. He asks, “Why did God wrestle Jacob? Why does he want to wrestle with you and me?. . . It’s something called intimacy. God likes to wrestle things through with [us] because He enjoys us. It’s as if He says to us, ‘Let’s wrestle this thing through hour after hour, day after day, even month after month, because not only will you find that I’ll come through eventually - but in the process, we will develop a wonderful intimacy.’ “ (Courson’s Old Testament Commentary, Vol 1, P. 155)

What are the things that cause us to struggle with God? A deep loss - the loss of a spouse, a child, a friend, a home, a job, our health? Or maybe a persistent sin or feeling of worthlessness? If you have ever been through one of these devastating losses or inward struggles, you know that it causes you to agonize as you question God. My dear friend, Carrol, who had breast cancer several years ago, recently wrote me about that period in her life and how it caused her to really seek God like never before - and for that she is actually grateful for the cancer! I see my sister, Jodi, even now wrestling with God over the overwhelming events of the past few months, the loss of her son and the fight with multiple myeloma. This kind of struggling is done with great pain - even weeping and begging as we see in Jacob - but joy and blessing are the end result! I know that is where Jodi will end up, but I cry with her now in the struggle and pray for her as she wrestles. She’s already seen many blessings, but I know that the wrestling is not yet over.

Courson continues:

“God also invites us to wrestle with Him in order that we might discover things about Him and ourselves we could learn in no other way. As you wrestle in prayer, you might find that what God gives to you and does for you is entirely different than what you expected. Jacob asked to be blessed, instead he was broken - but the answer was better, because our Father knows best.” (P.155) I can hear Carrol shouting, “Amen!”

Jacob was never the same after this wrestling match! He walked with a limp forever after - a limp that reminded him that when God wins the match, WE win, too!

Tomorrow we’ll take a second look at this same scene with some insights from Beth Moore that bless my socks off!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Genesis 32:13-21

When we left off yesterday, Jacob had just prayed this great prayer to God asking for protection and reminding God of the covenant He had made with Jacob to prosper him. However, like so many of us, Jacob was not content to leave the matter with God. Just in case God did not come through for him, Jacob devised his own plan. He was determined to somehow get on Esau’s good side:

He spent the night there, and from what he had with him he selected a gift for his brother Esau: two hundred female goats and twenty male goats, two hundred ewes and twenty rams, thirty female camels with their young, forty cows and ten bulls, and twenty female donkeys and ten male donkeys. He put them in the care of his servants, each herd by itself, and said to his servants, “Go ahead of me, and keep some space between the herds.” (Gen. 32:13-16)

So, Jacob sends three servants ahead of him, each going successively with the same instructions:

“When my brother Esau meets you and asks, ‘To whom do you belong, and where are you going, and who owns all these animals in front of you?’ then you are to say, ‘They belong to your servant Jacob. They are a gift sent to my lord Esau, and he is coming behind us.’” (vs. 17-18)

Beth Moore, in the DVD that accompanies her study, The Patriarchs, spends a lot of time covering the reasoning that went into Jacob’s strategy here. Verses 20-21 tell us what Jacob was thinking:

For he thought, “I will pacify him with these gifts I am sending on ahead; later, when I see him, perhaps he will receive me.” So Jacob’s gifts went on ahead of him, but he himself spent the night in the camp.

Beth breaks down the phrases in this sentence with a more literal Hebrew translation like this:

“I will pacify him with these gifts” > “I may cover his face

“with these gifts I am sending on ahead” > “gifts that go before my face

“later when I see him” > “when I face him”

“perhaps he will receive me” > “he will raise my face

“So Jacob’s gifts went on ahead of him” > “the gifts went on ahead of his face

Beth points out that the real issue here was that Jacob was “terrified to face his brother.”

I alluded to it yesterday, but there are three people in my life that I DREAD facing. These are the most difficult people in my life. Not only because they have harassed me at times, but because I also have fault in the way I have dealt with them. So facing them is something I anticipate with great trepidation! I know I am COMMANDED to act in a loving manner toward those who persecute me (not FEEL warm and fuzzy toward them, but treat them with respect and in a manner that demonstrates Christ’s love and grace). But, it is not something I rush to do with great joy! It requires an act of my will to be obedient to Christ and interact with them at times. God has given me the understanding that I do NOT have to put myself in the line of fire - but when I face them, I am to act out love. I learned a long time ago that this is not hypocrisy, it is obedience.

So I’m fully feeling the fear of Jacob. Do any of you relate, as well? Esau had made a real threat 20 years earlier, and Jacob has no reason to believe that absence has made Esau’s heart grow fonder toward Jacob! So, back to his old tricks, Jacob, the schemer, is sending presents on ahead to butter up Esau, “just in case” God doesn’t protect him.

I wonder if any of us have been “hedging our bets” when we have prayed to God over some major item. What do we do “just in case God doesn’t come through?” Do we put a “Plan B” in motion and set up “safety nets?” I am often guilty of this at my job! We’ll see tomorrow that God wants us to believe in HIM and to take Him at His Word. If we struggle with this, and insist on working things out our own way, “just in case,” God will deal with us, because He loves us too much to let our old nature be in control! Just as Jacob had to quit being the “deceiver,” God wants us to quit being the “gossip,” or the “people pleaser,” or whatever role we play. Sometimes, in order to change our old patterns, we need a real encounter with God. Before Jacob faces Esau, he will come face to face with his God. That’s tomorrow’s study! It’s a good one!

Genesis 32:1-12

Today’s section of Genesis is one I think many of us can relate to! If you have ever had a difficult relationship or had one in which you have made mistakes, you may understand the anticipation Jacob feels as he heads for home and prepares for a reunion with his estranged brother, Esau. From the very beginning, God makes sure that Jacob is reminded that God is with him:

Jacob also went on his way, and the angels of God met him. When Jacob saw them, he said, “This is the camp of God!” So he named that place Mahanaim. (Gen. 32:1)

However, Jacob still maintains much of his old character, and feels the need to manipulate the meeting with Esau. He sends messengers ahead to try to scope out the situation. They return with news that sends Jacob into a panic!

When the messengers returned to Jacob, they said, “We went to your brother Esau, and now he is coming to meet you, and four hundred men are with him.” (vs. 6)

Whoa! Esau is coming with 400 of his closest friends??? This is the brother who promised to kill Jacob for stealing the blessing. Jacob responds in a way that many of us would:

In great fear and distress Jacob divided the people who were with him into two groups, and the flocks and herds and camels as well. He thought, “If Esau comes and attacks one group, the group that is left may escape.” (vs. 7-8)

Jacob figures that Esau is coming for revenge, so if he splits his family, he may be able to save half of them! Can you imagine the fear he feels – and the guilt, knowing that he indeed deceived his father to get the blessing that Esau expected. I know that feeling of dread when you know you are going to finally be confronted with someone with whom you have had a falling out. It’s scary! You do everything you can to delay the phone call or the meeting. I can also identify with Jacob’s feeling that he needs to make a defensive plan. When we have wronged someone, we can come up with all kinds of ways to defend our actions and protect ourselves. The good news? Jacob remembers to turn to God!

Then Jacob prayed, “O God of my father Abraham, God of my father Isaac, LORD, you who said to me, ‘Go back to your country and your relatives, and I will make you prosper,’ I am unworthy of all the kindness and faithfulness you have shown your servant. I had only my staff when I crossed this Jordan, but now I have become two camps. Save me, I pray, from the hand of my brother Esau, for I am afraid he will come and attack me, and also the mothers with their children. But you have said, ‘I will surely make you prosper and will make your descendants like the sand of the sea, which cannot be counted.’” (vs. 9-12)

Did you notice how he still addresses God as the “God of my father Abraham, God of my father Isaac”, rather than as “my God?” (see Gen 31:42) He hasn’t quite reached that understanding of a personal relationship with God. However, he does remind God twice of the promise He has made to Jacob, and he acknowledges that his relationship with God is one based on God’s grace, and not Jacob’s worthiness. That shows a growing faith. I think it’s funny and maybe somewhat telling that he nonetheless thinks about himself first: “Save me. . . and also the mothers with their children.”

So, he has honestly laid out his requests before God, exactly as he should. BUT . . . tomorrow we’ll see how this old schemer still feels the need to come up with his own back-up plan in case God doesn’t come through! Stay tuned!


Sunday, July 10, 2011

Back from the Windy City

Well, I’m back from Chicago! It was an amazing, exhausting week in a beautiful city. The weather cooperated, although one night there was an amazing lightning and thunderstorm, winds with gusts up to 80 mph, and hail (luckily we had made it back to our hotel room prior to the rain by about 20 seconds)! It was exciting! When I was not in meetings, we walked and walked and walked! So much to see, do, and taste in Chicago!

But the absolute highlight of the week was getting to see my sister, Jodi! She was in isolation and at her lowest point of immune suppression when we arrived, so there seemed no chance of my getting to visit her. However, mid-week her WBC numbers started going up, and on the day before I was leaving I received a phone call from my sweet brother-in-law, Ed, asking me if I’d like to visit her! I immediately started crying! He picked me up at the convention center and drove me to the hospital for a great visit! Jodi looked wonderful! She is exhausted, but healing! And the amazing news came yesterday that Jodi is home! It is miraculous! Please continue to pray for her to be strengthened and protected. She and Ed will remain in Chicago for a couple of months while she finishes up her protocol, then they will return home to Colorado. She has had a few months of tremendous upheaval, so I'm praying she will find refreshing and peace in the next season!

Molly, meanwhile, had a horrific week after her tonsillectomy! She was in great pain and her pain meds were not helping. So, she was also sleep-deprived and starving! The good news is that the doctor confirmed after surgery that her tonsils were "ugly" and really needed to come out.  Also, she noticed immediately that she is breathing better.  She and Kevin were set to leave for their vacation on Friday (turned out that they had to take the original week), but stayed home an extra day to try to get her in a better place). They are now up at Lake Nacimiento, and we are praying that she will continue to improve quickly. Yesterday she was able to eat a french fry - that was a big deal! Please pray for their safety on the lake!

Meanwhile, Frank is also showing signs of improvement. He still is bruised, but the pain has truly minimized, and the doctor thinks he’ll just need a couple of weeks more. I’m thanking God for my brother-in-law, Dave, and his wife, Nancy, who came up from San Diego daily to take care of Frank while we were gone! He is up and walking, but Frank is definitely declining in spirit, and seems to be losing the will to live, so please pray that God will give us His words of encouragement that he needs, and the opportunity to minister to him in a meaningful way as he faces eternity.

At church, yesterday, the worship team lead us in the wonderful song, Blessed Be Your Name, and I just started to cry thinking of the pain and suffering of these three special people in my life.  The verse that I love is

Blessed be your name
On the road marked with suffering
Though there's pain in the offering
Blessed be your name

Sometimes praise is a sacrifice that we choose to make when things have gone completely wrong.  This is praise that costs, and it blesses God!  It's the kind of praise that Molly and Jodi have been offering up!

So, God has been faithful - no surprise there - and has met all our needs! Thank you for your prayers!!! I’m so glad to be back home! I have truly missed meeting Him in the morning with you, and look forward to getting back into Genesis!  Jacob is about to have his life-changing and name-changing encounter with God!  I need one of those about now - how about you?