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Relentless: Jacob’s Story, Part 5

August 3, 2017

Genesis 29:31–30:13

July 30, 2017

 

In 2007, Universal Studios released a movie about a television news reporter who is elected to Congress and heads to D.C. eager to change the world!  But soon after his arrival strange things begin to happen.  Animals follow him for no apparent reason.  His beard reappears no matter how often he shaves it.  His alarm repeatedly goes off at 6:14 even when he doesn’t set it.  Evan soon realizes that the number stands for Genesis 6:14 – in which God instructs Noah to build an ark.  Within minutes God appears at Evan’s doorstep and tells him that he too is to build a large ship out of gopher wood.  The movie starred Steve Carell and Morgan Freeman and was called – Evan Almighty.

In the movie Evan’s wife Joan has had enough!  She thinks Evan is losing it.  She is worried for herself and scared for their children.  So she takes the boys and leaves.  But she doesn’t get very far before she finds a new perspective.    http://www.wingclips.com/movie-clips/evan-almighty/pray-for-the-opportunity

If someone prays for patience – do you think God gives them patience?  Or does He give them the opportunity to be patient?  If they pray for courage – does God give them courage?  Or does He give them the opportunity to be courageous?  If someone prays for a family to be closer – do you think God zaps them with warm fuzzy feelings?  Or does He give them opportunity to love each other?

I share that with you because we have been reflecting on God’s relentless grace.  We began with the birth of Jacob and his fraternal twin Esau.  And how God gives grace to the unlikely.  Three weeks ago we looked at Jacob’s deception of his father Isaac and how God’s grace is greater than our imperfections.  Two weeks ago we reflected on Jacob’s encounter with God at Bethel.  And how God’s grace is not something WE DO.  Last week it was Jacob’s marriage to Leah and Rachel.  And how God’s grace is active even when we don’t see it.  Today we are going to look at the story of Leah and how God’s grace is greater that our disappointments.  So take your Bibles and turn with me to Genesis chapter 29, starting in verse 31.

Now, you will remember that Leah has some kind of issue with her eyes.  In verse 17 of chapter 29 it says – Leah had weak eyes.  Scholars aren’t really sure what that means.  In fact, depending on which translation you are reading, you will find a number of different words.  Some say that Leah had tender eyes.  Others say she has affectionate eyes.  Some even say she has broken eyes.  Most scholars are pretty clear that it does not mean Leah has weak vision.  They argue that if that had been the case the author would have just said so.  Rather, they think that weak refers to the way her eyes look.  That she has some kind of eye disorder that affects their appearance.

And you will remember that this results in all kinds of brokenness.  For example, Leah’s eyes play into Laban’s deception of Jacob.  What father switches one daughter for another on her wedding night?  One that is afraid he can’t marry his other daughter off.  In that time and place, an unwed daughter was a future concern.  Not to mention lost wealth in the present.  It’s pretty clear Laban is thinking with his wallet.  Imagine the hurt and the betrayal Leah feels.

And Leah’s weak eyes only highlight her sister’s beauty.  Rachel could have been a supermodel.  With her around, Leah has zero chance of being noticed.  Can you imagine being married to the same husband?  Every day faced with the opportunity to compare, to compete, to judge, to bicker.  In chapter 30, the sibling rivalry becomes so intense that they wind of bargaining for the opportunity of being Jacob’s baby momma.

Not that Leah’s relationship with her husband is one to write home about.  Jacob sees Rachel once and is immediately smitten.  He is willing to work years just to be with her.  On the other hand, Jacob is married to Leah and barely even notices her.  In fact, the Hebrew Bible makes it clear that there is no love in Jacob’s heart for her (Genesis 29:31).  With that in mind, let’s pick up the story in Genesis 29:31-35.

When the Lord saw that Leah was not loved, he enabled her to conceive, but Rachel remained childless. 32 Leah became pregnant and gave birth to a son. She named him Reuben,[b] for she said, “It is because the Lord has seen my misery. Surely my husband will love me now.”  33 She conceived again, and when she gave birth to a son she said, “Because the Lord heard that I am not loved, he gave me this one too.” So she named him Simeon.[c]  34 Again she conceived, and when she gave birth to a son she said, “Now at last my husband will become attached to me, because I have borne him three sons.” So he was named Levi.[d]  35 She conceived again, and when she gave birth to a son she said, “This time I will praise the Lord.” So she named him Judah.[e] Then she stopped having children. 

So Leah has a physical deformity in her eyes.  She’s a victim of her father’s deceit.  She is locked in a jealous sibling rivalry with her sister.  And she is desperately seeking the love of a husband that doesn’t want her.  Leah is the patron saint of disappointment.  And yet, God has not abandoned Leah.  And God does not withhold His grace from her.  In fact, God is at work in Leah’s disappointment to reshape her heart.  Verse 31 – When the Lord saw that Leah was not loved, he enabled her to conceive, but Rachel remained childless.

In my devotion time this past week I came across a written reflection about Pebble Beach.  Evidently, people come from all over to see the colorful pebbles which have been left behind by the raging California surf.  They begin as small stones trapped by the waves and relentlessly tossed and rolled and rubbed together.  Day and night they grind against the sharp edges of the cliffs.  Until they become smooth and beautiful, their colors brought out by the turmoil they have endured.  On the other hand, if you head just a little farther up the coast, you will find a quiet cove sheltered from storms and protected from the roar of the surf.  The pebbles that are found there have escaped from the grinding and tossing of the waves.  Consequently, the pebbles are rough, unpolished and lacking color.  In other words – and I am paraphrasing here – beauty is released through difficulty.

When I read that, I thought of Leah.  At first, all Leah wants is to be loved by Jacob.  She even names her first born Reuben.  Reuben sounds like the Hebrew phrase – I’ve been seen!  Leah is convinced that because God has seen her misery and given her a child, Jacob will love her.  And why wouldn’t he?  Leah has given Jacob the first good assurance that God would keep His word!  Reuben is the firstborn son!  Logically, he would be the seed that would carry forth the promise of Abraham!  Surely now Jacob would appreciate her!  Only it didn’t work out that way.  We know because she named her second son – Simeon.  Simeon means – I’ve been heard.  Leah was convinced that God heard Jacob didn’t love her so God gave her another son.  She names her third son Levi.  Levi is derived from the Hebrew word for attached.  Finally, she reasons Jacob will become attached to me.  It’s not until her fourth son arrives that Leah lets go of being consumed with desire for Jacob’s love.  She will struggle with it again in the future.  But for this moment she is content to find her security in God.  Judah means praise.  This time, she says, I will praise the Lord.  In other words, Leah is being refined.  As God enables her to have each son, He creates the opportunity for her to be confronted with her all-consuming need for Jacob.  God uses Leah’s disappointments to reshape her heart.

Now, please don’t misunderstand me.  I am NOT saying that God causes the disappointments in our lives.  I am saying God uses our disappointments for our good.  Personally, one of the greatest disappointments of my life was going through a divorce.  I got married my senior year in college.  Six years later I found myself somewhere I never imagined being – in divorce court.  It was so painful for us and so hurtful to our families and friends.  It punctured every area of my life – including my ministry.  I was so deeply disappointed.  But not for a moment do I believe that God caused that brokenness!  But I have come to see that inspite of that brokenness God was able to use it as an opportunity to grow me!  To mature in my understanding of what it takes to be love someone.  To develop compassion for those who have gone through the brokenness of divorce.  And become more aware of the impact of broken relationships upon those around us.  I’ve experienced the way that God has used my disappointments to reshape my heart.

What about you?  Have you ever been let down by someone you love?  Ever had a dream fall apart?  Ever been betrayed?  Or left behind?  Have you ever lost something or someone dear to you?  In what ways have you been disappointed?  In what way has God used them to refine or reshape your heart? In James 1:3 it says – Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters,[a] whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

My first point today is that God uses our disappointments to reshape our hearts. Second, God uses our disappointments to fulfill his word.  35 She conceived again, and when she gave birth to a son she said, “This time I will praise the Lord.” So she named him Judah.[e]

According to the source of all knowledge, Google, God first appeared to Jacob’s grandfather in 1738 B.C.E.!  Give or take a decade or two (http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/Abraham)!  And God said to Abraham – I want you to grab Mrs. Abraham, pack up your stuff and head out to a land that I will show you.  And if you do this, I will bless you.  I will make you a great nation.  And all the peoples of the earth will be blessed through you.  So that’s what Abraham did.  He packed up the tent, loaded up the camels and set off for a land that God would show him.  Seventy-five years later, give or take a year or two, God came to Jacob’s father Isaac and said – I will be with you.  And I will bless you.  And I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky.  And through your seed all the nations on the earth will be blessed!  And Isaac believes this – even though his wife Rebekah is unable to have children.  So Isaac prays in faith, God answered his prayer. Two weeks ago we read how Jacob encounters God at Bethel. He has this dream where he sees a giant staircase with its top reaching the heavens.  From the top God says to Jacob – I am with you.  And will be with you wherever you go.  I will make your descendants like the dust of the earth.  All the peoples of the earth will be blessed through you and your offspring!  When Jacob wakes up, he takes a stone that he used for a pillow and pours oil on it.  And he makes a vow to God. I will give you a tenth of everything I receive.

But here in chapter 29, years later and miles away from Bethel, God’s promise seems almost comical.  Jacob might as well be in another galaxy.  He is so far from home and so far removed from his past. He has obtained the birthright and stolen the blessing, but his deceit has cost him everything.  He has been kicked out by his father.  His brother has threatened to kill him.  His father in law, after 7 years of hard work, has tricked Jacob.  So that in the morning – behold!  There was Leah!  And yet, God has not forgotten His promise.  God will keep His word.  When God saw that Leah was not loved, he enables her to conceive. Not once, not twice, not three times, all told Jacob will have twelve sons. Twelve sons who become the seed for the twelve tribes of Israel. So he goes from one man, to a nation. One of them, Leah’s fourth, will be the forefather of the chosen one.  Jesus Christ will come from the line of Judah.  So that God’s promise to bless the entire world is blessed through Jacob and his offspring is fulfilled.

Now notice God does not remove the messiness from Jacob’s life in order to fulfill His Word.  Rather He works in the midst of it.  And God does not steer around the disappointments in order to keep His promises.  Rather, he takes the disappointments and he turns them, through his grace, into the instruments of his mercy. He uses the very disappointments to carry out and fulfill his will in Jacob’s life. For example:  what if Laban had not deceived Jacob?  What if Leah hadn’t switched places with her sister?  Would Rachel have had 12 sons?  Would Judah have been born at all?  Would the Messiah have come at just at the right time?  In the same way God uses the ups and downs, ins and outs, the celebrations and disappointments in our lives to fulfill His will in us.

I ask you this morning.  What disappointment are you carrying today?  Can you see God at work in it?  What promise could God be keeping in you through it?

My challenge this week is to identify, and you claim, one promise that you see God bringing to completion in your life right now. Maybe it’s His promise to give you hope and a good future (Jeremiah 29:11).  Perhaps it’s God’s promise to never leave you or forsake you (Hebrews 13:5).   Maybe it’s His promise to restore your soul (Psalm 23:3) or to forgive you (1 John 1:9) or to strengthen you (Isaiah 41:10) or to give you wisdom (James 1:5). What promise is God bringing to completion in your life today?

If you aren’t sure, I challenge you to commit time this week to studying the promises of God.  There are all kinds of lists on-line on the promises of God.  The point is to be familiar with what God has promised.  If we aren’t, how can we tell if they are being fulfilled in our lives?

Like the past two weeks I have put a post-it note in your bulletin.  Once again we are going to write on it and post it on the wall of the Sanctuary.  Again we are asking you to identify God’s grace in your life.  Specifically, where you see God carrying out his word in you today.  Again make it anonymous.  We will be using them to create a visual statement about God’s relentless grace.  Who knows?  Perhaps your written word will be the vehicle that God uses to bring His grace to another?

Someone once asked Abba Anthony what one must do to please God?  The first two responses of the desert father were expected – always be aware of God’s presence.  Always obey God’s word.  The third response surprised his listeners. The advice?  Wherever you find yourself – do not easily leave.  I ask you this morning.  If someone prays for patience – do you think God gives them patience?  Or does He give them the opportunity to be patient?  If they pray for courage – does God give them courage?  Or does He give them the opportunity to be courageous?  In the words of God in Evan Almighty:  If someone prays for a family to be closer – do you think God zaps them with warm fuzzy feelings?  Or does He give them opportunity to love each other?  Wherever you are – do not easily leave.  “The good man does not escape all troubles — he has them too.  But the Lord helps him in each and every one.”  Psalm 34:19 

The truth is God’s grace IS greater than our disappointments.  By His grace he uses our disappointments to reshape our hearts.  And to fulfill his promises.  So I am going to claim the promises of God. I am going to trust and lean into the power of his grace. How about you?  How about you?

 

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