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Relentless: Jacob’s Story, Part 4

July 27, 2017

Relentless: Jacob’s Story, Part 4

July 23, 2017

I have been doing a little research on termites this week.  And I have come to the conclusion that termites have been given a bum rap.  True, they aren’t particularly good for the homes we live in.  But they are actually a very important part of the ecosystem. They turn dead and decaying trees into new dirt.  Plus, their tunnels help aerate the soil. In addition, they are very community oriented.  They spend a lot of time grooming each other – which helps protect their colony from parasites and harmful bacteria.  And they co-parent!  In bee colonies, men bees die shortly after having babies.  But men termites stick around, helping to feed the kids with pre-digested food.  Yummy! (www.thoughtco.com/fascinating-facts-about-termites-1968587)

Why the moment from National Geographic?  Well, because we have had a termite infestation at church this week.  I was able to grab a screenshot.  It’s pretty shocking!  If you have a weak stomach you might want to look away.  This is Tina the Termite.  Tina came by this week to let us know that God is for you!  If you were at VBS you would know the proper response to that is to shout – WOW GOD!  So let’s try that again – just to give a little taste.  God is for us!  WOW GOD!  When we have something hard to do.  Or it seems like the world is against you.  Or life just seems rough.  Remember that a mighty God is on your side.  Romans 8:31 says – if God is for us, who can ever be against us!

I share that with you because we have been reading through the story of Jacob.  Pastor Craig started us three weeks ago with the birth of Jacob and his fraternal twin Esau.  And how God gives grace to the unlikely.  Two weeks ago we looked at Jacob’s deception of his father Isaac and how God’s grace is greater than our imperfections.  Last week we reflected on Jacob’s encounter with God at Bethel.  And how God’s grace comes along the way.  Today we continue with Jacob’s marriage to Leah and Rachel.  And how God’s grace is active even when we don’t see it.  So take your Bibles and turn with me to Genesis 29. We will start reading at verse 15.

One of the things that we will notice about our text, is that it is clearly written from a male perspective.  For example, while Jacob’s love is referenced and described multiple times, there is no mention of any feelings or emotions on the part of the women.  On top of that, Rachel and Leah are evaluated by their physical appearance.  Rachel to her figure.  Leah to her eyes.  And they are treated like property secured as a part of a business deal.  Not to mention one strange honeymoon.  Which is only about Jacob and his experience.  This is only half the story.  It’s important to acknowledge this. Particularly to young women and young men who are learning to read the Bible.  

Now, the last time we saw him, Jacob was on the run.  His brother wants to kill him.  His father has kicked him out.  So he heads to his uncle’s house.  Along the way, he has this dream of a giant staircase reaching from earth to heaven.  And standing at the top is God who promises to be with Jacob and bless Jacob.  Eventually, Jacob reaches Harran.  At the village well, he meets his cousin Rachel as she shepherds her father’s flock.  She runs and tells her father.  Laban invites Jacob in.  And the two quickly realize they go together – like peas and carrots.  Let’s pick up the story in verse 15.  

After Jacob had stayed with him for a whole month, 15 Laban said to him, “Just because you are a relative of mine, should you work for me for nothing? Tell me what your wages should be.”  16 Now Laban had two daughters; the name of the older was Leah, and the name of the younger was Rachel. 17 Leah had weak[a] eyes, but Rachel had a lovely figure and was beautiful. 18 Jacob was in love with Rachel and said, “I’ll work for you seven years in return for your younger daughter Rachel.”  19 Laban said, “It’s better that I give her to you than to some other man. Stay here with me.” 20 So Jacob served seven years to get Rachel, but they seemed like only a few days to him because of his love for her.  21 Then Jacob said to Laban, “Give me my wife. My time is completed, and I want to make love to her.”  22 So Laban brought together all the people of the place and gave a feast. 23 But when evening came, he took his daughter Leah and brought her to Jacob, and Jacob made love to her. 24 And Laban gave his servant Zilpah to his daughter as her attendant.  25 When morning came, there was Leah! So Jacob said to Laban, “What is this you have done to me? I served you for Rachel, didn’t I? Why have you deceived me?”  26 Laban replied, “It is not our custom here to give the younger daughter in marriage before the older one. 27 Finish this daughter’s bridal week; then we will give you the younger one also, in return for another seven years of work.”  28 And Jacob did so. He finished the week with Leah, and then Laban gave him his daughter Rachel to be his wife. 29 Laban gave his servant Bilhah to his daughter Rachel as her attendant. 30 Jacob made love to Rachel also, and his love for Rachel was greater than his love for Leah. And he worked for Laban another seven years.

In 1995, singer Alanis Morissette released her hit single – ironic.  It’s like rain on your wedding day.  It’s a free ride when you’ve already paid.  It’s good advice that you just didn’t take.   The only problem is that everything Morissette sings about isn’t ironic.  As Morissette herself allegedly said, “the irony of ‘Ironic’ is that it’s not an ironic song at all.

According to the source of all knowledge – Google – irony is a state of affairs or event that seems deliberately contrary to what one expects (www.rd.com/funny-stuff/funny-examples-of-irony/).  For example, Monster’s Inc. is a corporation run by monsters. Their job is to scare children.  When in reality they are scared of children.  It’s ironic. Every year ABC adds more commercials to its holiday special – A Charlie Brown’s Christmas.  Which of course, is about the over commercialization of Christmas!  Isn’t that ironic?

In our text today, Jacob is deceived by his father-in-law.  This is the same Jacob who dressed up in his brother’s clothes and put animal skins on his arms and neck so that his father would think he was his brother.  He is a con man.  Ironically, he becomes the victim of a con!  In that culture, by virtue of his birth order the first born son was given certain privileges and opportunities.  Not to mention a double portion of the estate. Jacob, a second born, secures the birthright and blessing that were the right of his older brother.  Only to have the birth order of Rachel and Leah ironically used against him. Jacob comes out of the womb grabbing onto his brother’s heel.  And from that moment on their relationship is marked by competition.  It takes years but Jacob finally breaks free of his dysfunctional family.  Only to be immersed in another dysfunctional family. Ironically he trades a feud between brothers for a feud between wives.  God promised that Jacob’s descendants would be like the dust of the earth.  And that Jacob’s influence would expand to the west and to the east, to the north and to the south.  All peoples on earth will be blessed through him.  And yet, seven long years of hard work later, all Jacob has to show for it is a wife that he didn’t ask for or want.  Over and over again, Jacob’s life seems to head in the opposite direction one expects it too.

Have you ever felt like you were headed the wrong way?  Have you ever wondered if God had turned away from you?  Ever struggled to believe that God’s promise of a future would ever come true?  The truth is, life doesn’t always turn out the way we expect it. Sooner or later we find ourselves in the gap between God has said and what we see in our lives.  Eventually we all wake up to Leah even though we have chosen Rachel.  It’s then that we have to make a decision.  Will we trust that there is more happening than meets the eye?  Will we choose to believe that God is at work in ways we cannot see or understand?

In his book, Let Your Life Speak, Parker Palmer writes about the times in his life when things didn’t turn out the way he envisioned they would.  He uses the analogy of Autumn.  And how Autumn is a time of decline.  In Autumn, the days grow shorter and light grows less direct.  And things move towards the decay and dormancy of winter. Palmer argues that in the Autumn times of life it is easy to become fixated on surface appearances.  On the decline of a relationship or the death of a dream.  And yet, if we were to look more deeply, we would see a myriad of possibilities being planted so as to bear fruit in the season to come.  He goes on to say that in retrospect he can now see that the job he lost helped him find work he needed to do.  How the “road closed” sign turned him toward terrain he needed to travel.  How losses that felt irredeemable forced him to discern new meanings he needed to know.  He says, on the surface it seemed that life was lessening, but silently and lavishly the seeds of new life were always being sown (Parker Palmer, Let Your Life Speak, Josey-Bass 2000, pages 98 – 99).

In so many words, God’s grace was active even though it could not be seen until later. God’s power and God’s love and God’s Will were still at work even though it wasn’t apparent at the time.  David in Psalm 23 puts it this way – surely goodness and mercy WILL FOLLOW me all the days of my life.  David does not say that only good things will happen all the days of his life.  But that God His shepherd would bring good out of all things.  Even the struggles.  Even the disappointments.  Even the brokenness.

In Jacob’s case, the fulfillment of God’s promise would come through Leah.  Jacob longed for Rachel.  She was the desire of his heart.  He had to be tricked into marrying Leah.  Yet it was through Leah’s offspring that the Jesus Christ the Messiah would come.  In the end, God had not abandoned Jacob.  God had not forgotten His promise.  The seeds of its fulfillment were being sown even though it did not look like it.  Jacob doesn’t realize it until the end of his life.  On his deathbed he prophesizes over Leah’s son Judah.  “The scepter will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until he to whom it belongs comes and the obedience of the nations is his…” Genesis 49:10  

I ask you this morning.  What are you struggling with?  Where is the gap between what you see and the life God has promised?  Do you trust that God has not forgotten you?  Do you believe that His grace is active even though you cannot see it?  Remember Tina the Termite.  God is for you!  Our Mighty God is on your side.  You are not an orphan.  You are a child of the Most-High God.  “Which of you fathers, if your son asks for[f] a fish, will give him a snake instead? 12 Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? 13 If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”  Luke 11:11-13

So my challenge this week is to acknowledge those places where you need help.  To name those areas of your life where you do not see God’s hand at work.  And to ask for the faith you need to trust in God.  For by grace you have been saved THROUGH FAITH. Faith is the vehicle that delivers God’s saving grace.

Like last week I have put a post-it note in your bulletin.  In just a minute you will be invited to take it out and write on it.  It can be a word.  It can be a sentence.  Whatever speaks to you about that area of your life where you long to see more of God’s grace. Where are you tempted to take matters into your own hands?  In what area of life are you lacking faith?  Jesus said ask and you will receive.  The first part of asking is to name it.  Be sure and make it anonymous.  Like last week we are going to put them up on the wall where others can see them.  Maybe through your words they will come to recognize the presence of God’s hand in their own lives.  In the coming weeks we are going to use them to create a visual statement about the places and ways that God’s grace comes to us and sustains us.

In Isaiah 30:18 it says – Therefore will the Lord wait, that He may be gracious unto you.  We often talk about waiting on God.  But Isaiah speaks of God waiting on us.  Why? Andrew Murray says it’s because God is a wise gardener who waits for the autumn and spring rains.  God knows that He cannot gather the fruit until it’s ripe.  And He knows precisely when we are spiritually ready to receive blessings for our gain and His glory.  It took thousands of years, but when the time had fully come, God sent His Son – Galatians 4:4 (Streams in the Desert, Zondervan, 1977, p. 283).

The truth is life doesn’t always work out the way we envisioned. True, sometimes we find ourselves with Leah but longing for Rachel. But God’s grace is at work even when we cannot see it. So I am going to trust that God is for us. How about you?  How about you?

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