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Home School of Biblical Theology Doing Biblical Theology - No 10 - Jacob’s story [1]

Doing Biblical Theology - No 10 - Jacob’s story [1]

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 Jacob’s story [1]: “A less than promising promise-bearer”   


Gensis  27:1-31:18   


 David Calderwood 

Put your hand up if you watch TV soapies such as ‘the young and the restless’, ‘Neighbours’, and ‘Home and away’.



Soapies are typically built around the supposedly normal workings of a family, friends or neighbourhood. Sex and bedroom politics often dominates - who is cheating on whom; who is secretly in love with whom.



Then there are endless disputes, rivalries, tensions, betrayal, schemes and intrigue as the leading figures try to outdo each other and bring others down, topped off with the odd murder or mysterious disappearance.



But who would think of looking for a biblical soap opera that would match anything you see on TV? But that’s exactly what Jacob’s story is. Let me re-cap Genesis 12-50 and see how the storyline becomes a real life soap opera.



The story of the patriarchs begins with God’s amazing promise to Abraham in Genesis 12:1-3 . These three verses are the link that concludes Genesis 1-11 , and provide the theme or story line for the rest of the Bible, which is God’s story of salvation – or salvation history as it is often called.



God’s promise to Abram is his initiative to reverse the effects of sin and re-establish his kingdom so that, once again, God’s people will be in God’s special place or land, in new relationship and therefore new enjoyment of the good life of blessing under his rule.



More specifically God intends to work out his promise through one obscure group of people, who become the nation of Israel, and the story of the patriarchs: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph, in Genesis 12-50 , trace the formation of this nation.



The story of Abraham and Isaac have already highlighted recurring patterns: childlessness and the efforts of individuals to make God’s promise a reality through their own sinful schemes; family dysfunction, lack of faith expressed in fear and even more sinful responses.



And in stark contrast there is God, totally committed to making his promise a reality in the context of mercy, grace, gentleness, patience and miraculous intervention.



But as the story moves from Abraham to Isaac to Jacob, we wonder how much worse things can get, as we see the characters become increasingly sinful and compromised.


From a human perspective things have become a soap opera situation. But that’s the point because only in this context can we see clearly God’s faithfulness. But more of this soon.

Let’ track through the biblical soap opera that is Jacob’s story. Phase 1: ‘Grasping’  - disloyalty, lies and God’s promise (27:1-28:9).



If 27:1 follows in time from chapter 26, then Jacob and Esau are in their forties. Isaac is more than 100, almost blind, and with the making of his will he moves into background obscurity as a sad old man who would live for another 80 years or so.



The transition from Isaac to Jacob is simply awful with all characters severely compromised by their scheming.



Verses 2-4: Assuming Isaac knew of God’s promise to Rebekah, 25:23, that Esau would serve Jacob, and assuming that Isaac knew that Esau, only a few years earlier, had sold his right as the eldest son to extra property and privilege, 25:31, Isaac is still determined to pass the inheritance to his favourite son, Esau.



This is a secret conspiracy between Isaac and Esau, when it should have included Jacob and other witnesses to make it legal. Was he deliberately trying to avoid any accounting to Rebekah for the promise given by God and for Esau’s promise to Jacob?



Isaac’s blindness was not just physical! In spite of Esau despising his inheritance and marrying local Canaanite women, he could do no wrong in the eyes of Isaac.



And Esau is just as bad. In agreeing to be part of this plan Esau was breaking his oath to Jacob (25:33), having already sold his birthright when it was not his to sell, he now tries to secure it, when it is not his to have.



Then there’s Rebekah sneaking around and ever suspicious of Isaac discovers the evil conspiracy and hatches her own plan to outsmart Isaac to achieve her own ends with Jacob.



But Jacob presents as totally heartless as he deceives his father. He lies twice and calmly suggests God’s help, verse20. But worst of all is the kiss of betrayal, verse 27, which finally overcame Isaac’s suspicions of treachery, verse 22, and secures Jacob the desired blessing.



What an ugly story! What an ugly family! What a tragedy that so much was gained in such a blatantly sinful way.

But the worst thing about the story is in verse 29. Isaac intended to pass on to Esau, God’s covenant promise, when it was not his right to pass it on. Isaac was playing God.



Anyway, on with the story. When Esau turns up a terrible situation gets even worse. Isaac’s sin was exposed and he is terrified, verse 33 – I wonder was it scared for his own life before Esau’s anger or was it fear before the Lord knowing his sin was exposed?



Esau couldn’t see his own fault, but simply raged at Isaac and at the same time as forcing a blessing from his father, he determined to kill Jacob as soon as practical, verse 41.



That forced Rebekah to send Jacob away to things settled down. And once again she manipulates Isaac turning a defeat into new opportunity, verse 46.



At this point Isaac, 28:1-4, seems like a new man, with new concern to do the Lord’s will and act obediently on God’s covenant promise rather than following his own preference. So he blesses Jacob in his own right and commends him to the care and provision of El Shaddai, the Lord Almighty, for fulfilment of the covenant promise.



Even Esau seems to have realised the change in his father’s outlook, verses 8-9, prompting him to marry an Ishmaelite woman in an effort to win his father’s approval.



This marks the start of phase 2: ‘fleeing’ and 20 years in God’s school of faith (28:10-30:24). Once again, like the story of Abraham and Isaac, the bulk of Jacob’s story is a journey away from the land followed by his return journey.



This journey is God’s school of faith with the first lesson happening immediately, 28:10-17.



In the mountains about 90 kms North of Beersheba Jacob camps rough for the night, and has a life changing encounter with the Lord. And as we have seen with Abraham and Isaac, it appears the Lord speaks gently to the fears that Jacob likely had - I no longer have a family or a place to call home or a purpose in life.



God’s answer is so incredibly gentle in spite of Jacob’s awful sin. God’s answer is all about God’s intentions.



First, verses 13-14, I am Yahweh, the Lord God and I will give . . . All the promises to Abraham and Isaac will now be realised through him. The Lord will graciously give him the good life of blessing he has spent all his years wrongly trying to ‘grasp’ or seize for himself. The Lord breaks his self-centredness.



Second, verse 15, I will spoil you. I will stand with you and care for you every step of this journey. And I will make my promise real in your life before I am done with you. This is a lesson in pure grace.



In spite of his awful sin God takes the initiative in establishing personal relationship with Jacob, at the same time reassuring him although he had received the blessing through sinful scheming, it is truly his.


His response is that of a newly educated man, 17-22 - whole-hearted worship which displays a new respect for the Lord; a recognition of the awesome and undeserved nature of fellowship with God; and a new commitment to a whole-of-life response to the Lord



Verse 20 is likely a result clause rather than a conditional clause - since God has committed himself to me in these ways, then I, Jacob, promises to live under his word and express my gratitude by giving back a tenth of what was first given to me.



But this high note is soon lost in Chapter 29 as sin once again seems to threaten the realisation of God’s promises.



Jacob arrives safely at his uncle Laban’s place. But things are not as they seem. His uncle is polite, but does not take Jacob into the family as a guest as custom would dictate. So Jacob ends up as a shepherd working for his keep.



And so Jacob, passionately in love with Rachel, gets a seven year lesson in humility by having to work as a lowly shepherd, and by experiencing the same sort of deceit, lies and disrespect he had dished out to his father.



But finally married to both Leah and Rachel things go horribly wrong. Jacob tolerated Leah but loved Rachel creating hatred and sparking a ruthless baby war involving surrogate mothers, fertility drugs (mandrakes), and competition for Jacob’s sexual services. And all this

while all parties are claiming God’s backing for their sinful actions.



Finally, 30:22, Rachel has her own child, bringing to a close a really awful period of Jacob’s stupidity and ruthless self-centredness of his wives.



With that the third phase of Jacob’s life begins which sees him returning home and God’s blessing once again dominates. (30:25-31:18)



30:25. After 14 years Jacob decides to head back to Canaan, but once again the scheming of Laban forces Jacob to play yet another game of conspiracy and deceit for another 6 years until finally, after 20 years in total, Jacob has God’s command to return to Canaan.



And we must notice how Jacob now has God’s blessing and a realisation of the covenant promise in his family and in the fact that he is wealthy in his own right, 31:17-18. And even better it appears that Jacob, Rachel and Leah are all now happy to trust the Lord for their future rather than trusting in family ties or family inheritance.  



So, they are saddled up and ready to return to the land of promise and see what God has in store for them. But there’s more to say on this next week.


Friends, what a wild story! But we need to ask what do we do with it? How do we apply it? Do we search through the details as a case study on dysfunctional families, or the stupidity of having two wives, or the trouble that comes when wives run the home and husbands are weak?



Certainly the story has been dominated by the major characters and they show us very clearly the human condition, of mixed motives revealing a mix of good concerns that are so often overwhelmed by sin, but which occasionally work the other way too, when commitment to God prompts right actions that honour the Lord.



And this horrible mix makes it easy for us to easy for us to identify with these characters in the messiness of life. So this draws us into the story, but offers us no real comfort of itself.



No, the real point of this story as with the story of Abraham and Isaac is to bring us to the point of adoration and worship of the Lord. It is his sovereign character in pursuing and achieving his purpose that is on show in the mayhem of this story.



Particularly we see our God who happily gets his hands dirty in the slop of life and thereby achieves his purpose in salvation. In this incredibly awful story, this biblical soap opera, the real highlight is God’s faithfulness to his promise.



We tend to think of God as remote, and we think of his charater in terms of holiness or separateness and as a powerful judge of the sinful. And this is true, but the most common picture of God in the bible is of him with his sleeves rolled up and getting involved in the slop of this world to achieve his purposes.  



We see it here in the story of Jacob. God doesn’t endorse the mess caused by sinful actions and thinking, but his faithfulness works his purpose in it. 



We see it even more clearly in the circumstances of the life and death and resurrection of Jesus. He was hated and killed in spite of clear evidence that he was God and should have been loved and worshipped. It was his own creation, his own family, who rejected him and consipired against him for bloody murder.



It looked as if his declared purpose to establish his Kingdom and thereby deal with sin and restore his people to relationship with the Lord was lost because of sin. But in the midst of all that mess and slop and sin, God was getting his hands dirty and achieving his purpose.



So, friends, we need to understand that God weaves sin into the achieving of his own purpose. He does not condone our sin, but he knows our condition and he is happy to get dirty alongside us to achieve his purposes in us.



So, be confident he will hear your distorted prayer – your prayer that is partly motivated by concern for his honour, but mixed with your own hurt and anxieties.



And be outraged when you hear other professing Christians say that God is in the good or nice things of life, but not in the bad things. What a cheap and faithless view of God. Was anything more evil and filthy than Christ’s death? Yet at that point the love, faithfulness and sovereignty of God shone most brightly into our world and into our lives.



And be encouraged and reassured by God’s promise in Romans 8 that all things work together for good for those who love him.  Notice that God doesn’t say all things or circumstances are good, simply that under his superintending hand, and by virtue that he is in the trenches with us, they are used by him for our good.



Sometimes our circumstances are created by our own sinful thinking and actions. At other times our situations are awful because of the sinful behaviour of others around us. At times they are just part of life in a sinful world – natural disasters and disease and getting old.



But God is right with us in all situations, so that he might bring good to us, though that good might be real painful in the short term, to be a real blessing in the longer term.



Friends, a proper understanding of this section of Scripture ought to parade our faithful Lord which ought to point us to our faithful Lord Jesus, who got dirty for us and made us alive even when we were active rebelling against him, and this ought to prompt a response of whole-hearted worship



Last Updated on Sunday, 29 April 2012 16:50  

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