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Relentless: Jacob’s Story, Part 2

July 13, 2017

Genesis 27:  14-29

July 9, 2017

As I was preparing this week, I came across a story on the Comrades marathon in South Africa.  It’s actually more of an ultra-marathon.  One of the oldest and toughest events of its kind.  56.1 miles along the rugged coast of the Indian Ocean.  According to race rules, if you don’t finish within 12 hours you are forcibly put on rescue vehicles and taken to the end of the course.  Your race is done.  The fastest runners, the finishers, complete it in under 6 hours.  Which is nuts.  But what is even crazier is that every year 23,000 masochists decide it’s a good idea to run it.

Now, according to the story, the 8th place finisher at Comrades in 1999 was a young man named Sergio Motsoeneng.  Sergio grew up in an impoverished village in central eastern South Africa.  In an interview at the finish line, he shared that he was going to donate his top ten finisher gold medal and his $1000 prize money to his father and the people back in their village.  Which understandably got all kinds of attention!  But then a local newspaper published some photos from the race.  They showed that at some point in the race, Sergio switched his watch from his left wrist to his right wrist.  And somehow grew a scar on his left shin.  Turns out Sergio wasn’t one but two people.  About 45 minutes into the race, Sergio ducked into a port a potty where his twin brother Fika was waiting.  Sergio removed his shirt, hat, racer’s bib and even shoes and gave them to his brother who then continued the race.  They did this several times throughout the race in essence making it a relay.  They were consequently disqualified, stripped of his rewards, and banned from racing for 10 years.  Sergio would return 11 years later and place 3rd in the Comrades marathon.  Only to test positive for a banned substance.

It’s kind of a crazy story.  It speaks to me about the amazing lengths we will go to achieve recognition and affirmation, importance, and influence.  Maybe not by running 56 miles.  But maybe through selling our souls to build our career.  Or by accumulating outrageous possessions.  Even our charity work can become a badge that we wear to draw attention.  The truth is we all want to be successful.  We all want to be acknowledged.  We all want to make sure we are taken care of.  It’s part of our human nature.

I share that with you because today we are going to read about a man who went to extraordinary lengths to secure for himself the means and the power he felt he needed to get ahead.  I’m talking of course, about Jacob.  We started his story last week.  Pastor Craig led us in reflection on his birth and the birth of his fraternal twin Esau.  And how God gives His grace to the unworthy.  And that God’s relentless grace rolls into our lives and refreshes us each morning like waves on the beach.  Today we are going to look at Jacob’s attempt to obtain his father’s blessing.  So, take your Bibles and turn with me to Genesis chapter 27.  We are going to read verses 14-29.

As our story begins, Jacob’s father, Isaac has grown old and he’s not sure how long he’s going to be around.  He feels old and ready to give his blessing to his eldest and favorite son Esau.  So, one day he calls Esau in and tells him to go hunting.  And to prepare some of Isaac’s favorite food with the kill and bring it back so Isaac can bless him.  Unbeknownst to Isaac, his wife Rebekah overhears me and quickly devises a plan to ensure that her youngest and favorite son Jacob will receive the blessing.  Basically, she comes up with this scheme to make Jacob smell and feel like Esau.  It will take a lot more than switching racing bibs and running shoes in a port a potty.  And at first Jacob is hesitant.  But with a little reassurance from his mother, he jumps right in.  Let’s pick up the story in verse 14 of Genesis 27.

14 So he went and got them and brought them to his mother, and she prepared some tasty food, just the way his father liked it. 15 Then Rebekah took the best clothes of Esau her older son, which she had in the house, and put them on her younger son Jacob. 16 She also covered his hands and the smooth part of his neck with the goatskins. 17 Then she handed to her son Jacob the tasty food and the bread she had made. 18 He went to his father and said, “My father.”  “Yes, my son,” he answered. “Who is it?”  19 Jacob said to his father, “I am Esau your firstborn. I have done as you told me. Please sit up and eat some of my game, so that you may give me your blessing.”  20 Isaac asked his son, “How did you find it so quickly, my son?”  “The Lord your God gave me success,” he replied.  21 Then Isaac said to Jacob, “Come near so I can touch you, my son, to know whether you really are my son Esau or not.”  22 Jacob went close to his father Isaac, who touched him and said, “The voice is the voice of Jacob, but the hands are the hands of Esau.” 23 He did not recognize him, for his hands were hairy like those of his brother Esau; so he proceeded to bless him. 24 “Are you really my son Esau?” he asked.  “I am,” he replied.  25 Then he said, “My son, bring me some of your game to eat, so that I may give you my blessing.”  Jacob brought it to him and he ate; and he brought some wine and he drank. 26 Then his father Isaac said to him, “Come here, my son, and kiss me.”  27 So he went to him and kissed him. When Isaac caught the smell of his clothes, he blessed him and said, “Ah, the smell of my son is like the smell of a field that the Lord has blessed.  28 May God give you heaven’s dew and earth’s richness—an abundance of grain and new wine.  29 May nations serve you and peoples bow down to you.  Be lord over your brothers, and may the sons of your mother bow down to you.  May those who curse you be cursed and those who bless you be blessed.”

So, a little bit of background.  In that time and culture, being the first-born son came with a number of rights and privileges.  For one, by virtue of his birth order, the eldest son would possess the birthright.  This entitled him to a double share of the inheritance.  And it meant that one day he would assume the position as head of the household.  All authority and privileges of that role would be his.  And the rest of the family would follow his leadership.  Think Queen Elizabeth.  It is believed that Queen Elizabeth will never abdicate the throne of England because of her sense of duty over self.  But if she did, Prince Charles as the firstborn, would then be crowned king and take on the authority, the responsibilities and the rewards of the position.  If Charles abdicated, Prince William would be next in line as his firstborn.  And so on.  The birthright in the Old Testament was a somewhat similar arrangement.  Right down to the fact that it also could be relinquished.  And we know that this is what Esau did when he sold it to Jacob for a pot of stew.

Besides the birthright, there was also the father’s blessing.  During the time of the Patriarchs the father’s blessing acted as sort of a last will and testament.  Like Joseph, it wasn’t reserved just for firstborns, the firstborn son did receive the larger, more significant blessing.  This was particularly true in Isaac’s case, where the blessing included not only greater material wealth, but also the fulfilment of the promise made to Abraham that he would become the father of a great nation.  The one who received it would become an agent of God’s blessing of the world.  In other words, it carried great significance, recognition, and security.

And this is what Jacob wanted – badly.  So much so he was willing to outright lie and deceive to his own father to get it. He literally would indite God and include Him in his deception.  It didn’t matter that he already had the birthright.  It didn’t make any difference that Esau was the rightful recipient.  In his mind, if he had only been born 5 minutes earlier it would all be his anyway.  Jacob had a me-first attitude.  What I am trying to say is that Jacob was far from perfect.  One day, he would become the father of the 12 tribes of Israel.  But for now, he was deceitful, dishonest and self-centered.  He’s in the middle of God’s plan, but he certainly doesn’t act like it or sound like it.

And yet, as theologian David Ramos argues, THAT IS EXACTLY THE POINT.  If the story of Jacob tells us anything, it’s that God does not restrict his presence to perfect people.  And God does not limit his love to those who have their act together.  He does not withhold His grace from anyone – regardless of how self-centered, how me-first they are!  In fact, God’s grace is greater than our imperfections!

Take Isaac for example.  Isaac knew that God had promised to make his father Abraham the father of many nations.  He recognized that the fulfillment of God’s promise would come through his own self.  His experience of being spared upon the altar was seared into his memory.  And yet having two children wasn’t exactly progress on that promise – especially if your firstborn didn’t seem to have any interest in the matter.  And the Philistines still very much controlled the land promised to God’s people.  So, Isaac decides to take matters into his own hands.  He knows it’s wrong.  That’s why he is meeting Esau in secret.  The blessing of his oldest son should have been a family affair.  It should have taken place in the living room in front of everyone.  And not in the bedroom away from his spouse and second son.  But Isaac doesn’t want to wait for God any longer.  So, he works against God’s will.  He works outside of God’s plan.

And yet, God does not abandon Isaac.  God does not turn his back on him.  Isaac is not cut off.  He becomes a Patriarch of God’s people.  His offspring will become the 12 tribes of Israel.  He is even commended for his faithfulness in sticking to his guns and refusing to give Esau a second greater blessing!  In Hebrews 11:20 it says that by faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau in regard to their future.

And take Rebekah.  Before Esau and Jacob were born, God personally spoke to her and told her that the older son would serve the younger son (Genesis 25:23).  And then one day she overhears her husband talking to Esau.  Isaac is going to do something in secret.  Something she doesn’t agree with.  More importantly, something that didn’t fit with her understanding of God’s word.  Frustrated and sensing defeat, she moves and schemes and connives that will fulfill God’s proclamation.  In Rebekah’s mind – what else could she do?  And so she participates in the deception of her husband and deceives her son.  She too has her flaws.  She too is far from perfect.

And yet, God does not forget Rebekah.  Nor does God refuse her grace.  She is able to save Jacob’s life.  She makes sure that Jacob gets connected to the family of his future wives.  And she goes on to become the great-grandmother of hundreds.  The great-great-great grandmother of thousands of God’s children. Rebekah too is remembered with honor in the New Testament.  In Romans 9 Paul cements her role as a matriarch of God’s people.

In her book, A Stone for a Pillow, Madeleine L’Engle writes that the glorious point of Jacob’s story is that we do not need to be perfect for our Maker to love us.  Scripture asks us to look at Jacob as he really is, to look at ourselves as we really are, and then realize that this is who God loves.  She goes on to say that God did not love Jacob because of his resourcefulness, or his cheating or scheming.  But because he was Jacob.

I ask you this morning – are you certain of God’s love for you?  Are you focused on God’s grace rather than your flaws?  Do you trust that God will not turn away from you?  Or are you convinced that your imperfections render you somehow unworthy of His grace?  The truth is, God’s grace is greater than our imperfections.

Of course, this does not mean we won’t face consequences.  When you pull the old switch-a-roo with your twin while running a marathon you get disqualified and banned.  And when you deceive your father and steal from your brother what is rightfully his you have to leave home.  Esau eventually returns from his hunt.  He quickly realizes that Jacob has deceived their father and has received the blessing meant for him.   He flies into a rage and threatens to kill his brother.  Which is not good.  Remember Esau is a hunter.  He regularly handles guns.  Jacob likes to hang around the tents and cook.  He is good with kitchen utensils.  Remember rock, paper, scissors?  Rock beats scissors.  Guns beat kitchen utensils.  So, Jacob flees.  He won’t return for another 21 years.  He will never see his mother again.  Though Isaac has spoken words of material blessing he leaves with nothing more than the shirt on his back.  He achieved his objective of Isaac’s blessing.  But at what cost?  He may have won the battle.  But he lost the war.  His sin didn’t pay.

When I say that God’s grace is greater than our imperfections what I mean is this:  God can overcome and even use our imperfections to His good.  The image that comes to mind is that of Kintsugi.  I recently learned about this Japanese form of art (kintsugi pic 1).  Comes from a legend in 1400 Japan. Kintsugi comes from two words.  Kin meaning golden.  And Tsugi meaning joiner.  The story is told of an ancient Shogun of Japan.  Who in the late 14th century broke his favorite tea bowl.  He sent it to China for repair.  But upon its return was horrified by the ugly metal staples that were used to repair it.  He ordered his craftsmen to come up with a better solution.  What they came up with was a method that didn’t disguise the damage.  But made something artful out of it.  In kintsugi, one repairs broken items like pottery with a lacquer made from precious metals like gold, silver or platinum (kintsugi pic 2).  The precious metals fill in the cracks, and instead of hiding them, the process makes them stand out and makes it beautiful. The idea is to embrace brokenness as a part of an object’s history.  And thus, learn to treasure and love it for what it is.

In many ways, Jacob’s life is the story form of Kintsugi.  God didn’t want Jacob’s brokenness to be hidden.  Rather God chose to show the painful, the uncomfortable and the ugly parts of Jacob’s story.  And in doing so turned Jacob’s life into a thing of beauty.  And he does the same for us.  You see, God doesn’t love us because of the good we do.  Or how perfect we are.  He loves you because you are you.  Flaws and all.  We are going to talk more about this as we follow Jacob in the coming weeks.

In the meantime, I challenge you to look at yourself as you really are.  And then to embrace that this is who God loves you for you.  Specifically, I challenge you to be willing to name your imperfections.  As Rick Warren says – revealing the feeling is the beginning of healing.  Is there something in your past that has continually burdened you?  An imperfection that you can’t seem to let go of?  Is there a habit, a character flaw, a history that makes you feel unlovable?  What gets in the way of knowing God’s love for you?  I invite you this morning to name it.  To remember Jacob, Isaac and Rebekah.  And then trust God to bless you and love you in spite of it.

In a moment, we are going to end with a time of directed prayer.  We are going to start with a short video that presents this image of God using our flaws and imperfections to bring His light to His world.  Then after a moment of silence we are going to lift up our shortcomings and reflect on how God’s grace is greater than our imperfections.  Paul in 2 Corinthians 4:7 writes that we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all surpassing power is from God and not from us.  The truth is I don’t want to relay on my own craftiness.  I don’t want my life to be characterized by deceit.  Or for pulling off some stunt like switching racing bibs with our twin in the port a potty. I am loved by God, not by what I have done because who has made me to be.  So are you.  So, I am going to trust in a grace that is greater

How about you?  How about you?

 

Video

Let’s pray.

Holy Spirit we ask for your help in being honest with you and with ourselves.

God we acknowledge to you now the broken places in our lives.

God we lift up before you the fractured relationships in our lives.

God we acknowledge those character flaws we cannot seem to shake.

God we acknowledge past actions that have been destructive, hurtful, and sinful

God we ask for your help in claiming our imperfections.

And we name them to you without fear and hesitation, trusting in your grace.

Lord we release them to you claiming your love for us.

We call upon you to reveal your presence to us.

We ask for you to continually remind us that your love is not based upon how good we are or how successful we are.

Finally, we ask your light to shine now through us.

We picture the pottery restored and ask you to reveal to us the many ways your light can be seen through our imperfections.

And we beg for a deep awareness of your grace in us.

In Christ’s name.  Amen.

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