The Lord is in this place!

Jacob has made a mess of his life.  But that is where God meets him!

Full Text: 

The Lord is in this place!

September 22, 2013 – Genesis 28:10-17

 

            Jacob is the first real human being in the Bible.

            I don’t mean that, so far, the other human beings in the bible have been imaginary or fake.  I mean that Jacob is a real human being.  He is less than perfect.  He is nobody’s role model.  If we don’t want our children to hear the story of Abraham and Isaac, for fear that they will have nightmares, we may not want them to hear the story of Jacob, for fear that they will dream of being just like him. 

            Jacob is a son of Isaac, who was the son of Abraham and Sarah.  He is not the first born son.  He is the second born son of Isaac and Rebecca.  He missed being first by a nose, or more accurately, by a heel.  He came out of his mother’s womb right after his older twin, Esau. 

            Esau was his father’s favorite.  He was a man’s man.  He was rough and ruddy.  He had hair all over his body.  He loved to hunt.  Esau would go out for days on end, hunting to provide food for the family.

            Jacob, on the other hand, stuck close to camp.  He would follow his mother around, staying close, helping her cook, for he was her favorite.

            Now, in those days, as in many days and many cultures, the father’s favor and the family inheritance are not equally shared among all the children.  The first born got the lion’s share.  Everyone else – even the second born twin – got the leftovers.  But Jacob did not let that stand in his way.

            One day, Jacob was cooking a red stew over the fire.  Esau came into came after returning from a long hunt.  He flopped down beside the fire.

            Esau cried out, “I’m so hungry I could die!  Gimme some of that stew!” he said to Jacob, as if he were one of the slaves.

            Jacob didn’t immediately jump up to feed his famished brother.  He said, “What will you give me if I do?”

            “Anything!  Anything at all – just so I don’t starve!”

            “Your birthright then.  Give me your rights as the oldest son.”

            Then Esau stared at his brother, trying to tell if he were serious. 

            “Oh, what good is my birthright tomorrow if I die from hunger today?  You may have my birthright then.  Just don’t let me starve!”

            That is how Jacob got the family from his brother for only a bowl of red stew.

            It’s one thing, though, for such talk to happen between brothers.  It is really the old man who says who gets what in the end.  So, when Isaac – the one who nearly died as a child – was old and blind, he told Esau to get some wild game and to prepare it the way he liked so he could eat it.  Isaac was ready to pass on the family blessing to Esau.

            Now in those days, and in many days, a blessing was not just some nice words.  A blessing was something that did something.  It carried weight and power.  A blessing like this was not something that could be given to everyone.  It could not even be given to two.  It could only be given to one.

            As soon as Esau had left camp, Rebecca went to Jacob.

“Quickly,” she said.  “Go and fetch a choice young lamb from the flock.  Your father is ready to give his blessing.  But though he intends it for Esau, it shall come to you.”

Jacob stared at his mother in disbelief. “But, mother,” he said, “even though my father is blind, he is still able to tell the difference between his sons.  If he discovers that I am trying to trick him, he will curse me instead, and I will be worse off than before.”

Rebecca replied, “If Isaac curses you, the curse shall rest with me.  Now go – do as I say.  We have no time to lose.”

Jacob rushed off.  He caught a fine young lamb and brought it to his mother.  She already had a fire going and a stew simmering.

“Now, while I cook this lamb, put these goat skins on your hands and arms.  Then get dressed in these clothes of your brother.”

So Jacob put on his costume.  When he was ready, Rebecca gave him the lamb.  But it didn’t smell like lamb at all.  It smelled like something his brother would cook.  He came to Isaac’s tent.  He opened the flap and stepped in from the bright sun.  For a long moment, he could see nothing in the dark.  He heard his father rustling in his pillows, as if he were just waking from sleep.  Then Isaac spoke.

“Esau, my son, is that you?”

“Yes, father.”

“You surprised me.  You are back so soon from the hunt.  Did you get lucky?”

Jacob replied, “The Lord your God gave me success, father.”

Isaac hesitated.  He tested the air with his nose.  “Step forward, my son.  Let me kiss you.”  So, they embraced.

Isaac said, “You smell like my son, Esau; you even feel hairy like my son, Esau.  But your voice – it sounds like Jacob’s.  Are you sure you are my first-born son, Esau?”

“Yes, father, it is I, Esau.  Here is your food.”

And so the old man ate.  The food seemed to ease his doubts.  When he finished, he reached out his hands for Jacob and spoke:

“Ah, the smell of my son is like the smell of all outdoors.  The land will be kind to you and you will never want for anything.  You will have many children and you will rule over your brothers and they shall bow down to you.  So shall it be all the days of your life.”

With that, Isaac released his son and fell back into his pillows.  Soon his breathing was deep and regular.  Jacob did not stay for another word from his father.  When he stepped outside his father’s tent, he found that Rebecca had packed for him.

“Now you must go quickly to my brother, Laban’s, for when Esau discovers what has happened, he will not rest until you are dead.”

With a last kiss from his mother, Jacob headed off. 

Jacob was now alone.  He had won his father’s blessing, even if by deceitful means.  And it could not be taken from him.  But he had lost everything else.  He had lost his father and his brother and even his mother.  He had lost his connection to family.  He was on his way in the wilderness and he had no idea what the future held.

On his way he stopped to sleep.  He took a stone and put it under his head.  He fell quickly asleep.

When he opened his eyes, Jacob saw a great gate – a threshold in the midst of the wilderness.  Angels were going in and out of the gate on errands between this world and the next.  As he gazed at it in wonder, God spoke:

“Jacob, I am the God of your father and of your father’s father.  I solemnly promise you that I will bless you and keep you wherever you go.  One day I will return you to this place and I will make of your children a mighty people.  As I have spoken, so I will do.”

Then Jacob woke up.  It was still night.  He realized that he had been dreaming.  But what a dream!

He trembled and he said, “Surely, God is in this place and I did not know it.”  So Jacob piled other rocks on top of the dream rock.  He poured oil on it to consecrate it and mark it as holy ground.  And he called the place, Bethel, “House of God.”

Then Jacob turned and headed off, toward the land of his mother’s relative, Laban.

 

Jacob is not perfect.  He is not a paragon of virtue.  He is not a model of good conduct.  He is not an exemplar of ethical behavior.  Jacob is not perfect, but he is real.  He is real because he is flawed.  And because he is flawed, he is more like us.

Jacob has made a mess of his life.  He is lost and alone.  Despite this, God has a purpose for him.  God will use him to bless all the families of the earth, just as God promised to Abraham and Sarah.

Despite his flaws, God is with him.  God is not with him in his well-ordered life.  God is not with him in his obedience.  God is not with him in his success.  God is with him in his loss.  God is with him in his aloneness and vulnerability.  God is with him, even in the midst of his flaws.  Jacob finds God where he least expects to find God – in the very midst of his messy life.

“God is in this place,” Jacob cried, “and I didn’t know it.”

So also with you – it’s easy to find God here.  It’s easy to hear God in the scriptures and in the proclamation of good news.  It’s easy to see God in the meal that we share and in the declaration of our forgiveness.  It’s easy to find God in the fellowship we share.  What’s not so easy is to see God out there. 

 

But God is out there, too, as surely as God is here.  God is in the midst of your daily life.  God is in the midst of your joys and sorrows.  God is in the midst of your successes and your mistakes.  God is in the midst of your strength and your vulnerability.  When you feel completely lost and alone, God comes to you.  Even if you do not know it, God is there for you and is working through you to achieve the divine purpose.