Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Genesis 35:16-29

I need to confess something! I have been having the hardest time getting back to this study!! Have you ever noticed that when we get out of the habit of daily Bible study or if we skip church for a couple of weeks, it is SO hard to get back! I was thinking that the reason I was having a hard time was because I just wasn’t feeling any inspiration from this chapter – or that I was just having trouble finding time with Don being home all of the time.

But yesterday it struck me that it wasn’t a matter of inspiration – it was a matter of OBEDIENCE! God wants to speak to us DAILY – He is not looking for weekly check-ups or quarterlies or annual reports on how we’re doing. He wants a DAILY, minute-by-minute, present tense relationship with us. And the way He speaks to us is through His timeless Word! I have missed it! So rather than wait for any “inspiration,” I’m going to plow ahead, trusting that He will give me whatever He wants me to glean from this chapter!

Genesis 35 is filled with sorrowful events. In verse 8, we read of the death of Rebekah’s nurse, Deborah. Now Deborah had most likely been with Rebekah since she was a child and had come with her when she married Isaac. This meant she would have been something like a surrogate grandmother to Jacob as he was growing up, so surely this was a huge personal loss to him.

Then soon after Jacob suffers a worse, unexpected loss, when Rachel dies in childbirth. In Genesis 30:1, Rachel pleaded with Jacob, “Give me children or I’ll die!” Indeed, it was in bearing her second son that she DID die:

Then they moved on from Bethel. While they were still some distance from Ephrath, Rachel began to give birth and had great difficulty. And as she was having great difficulty in childbirth, the midwife said to her, “Don’t be afraid, for you have another son.” As she breathed her last—for she was dying—she named her son Ben-Oni. But his father named him Benjamin. So Rachel died and was buried on the way to Ephrath (that is, Bethlehem). Over her tomb Jacob set up a pillar, and to this day that pillar marks Rachel’s tomb. (Gen 35:16-20)

Rachel, the love of Jacob’s life, was gone. With her last breath, she gave her new baby the name Ben-Oni, which means son of my trouble. Jacob (deceiver, conniver, heel-grabber) knew only too well the power of a name to shape a child in negative ways, so he immediately renamed the baby Benjamin, meaning son of my right hand. Good thinking, Jacob! We are given few details, but certainly, Jacob mourned the loss of Rachel!

Just when you think it can’t get any worse, we read of a vile act by Jacob’s firstborn, Reuben:

Israel moved on again and pitched his tent beyond Migdal Eder. While Israel was living in that region, Reuben went in and slept with his father’s concubine Bilhah, and Israel heard of it. (vs. 21-22)

Are you kidding me? Doesn’t this sound like an episode of Days of Our Lives ?? Now, we aren’t told what motivated Reuben’s act of incest, but Beth Moore speculates that it could have been an act of rebellion and defiance toward Jacob. Possibly Reuben was challenging his father’s authority. Or maybe it was just an impulsive act of lust. It’s interesting to note that Jacob is referred to as Israel in these verses – possibly because he does not react in his old nature. This is not to say that Reuben did not suffer consequences. When the dying Jacob is handing out the patriarchal blessings on his sons (Gen 49:3-4), Reuben is told he would no longer “excel” because of this event.

Finally, with sorrow upon sorrow, Jacob loses his father, Isaac:

Jacob came home to his father Isaac in Mamre, near Kiriath Arba (that is, Hebron), where Abraham and Isaac had stayed. Isaac lived a hundred and eighty years. Then he breathed his last and died and was gathered to his people, old and full of years. And his sons Esau and Jacob buried him. (vs. 27-29).

I’m struck by the fact that these losses come on the heels of each other, one right after another. It seems like more than one man can bear. Talk about having your life shaken! Yet, we saw at the beginning of this chapter (verses 9-15) that because God knew what was up ahead for Jacob, He appeared to him to encourage him and strengthen him. Note that after each one, we are told that Jacob “moved on.” That is the task of those who mourn, isn’t it?

The other thing that stood out was the fact that so little is said about the details of the death of the patriarch, Isaac. There’s no lengthy obituary or eulogy – no details about the mourning. “…he breathed his last and died…” That’s it! And that reminded me of a treasure of a verse:

Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints. (Psalm 116:15)

As each of these special loved ones died, leaving Jacob in a heap of sorrow, God was on the other side welcoming them with a “Woo-hoo! You are home at last!” (I don’t know that God would shout “Woo-hoo!”, but I’m certain He is excited to see His own) That is great encouragement when we are grieving. Next Saturday I will be attending the fifth funeral I’ve been to since March. All of these dear people died too young in my mind (29, 35, 58, 63, and 70), and I’m numb with the shock of it all. But I KNOW that God rejoiced to usher them into eternity.

It feels great to be back in God’s Word!!!

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