OT: Gen. 32:13-34:31
Bear with me: today's reading made me realize that I really need to go back and focus on Jacob's evolving relationship with God. So that's what I'm going to do. I'm going to do it, first of all, because I find the origins of man's relationship with God to be fascinating. This is amazing history, people! These guys didn't have the Bible. They didn't know about Jesus or about Paul's theology or about the Law or Moses and Pharoah or Passover or anything. These people represent our beginnings as humans knowing God! [Sidenote: I don't think I've ever italicized that many words in a sentence before:).]
Furthermore, I see more and more how Jacob is a very representative character. Today's reading makes that explicit when God renames him Israel. The nation of Israel got its name from a man who struggled with God. And they went on to struggle with God. Given our sinful nature, maybe to know God is to struggle with God. Regardless, Jacob is not just representative of Israel to me; he is also representative of humanity. I have been dogging him pretty steadily for days now and taking pains to outline what a loser I think he is. However, I'm realizing that all of his flaws can boil down to one word: Selfishness. He is the essence of a human. Looking back, everything he does--and I mean everything--is for his own gain. Getting the birthright, stealing the blessing, working to acquire his wives, working for his own wealth, trying his hand at cross-breeding, protecting himself from Esau--all of that was for himself. I think American culture would praise him! He knows what he wants and goes for it. He dreams big, works hard, and does what it takes to make it in this world. In short, he is your prototypical selfish human. Just like all of us.
So let's see how this prototypical selfish human relates to God, knowing that he does not have all the background knowledge that we have:
He starts out by blaspheming God, by seeing God as a tool to use to get what he wants. He does this when he invokes God while lying to Isaac, saying, "The Lord your God gave me success" (Gen. 27:20). At least, he has the decency not to claim God. He distinctly says, "the Lord your God." Your God, Dad. Not mine.
Jacob's next step in his relationship with God comes when he has the "stairway to heaven" dream while fleeing from Esau. While marveling at the stairs and the angels, he hears God tell him, "I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac." God then repeats His promise of descendants and land, and also promises to watch over him. As I noted during this day's reading, Jacob's reaction shows how distant he is from a relationship with God. He assumes that he has happened upon a special patch of ground, and then he gets conditional with God. He says, "If God will be with me and will watch over me on this journey...then the Lord will be my God..." (Gen 28: 20). Do you see the selfishness? He still views God as a tool to use to get what he wants. Only, this time, he is dealing directly with God rather than just using His name. So...he has progressed a little, but only because God took the initiative to talk to Him.
Jacob's next mention of God comes in 30: 2, when he makes a general reference to God when talking to Rachel: "Am I in the place of God, who has kept you from having children?" I'm not sure if this is a new belief for Jacob or if it just represents the theism of the culture at the time, but he acknowledges that God is in control of the events around him. I kind of think that Jacob's just saying that, though. If he really thought that the God he had dreamed about was in control, I feel like he would be wheelin' and dealin' with Him. After all, Jacob loved Rachel, and probably really wanted her to have kids. I kind of think he has forgotten all about that Bethel encounter at this point.
Next, God again appears to Jacob in a dream. This is after he has tried to produce speckled animals using white branches in water (I'm not a zoologist or anything, but that doesn't sound very effective to me). God makes it clear to Jacob that He has made the speckled animals, and He tells Jacob to get the heck outta Dodge. So... Jacob does. He listens! He does what he is told! He even starts giving full credit for his wealth to God! Maybe this dream served as a wake up call. God had reminded him of the dream at Bethel (31:13), and maybe that made him remember his covenant with God. Jacob sees that God can help him out, so he is totally on board with this "following God" stuff. But I wonder what his reaction would be if God asked him to sacrifice a son. Hmmm....
When Laban pursues Jacob, they have some God talk as well. There is nothing too noteworthy, except for that God is twice referred to as the "Fear of Isaac" (21: 42, 53). What does that mean?
Next, angels of the Lord meet Jacob as he is journeying toward Esau (32: 1), and in his stress about the meeting, he takes another new step: he prays. The prayer is a good one, though the skeptic in me is wondering how much Jacob the Self-Preserver is trying to butter God up so that God will help him. He tells God how unworthy he is, he tells him how he's worried for his family, and he discreetly reminds God of His promise to protect him (32: 9-12).
And that brings us to today's reading. For those who are still awake after that long catalog, I thought today's reading was by far the most fascinating and confusing interaction between Jacob and God. It happens when Jacob is once again alone, just like he was at Bethel. This time, God comes in the form of a man and wrestles with him. That. is. bizarre. Why would God do that? Furthermore, why would God come as a man who can't beat Jacob? The text says, "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" (32: 25). Huh???
Okay, here is my take (and this is a very rough draft of my thoughts): The wrestling match is representative of God's dealings with humanity. His naming Jacob, "Israel" seems to underscore the metaphorical dimension of this encounter. See, left to our own nature, we want our way, not God's way. In the meantime, God wants His way in our life because His way is what's best for us (wow, what an understatement). And that, my friends, is a conflict. Now, God could let us go our own sinful way straight to hell. BUT in his mercy, He comes down and wrestles with us, engages with us, meets us on our level. He reaches out to us, in other words. But in his infinite wisdom, he chooses not to overpower us. He limits Himself. He gives us free will. But he also draws us to Him and disciplines us and tries to lead us down His path through what we might call, divine intervention. Wrenching Jacob's hip was an example of His "discipline."
Now, Jacob was a stubborn, headstrong soul, so he wrestled with him all night. Finally, God was like, "Let me go. It's morning." I mean, after a certain time period, what's the point in continuing? This guy is not going to give up. But this is Jacob we're talking about, and as usual, he wants something. The man is desperately selfish, and he wants a blessing. So God gives it to him. I don't know what to think about that. I picture Jacob, covered with sweat and exhausted, clinging to God and saying, "I will not let you go unless you bless me" (32:26) Again, that sounds selfish to me, but it also sounds...desperate for God. I think Jacob is at a point where he wants a relationship with God. Maybe it is just because he's seen the good things that God can do for him, but regardless, the desire is there. The passion is there, the openness is there, the willingness to engage is there. I don't know. These all seem like good steps to me. Interesting stuff. No, really, it is. Everyone wake up now. I promise I'm moving on:).
NT: Matt. 11: 7-30
With John on his mind (from yesterday's reading), Jesus tells the people how John was more than a prophet, how he was "the Elijah who was to come" from the OT prophecies. He points out the people's double standard in condemning him and John for opposite "crimes." And he notes that the cities in which he did most of his miracles did not repent. Now, that last part is really interesting to me. Sometimes, I wonder why our churches don't have more "fruit." Why aren't we converting the masses like the early church did? But Jesus' situation shows how human nature is not really conducive to converting and conforming to God's will. I mean, Christ Himself performed amazing miracles in these towns...and most people still did not repent! That's crazy!
Lastly, of course I love verses 28-30. But in light of all that "taking up your cross" talk, I'm not sure how "[his] yoke is easy and [his] burden is light." All I can figure is that even taking up your cross and following him is a light burden compared to going through life (and eternity) without God!
Psalm 14: 1-7
I'm pretty sure these are the verses that Paul quotes in Romans 3 (verses 1b-3 sound particularly familiar.)
Proverbs 3: 19-20
God's wisdom formed the earth and the heavens.
Whew, that was an epic entry. Thank goodness for naptime, which allowed me to get it done! If you stayed with me this long, I salute you!