Snapshots: Day 27

Snapshots: Day 27

The Snapshot: “His brother came out grasping Esau’s heel; so he was named Jacob.” Perceptions, hopes and dreams, all wrong, all muddled, all forgetting God. Here’s the first twin – he will be great. No he won’t. Here’s the second twin, a grabber, a twister, a schemer, a hopeless case. True but that’s forgetting God again. He knows what we’re really like, He knows what He can do with us, that’s why we’re chosen, because He looked into the future and saw what we could become. Jacob is going to become a great Patriarch, a godly man with God’s heart who will prophesy over all his family with amazing insight. We all start by being ‘schemers’, plotting our own well-being, and God enables us to become something quite glorious, His children. How wonderful. Thank you, Lord.

Further Consideration: Yesterday I sought to encourage us to come into understanding God’s will. Many years ago my wife and I sensed we should move to the town where we now are. We sought to do so but it just wasn’t happening. Eventually I took a piece of paper and made a list of twelve reasons why I felt we needed to be in that new place, and I took it to the Lord and said, “Lord, why aren’t you letting us move? These are the reasons we need to be over there.” Quick as a shot came back from heaven, “Now you understand I will move you.” We were in within three months. Forty years later we’re still here.

So often we see the circumstances and stick with them and see no further. We ‘caught’ a sense of needing to move but it took a while to truly understand what was on God’s heart. But I say again, so often we ‘see’ with our eyes and either simply accept the status quo of what we see, or misunderstand what we see because we have not consulted God. The situation involving Jacob is strange.

You see Rebekah shows herself to be a godly woman because, after twenty years pass and she eventually finds herself pregnant and there is a heaving going on inside, we read, “she said, “Why is this happening to me?” So she went to inquire of the Lord,” (Gen 25:22) and the Lord told her, “Two nations are in your womb ….   and the older will serve the younger.” (Gen 25:23) so when Esau came out first followed by Jacob grasping his heel, she clearly didn’t tell Isaac (or he ignored her) because they did not take on board the fact that Jacob would become the leader of the two, and thus they gave him a name that stuck – grasper, twister, deceiver. He certainly lived up to that name until he ended wrestling with God and was changed.

But do we misread the situation, do we fail to seek God for understanding and clarity? How much do we let such things dictate life, or do we let prophecy direct it and rejoice and go along with it?

5. A Scheming Patriarch

Reaching into Redemption Meditations: 5. A Scheming Patriarch

Gen 25:25,26   The first to come out was red, and his whole body was like a hairy garment; so they named him Esau. After this, his brother came out, with his hand grasping Esau’s heel; so he was named Jacob

 Recap: We are observing God’s redemptive plans and actions as we see them being worked out in the lives of people in the Bible. We saw how He related to Cain and despite Cain committing murder, set him on a redemptive course where he had opportunity after opportunity to be changed while under the Lord’s protection. Then we saw Abraham called to follow, but initially getting it wrong; yet in the long-term a transformed believer. Amazing. But that is redemption.

Jacob the crook: Yes, that is what Jacob was at heart. At the moment of birth he was clutching at his older brother’s heel as if to say, “I’m not letting you get ahead of me,” and thus he was named Jacob. (A note in your Bible probably says, “Jacob means he grasps the heel, a Hebrew idiom for he deceives.”) Thus he was branded, ‘deceiver’. He lived up to his name by first of all by playing on his brother’s weakness and stealing his birth right (see Gen 25:29-34) and then conniving to steal his brother’s blessing (see Gen 27). Later, when he was living with his uncle Laban, we see him scheming to get more flocks from his uncle (Gen 30:30-43).

Jacob and God: Now if those were the ways Jacob sought to overcome people, how about his attitude towards God? Well on his travelling to his uncle he has a dream after which we find, Then Jacob made a vow, saying, “If God will be with me and will watch over me on this journey I am taking and will give me food to eat and clothes to wear so that I return safely to my father’s household, then the Lord will be my God.” (Gen 28:20-22) There is almost a bartering aspect to this; note the words in bold. Later at the end of his time with Laban we find, “Then the Lord said to Jacob, “Go back to the land of your fathers and to your relatives, and I will be with you.” (Gen 31:3) As he explains to his two wives, the daughters of Laban, he reveals how he had had a dream from God that enabled him to be prosperous (see Gen 31:4-9). He is beginning to speak ‘God-talk’. (see also 31:42) On his journey home he hears Esau is coming and in fear he prays (see Gen 32:9-12). He is slowly becoming godly but there is still a heart to be fully changed, and so we come to the crisis point of his life when he wrestles with God through the night and the Lord eventually makes him submit (see Gen 32:24-32). He is a changed man.

The Big Picture: Now here is the big question: how could God possibly go with a crook, a schemer, a deceiver? Well it’s all to do with the big picture, the long-term plan of God who looks upon us and sees what He can achieve with us. Dare we go with Jeremiah to whom the Lord said, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart;” (Jer 1:5). Dare we take hold of the apostle Paul’s words, “For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship] through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will,” (Eph 1:4,5) and, “In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, in order that we, who were the first to put our hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory.” (Eph 1:11,12) These are all words about God who knows before it happens in time-space history how it will all work out. He knows what you can become. He knew there would come a point of time when you would surrender to Him. He knew how you would fit into His plans to bless the world.

And Jacob? Right from the outset the Lord knew how it would all work out when He said to Rebekah, “Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you will be separated; one people will be stronger than the other, and the older will serve the younger.”  (Gen 25:23) He knew Esau would be casual about his birth right and He knew Jacob would rise up and become prosperous and He knew that Jacob, the twister, would become Jacob the man of God. How can I say that? We have already seen some of the signs that Jacob was changing and turning towards God as the Lord drew him and then wrestled with him but see Jacob the Patriarch prophesying over his sons near the end of his life; this is a man of God! (see Gen 49)

More ‘big picture’: Malachi caught something of this when the Lord declared through him, “I have loved Jacob, but Esau I have hated.” (Mal 1:2,3) Isn’t that incredible. God loved the way the twister changed – and He knew he would change – and He hated the way Esau was so self-centred that he despised his birth right, despised his place in the family chosen by God. The apostle Paul also picked up on this, “in order that God’s purpose in election might stand:  not by works but by him who calls—she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” Just as it is written: “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” (Rom 9:10-13) God’s ‘election’ comes from God’s foreknowledge. He knows who will respond to Him, He knows who today will respond to Christ, even before we do, and as such we are part of the redeemed family of God. It’s not because of any good things we do, it is because God called, and we responded and believed. We have seen it in Jacob and it is how it happened with us as we responded to the good news of Christ.

Lessons? I think the key one – next to rejoicing in our own wonderful salvation – is in respect of how we view other people. I always remember a teacher laughingly say, “Be careful how you look down on that young person, next year he may be an apostle!” The truth is we don’t know how we are each going to work out with God. You may look at a child of yours – possibly a prodigal – and despair. Don’t despair, pray. Who knows what God has in store for them. They may appear a Jacob at the moment but keep on praying and you may be one of God’s keys to them becoming a man or woman of God before the end, just like Jacob. Let his story impact you and change how you think about the years to come.

Application for further thought and prayer: Lord, lift my eyes above the mundane present, to catch something of the wonder of your divine working, that looks and sees and plans and works, with whoever you see will respond (today or next month) to redeem them from the mundane present, to perhaps become a man or woman of God – my family, those at church, those around me in life.

4. God’s Plan, not mine

Expectations & Hopes Meditations: 4. God’s Plan, not mine

Gen 25:23   “Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you will be separated; one people will be stronger than the other, and the older will serve the younger.”

Family Expectations: The awareness of being pregnant surely brings an anticipation of the days ahead, and indeed the years ahead. The creation of a family must surely be one of the greatest forces for raising expectations of the future – and also the potential for getting it wrong! How many children have suffered and been distorted from God’s design from them, by their parents own expectations. Again and again I watch young parents – and it may be the mother or the father – who works to do everything possible to provide the best for their child or children and guide and steer them to achieve something that is the image of the parents, Within the Hebrew people, there was a regular custom of giving a child a name in accordance with the hopes of the parent. The naming of the sons of Jacob is a classic of this found in Gen 29 & 30, although they tended to be to act as a reminder of the circumstances surrounding the birth. It’s not a practice we tend to follow!

But now we come to Isaac and Rebekah again. Previously we read, Isaac prayed to the LORD on behalf of his wife, because she was barren. The LORD answered his prayer, and his wife Rebekah became pregnant.” (Gen 25:21) For twenty years Rebekah had anticipated being a mother – it’s what wives become, isn’t it! Eventually she conceives. At long last! Well it has happened, so what will we name our child, what will they be a boy or a girl, what will they be like? These are the sort of questions would-be parents ask. But then something happens: “The babies jostled each other within her, and she said, “Why is this happening to me?” So she went to inquire of the LORD.” (v.22)

Rebekah seeks the Lord: Now I have the highest respect for Rebekah at this point (she doesn’t do so well later) because after having to wait for twenty years, she has become a godly woman. When something starts going wrong, she talks to God about it. If only more Christians today would build this into their life habits! But more that this, she doesn’t just talk at God (which today so many do in their superstitious prayers) but she enquires of the Lord, she asks Him – and then listens – and hears!  Again, oh, if only more Christians would learn to do this today! The Lord reveals to her that she is carrying twins, but He takes the opportunity of her listening heart to convey something about their future to her: “The LORD said to her, “Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you will be separated; one people will be stronger than the other, and the older will serve the younger.” (v.23).

The boys named: To understand the future we need to see what follows: “When the time came for her to give birth, there were twin boys in her womb. The first to come out was red, and his whole body was like a hairy garment; so they named him Esau. After this, his brother came out, with his hand grasping Esau’s heel; so he was named Jacob. Isaac was sixty years old when Rebekah gave birth to them” (Gen 25:24-26) Esau simply means ‘red’ and ‘hairy’ so naming a poor child that doesn’t really do much for his self-esteem as he grows up! But if that wasn’t bad enough, Jacob means ‘he grasps the heel” or ‘grabber’! It was no surprise that Jacob grew up to be that sort of person!

So, although I said I admired the way she sought the Lord, once the babies have arrived – and it may be a sign of her weariness after having had twins – she doesn’t do a good job giving them inspiring names. Maybe it was a sign of what both the parents felt about God after having had to wait for Him to turn up for twenty years. I don’t know.  If they were around today, Esau’s friends would probably unkindly refer to him as ‘that hairy mutt’. Jacob, well possibly, “here comes the grabber, hold on to your toys!” Not a good entry.

Upset causes divergence: All of this is followed, once they reach the age of maturity, by a rite of blessing and it all goes horribly wrong with Jacob conning his brother out of the best blessing (see Gen 27:1-40), but this is only after Esau has already shown he doesn’t care anything about his birthright (see Gen 25:29-34). In the long term the family tree of the people of God stayed with Jacob who became Israel, while Esau went off and married a Canaanite in a peak of anger (Gen 28:8,9) and becomes father of the Edomites who became enemies of Israel so often. (see Gen 25:30, 36:1-)

God’s Sovereignty? Now the apostle Paul uses this situation to demonstrate the sovereignty of God in choosing who He will (Rom 9:10-13) but a wider reading of Scripture suggests again and again, that ‘God’s sovereignty’, while clearly being that, is in fact based upon what He sees and knows from the outset before the world is even created. how unique individuals will use their free will to choose the life they will live, and in the light of that, He chooses who will be blessed, but it is simply those who turn to Him and follow Him. Thus in the story we have been considering, the Lord knew the outcome when he said to Rebekah, “one people will be stronger than the other, and the older will serve the younger,” and knew that Esau would despise his family name, care little about his parents (thus dishonoring them) and go off contrary to the declared will of God (to bless the world through this particular family) and marry Canaanites. He knew that although Jacob would start off his life as a twister, he would end up a wise old Patriarch who we see prophesying over all his boys and thus growing into a nation that God would bless and use.

And Us? And so? Be careful with your expectations for your family. Pray your heart out for them for God to bless them and draw them to Himself but be careful not to have favourites who you spoil to the detriment of the others (as we’ll see in later studies), and don’t try and make your children something other than God has designed into them. Your child may be an artist. Let him be. Your child may be a scientist. Let her be. Guide them ethically and morally by all means, be the example we have spoken of before, of faith and righteousness, but don’t impose your image on them. Hold your expectations lightly as you pray for them daily, otherwise you may be working against the will of God!

4. God of Mercy

Meditations in Romans, Ch.9-11 : 4:  God of Mercy

Rom 9:14,15    What then shall we say? Is God unjust? Not at all! For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.”

Paul is not a modern philosopher. We, or at least I, would speak, even as we have already, about the God who knows and the God who chooses people on the basis of what He knows they will do, how they will respond to His good news, but Paul is working out his theology as he goes along and he simply presents to us what he knows of the Scriptures and will go no further.

But he has just spoken of God who chose the younger twin and rejected the older, accepted Jacob but rejected Esau. It seems, on the surface at least, as if God is simply choosing by whim or fancy and Paul is not going to go behind the scenes like we have done but is just going to face that head on. He faces the apparent problem: What then shall we say? Is God unjust?” (v.14) That is what it might seem. But Paul won’t have that: “Not at all!” And so he explains: “For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” Now that is very blunt but when you are facing a holy God who is perfect in every way, whatever He chooses to say or do will always be right, even if we don’t understand it, so God says He chooses how He will respond to each person. He doesn’t explain why He chooses as He will. If He decides to show mercy and compassion for one and not another, that is up to Him – trust Him, He does what is right. We’ve sought to explain it in terms of His knowing all thing of this person and how they will act in the future, but the Bible and Paul simply ask us to accept God’s wisdom for what it is – perfect!

So Paul declares the basic truth here: “It does not, therefore, depend on man’s desire or effort, but on God’s mercy.”  This whole thing of salvation is not down to us. It doesn’t depend on what we think or want or hope – because all of our thinking may be utterly self-centred, even if it looks like we are trying to be good, and that falls short of what God is aiming for.

Now mercy is not a word that is used often in today’s world. A dictionary definition is “compassion shown by one to another who is in his power and has no claim to kindness.” This is the thing about mercy, it is not given because you deserve it or have anything of merit that makes you worthy of it. If God shows mercy it is simply because He chooses to.  This is where we have to trust that God, being perfect in every way, does what is right. This is the Scriptural position and it needs some reading and thinking to go beyond that simple understanding (which is what we have sought to do previously).

Paul then uses the example of God dealing with Pharaoh in Exodus: “For the Scripture says to Pharaoh: “I raised you up for this very purpose, that I might display my power in you and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” (v.17 quoting Ex 9:16)  That needs thinking about. God raised up Pharaoh? Well He certainly brought him onto the pages of biblical history so He certainly raised him up in that sense. But perhaps the Lord had blessed and encouraged Pharaoh’s reign in a variety of ways to make him the great and powerful leader that he was. The only trouble is that greatness and power so often breed pride and Pharaoh had a lot of that, and pride made him foolish so he thought he could outwit God. He had become The most powerful man around and his fame would have spread around that part of the world at least, so that when he was brought down, that too would go around that part of the world.

So Paul comments, “Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden.” (v.18) Hardening Pharaoh’s heart was foundational to the story of Moses and Pharaoh. The truth is that Pharaoh already had a hard heart (hard against Moses and his people and hard against God, because that is what pride does) and so when God confronted Pharaoh again and again it just worked to harden his heart even more. Could God have dealt gently with Pharaoh? Gentleness never has any effect on a proud, stubborn and rebellious heart; it is just seen as a sign of weakness. No God chose to deal with Pharaoh in the way He did, so that it would be heard of around the world and people would hear about God.

Now there is an even bigger truth in the background which is not spoken of here because it was not Paul’s way or arguing, but the truth is that every man, woman and child on the earth is a sinner and (in Paul’s words), the “wages of sin is death” (Rom 6:23) or, to put it another way, every single person deserves death. Justice, left to itself, would have every single person destroyed, but God has mercy. God looks for a better way and it is the way of the Cross, the way of repentance and the way of redemption and salvation, but it is pure mercy. You might say that love (and God is love) always looks for a better way out to bless others, but then the question might be, but why should God love the unlovely, love those who hate Him, those who live their lives out turning their backs on Him? Why does He continually seek to draw them to Himself?  Divine love and divine mercy are mysteries when it comes to it. All we can do is give up our intellectual struggling and just be very thankful. Amen? Amen!