A Strange Footnote – Genesis 35:8

In Genesis 35:8, there is a strange sentence in the midst of the story of Jacob and his sons I have a hard time shooting past…

Now Deborah, Rebekah’s nurse, died,
and she was buried below Bethel under the oak;
it was named Allon-bacuth.

Talk about a minor character? And yet, for some reason, Rebekah’s nurse is mentioned by name and a location was named in honor or her. Allon-bacuth means “Oak of weeping.”

There are so many unanswered questions here. This was Rebekah’s nurse, Jacob’s mother’s nurse. She may have been with Rebekah when she left her family to marry Issac whom she had never seen. But why is it mentioned here, in the midst of Jacob and Rachel’s story? And why is it mentioned at all? What was special about this Deborah?

I don’t have answers, but can only assume that she was a faithful, committed servant who made her way into the hearts of others.

Nameless throughout her own life, she is named for eternity in God’s word.

Sometimes I feel nameless, serving as faithfully as I can, not making a huge splash on this world. I don’t have hopes or desires for a location to be named on my behalf. But I’m glad for this little footnote, this little fact that doesn’t seem to fit in the paragraph, honoring a servant. God saw Deborah in her faithfulness, in how she affected others,

…and he sees me in mine.

God Enters – Genesis 35

What a mess! Bloodshed everywhere. Stolen goods. Women and children scarred by violence. What has happened to Jacob and his family? Where is God in all this?

Then God said to Jacob, 
“Arise, go up to Bethel and live there,
and make an altar there to God, who appeared to you
when you fled from your brother Esau.”

God pursued Jacob. Jacob stood up to the sin in his son’s lives and had finally said that enough was enough. Then God spoke to him and told him to come back to him, to repent, to start over. 

So Jacob said to his household and to all who were with him,
“Put away the foreign gods which are among you,
and purify yourselves and change your garments;
and let us arise and go up to Bethel,
and I will make an altar there to God,
who answered me in the day of my distress
and has been with me wherever I have gone.”

Jacob took the next step in repentance – obedience to what he knew was right. He could not bring people back from the dead, but he could take the loot away from his sons. He could finally obey God and return to the land of his father, not compromising. He could call his sons away from bloodshed and to a place where they could see him worship God – see Jacob was choosing a better way.

The result of this one step of obedience: God appears to Jacob and blesses him. He renames him, giving him a new start. He restates his promise, not only to Jacob, but Jacob’s descendants, yes – the very ones who just slaughtered a city!

The journey ahead, walking with God, is not easy. Death continues with them, even in the midst of life. Beloved Rachel dies in childbirth. Sin continues with them, as one of Jacob’s sons, Reuben, has sex with a wife/concubine or Jacob’s and everyone hears of it. And then Issac, the father of Esau and Jacob/Israel dies. Another loss. 

And for the last time, Esau and Jacob come together, to bury their father. 

Genesis 34 – Sin Out of Control

What an ugly chapter, Genesis 32. It starts so innocent and ends so violent…and yet it is a story of many lives, starting out innocent but ending very badly.

Dinah went to visit some of her friends who lived in a different neighborhood. One of the local boys saw her, desired her and raped her. He was a prince, and maybe had an inflated ego about himself and his position. He may have rationalized his behavior by “speaking tenderly” to her afterwards. Whatever it was, it was devastating to her and her family. And to make it worse, he kidnapped her, keeping her from returning to her family (34:26) 

To cover his tracks, Shechem told his father and asked him to buy off Dinah’s father, Jacob. Hamor made an appealing offer to Jacob, but when Dinah’s brothers heard of it, they wanted nothing to do with it. 

What had happened to one, felt like it had happened to all.

Sometimes it’s hard to understand a minority community’s response to injustice from a majority position. We don’t know what it was like for Dinah’s brothers to be newcomers to this land. But when Dinah was taken by force, it triggered intense feelings by her brothers as “they were very angry because he had done a disgraceful thing in Israel by lying with Jacob’s daughter, for such a thing ought not to be done.” In fact, their response is greater than the response of their own father who was strangely silent.

And just as Jacob had been the master of deceit with his brother Esau, his sons followed the family legacy. They convinced Shechem, Hamor and all their people to be circumcised. I would have loved to have heard that conversation! You want me to do what? But amazingly, the people went along with the deal as Jacob’s sons lied to make it happen, knowing the violence that would come out of the lie.

25 Now it came about on the third day, 
when they were in pain,
that two of Jacob’s sons, Simeon and Levi, Dinah’s brothers,
each took his sword and came upon the city unawares,
and killed every male…
28 They took their flocks and their herds and their donkeys, 
and that which was in the city and that which was in the field;  
29 and they captured and looted all their wealth
and all their little ones and their wives,
even all that was in the houses. 

Talk about bloodshed and horror! Talk about vengeance! Two men being able to do that much destruction – it blows any perception of reason!

Jacob didn’t approve of what they did afterward the fact, but was strangly silent when they struck the deal with Hamor. Was he blind to the compromise? Was he blind to the scheme? 

And what about those wives and little one who were taken, who saw the bloodshed? They were as much damaged goods as Dinah was. Taking the possessions was greed. And what about Dinah? She’s never mentioned again.

This chapter makes my heart so sad. Sin is out of control outside of Jacob’s family, and inside Jacob’s family.

I think of racism, out of control outside of minority communities, producing calls for vengeance inside minority communities, that lead to more calls of vengeance. I think of racism outside Christian circles as well as inside Christian circles, going round and round.

Jacob’s family, and our Christian family, needs a touch from God to stop the cycle – it’s the only solution…

Facing Our Fears – Genesis 33

And Jacob lifted up his eyes and looked,
and behold, Esau was coming,
 and four hundred men with him. 

The moment of truth was here for Jacob. Would Esau take his revenge and secure his birthright? Or would God be true to his promise?

First, Jacob showed humility, repentance, to Esau. He bowed himself to the ground seven times, each time getting nearer, and nearer, to his brother.

And then the surprise – Esau “ran to meet him and embraced him and fell on his neck and kissed him, and they wept.”

Continuing in humility, and probably fear and unbelief, Jacob introduced his family to Esau, calling himself Esau’s servant. He insisted Esau keep the gifts he sent before him, and Esau responded by wanting to escort Jacob and his caravan back to the homeland (Seir). 

But fear still must have had hold on Jacob. He refused the escort, making excuses about the strength of his children and flocks. And after Esau left, Jacob didn’t go to his homeland where Esau was, but settled in a place nearby (Shechem), keeping a safe distance just in case Esau changed his mind. The years of distrust ran deep.

Jacob came close to facing his fears, but he couldn’t let go. Wrestling with God miraculously put him face-to-face with his brother, seeing God’s deliverance in the moment. But Jacob must have had doubts that God’s grace would continue. He believed God in the moment, but not for the moments ahead.

How often do I trust God, only to see his miracles? I’m grateful, but then seconds later, I’m taking control again, doing what “makes sense” to me, doing what is comfortable for me. I forget how big God is, and what he wants to do in my life.

Sometimes I am like Jacob, stopping short of all God wants to bless me with…

Wrestling with God – Genesis 31-32

It’s not until Laban’s sons got jealous of Jacob that Jacob decides to return home. He’s known it was God’s plan since he left, since he spent the night on the stone pillow and heard from God. But he’s been busy in the “east,” having children with wives and servants, raising livestock, trying to stay out of trouble with his faither-in-law who keeps on deceiving him. All the time, learning lessons from God.

Sometimes we don’t obey until we get between a hard place and a rock. Laban’s jealous sons are behind him; Esau and his hatred are before him. Which is worse?

God’s promise is before him, so that is the direction Jacob decides to go. Tricking Laban one last time, he takes off into an uncertain future with his wealth and his wives. Hearing Esau was headed towards him with 400 men, he tries to make as many sound decisions as he can, separating his caravan to cut his losses if Esau attacks. Lastly, he sends presents ahead for Esau, hoping to appease him.

And then he was alone…and wrestles with God.

“And Jacob was left alone. 
And a man wrestled with him until the breaking of the day.
 When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, 
he touched his hip socket, and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint 
as he wrestled with him.
Then he said, “Let me go, for the day has broken.” 
But Jacob said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” 
And he said to him, “What is your name?” 
And he said, “Jacob.” 
Then he said, “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob,
but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed.”
Then Jacob asked him, “Please tell me your name.” 
But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” 
And there he blessed him. 
So Jacob called the name of the place Peniel saying, 
“For I have seen God face to face, 
and yet my life has been delivered.” 

Sometimes obedience is not easy. In fact, it usually isn’t. It comes in the face of fear, life controlling fear, that makes us want to run from obedience. 

But Jacob stood alone and wrestled with his fear. His fear of Esau was secondary only to his fear of God, of not receiving God’s blessing. He wrestled all night, until the break of day, when God overpowered him by simply “touching” his hip, causing it to come out of joint. 

Why didn’t God “touch” him sooner? 

Because it’s through the wrestling, we learn how much we want God in our lives. Jacob would not let go until he knew he had God’s blessing once again, the affirmation of who he was in God’s eyes, “face to face.” 

How much do I want God’s blessing? Am I willing to sell my birthright as his daughter for a bowl of stew, as Esau was willing? Am I willing to struggle and even endure pain for it? Or do I quit when it gets tough to follow God? 

Jacob found new identity with God, a new name, as a result of that wrestling match. And I have a new identity as well, in the salvation of Jesus Christ.

Reality Hits – Genesis 29-30

Jacob when from the mountaintop to the valley. I’m sure he hardly felt the miles traveling from the stone pillow to “the land of the people of the east,” where his father and the Lord had told him to look for a wife. He was elated as he waited at the well and beautiful Rachel arrived. Single-handedly, he moved the stone from the well, impressing her as well as others. And in a rare show of emotion, he “kissed Rachel and wept aloud.”

And then Laban came running to meet him, probably expecting a caravan of riches like the time before. Jacob stayed with Laban a month when Laban made him an offer he could not refuse – working seven years for the hand of Rachel.

So Jacob and Rachel flirted for seven years, and everything seemed to be going Jacob’s way…

But it seems that life catches up…

Just as Jacob had deceived Esau, Laban deceived Jacob, and instead of giving him Rachel as a veiled wife, he gave him his older daughter, Leah. Jacob experienced the same shock Esau had when he realized he had been deceived by Jacob. The tables had turned.

Life isn’t as easy as we would like it to be, even if we are walking with God. He has things he wants to teach us that only come with time. 

Eager to have his beloved Rachel, Jacob agreed to work seven more years. And then eager to go home with some wealth, he agrees to work even longer… 

And then there are lessons within the family, Leah getting pregnant, Rachel being barren. The giving of servants to Jacob for sex – hadn’t he heard of the disaster this practice was for Abraham? Why did he think it would turn out better for himself?

And then favoritism shown to children, something he had experienced in his own life. Trading sex for mandrakes? Going along with what others tell you to do, jealousy and competition. It’s all part of the world around us, and in us. 

Life lessons. It’s not easy, even with a personal relationship with God. There are still daily choices, lessons to be learned, building faith, building strength. Sometimes we make good choices; sometimes we make bad choices.

And our lives end up being the sum of choices.

Personal Relationship – Genesis 28

Back to our story of Jacob – he’s on the run from Esau’s anger. His parents sent him to Rebekah’s brother, Laban, for safety and to hopefully find a wife who was not “bitter.” At the same time, Esau married another woman, this time a Canaanite. Instead of learning from his mistakes, he was repeating them.

So Jacob was on the 600 mile journey back to the land Abraham originally left in obedience to God. But instead of having a caravan of riches like Abraham’s servant had when he made the trip to find a wife for Isaac, Jacob was alone. His deception of Esau had cost him everything.

Can you picture Jacob, alone and cold, with only a stone for a pillow? A cold, hard stone. He must have been so very tired to be able to sleep. 

And then, Jacob has his own personal experience with God.

Up to this time, God has spoken to Abraham and Isaac and told them they would become a great nation. He had spoken to Rebekah, telling her about her children. They probably told Jacob of their encounters, but we don’t have any recorded conversations of God to Jacob. 

12 And he dreamed, and behold, 
there was a ladder set up on the earth,
and the top of it reached to heaven.
And behold, the angels of God
were ascending and descending on it! 
And behold, the Lord stood above it and said, 
 “I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father
and the God of Isaac. 
The land on which you lie I will give to you
and to your offspring. 
Your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth,
and you shall spread abroad to the west
and to the east and to the north and to the south,
 and in you and your offspring shall all the families 
of the earth be blessed.
Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go,
and will bring you back to this land. 
For I will not leave you until I have done
 what I have promised you.” 

Jacob was a changed man!

He was filled with the awe and fear of the Lord: “He was afraid and said, ‘How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.’ “

And he responded with a vow: “‘If God will be with me and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat and clothing to wear, 21 so that I come again to my father’s house in peace, then the Lord shall be my God.”

And he backed the vow with actions: “and this stone, which I have set up for a pillar, shall be God’s house. And of all that you give me I will give a full tenth to you.”

Jacob was no longer obeying his mother, trying to trick his father, or stealing from his brother. He was no longer alone. For the first time, he had his own relationship with God!

I remember when I first began a relationship with God. I had felt him wooing my heart, asking me to respond. I had to let go of all of my “self” in order to take hold of him.  I was in awe of his love, fearful of his might. I vowed to trust him for my future, whatever that would mean. And I followed it up with actions that demonstrated my faith.

And I was no longer alone. I had Jesus, God, with me. He promised to be with me, and I believed.

And I was a changed woman!

Choices – Genesis 27

There is so much sadness in these stories, just like there is sadness in our lives. The characters are so messed up, just as we mess up.

Esau, even before he had is blessing stolen, was making poor choices. He took two Hittite women as wives, and…”they made life bitterfor Isaac and Rebekah.

I wonder what “bitter” life was like for Isaac and Rebekah? The women were from a different culture. They may have brought their idols and worship, maybe even their language, with them.  Were they undermining Isaac in his belief in his God? Were they encouraging Esau to get his inheritance? Were they whispering behind Isaac and Rebekah’s backs, giggling as they walked away?

Whatever it was, it made Rebekah say, “I loathe my life because of the Hittite women. If Jacob marries one of the Hittite women like these, one of the women of the land, what good will my life be to me?”

Think for a moment about the taste of bitter. It’s not unbearable, just unpleasant. You want to spit it out, but you can’t.

Some relationships are like that – just bitter. They leave a taste in our mouths, but we can’t spit it out.

It makes me wonder, am I a “bitter” to anyone? Do I leave a taste in their mouth that is just off, sour, not pleasing? Are they tolerating me rather than enjoying me?

These women had a choice. They could respond to God as they learned of him through Isaac and Rebekah. Or they could cling to their old Gods, becoming bitter to those around them.

What is my choice?

Repetitive Sin – Genesis 26

Don’t you think we would learn from the mistakes of others? Instead, we seem to repeat them.

I certainly think Abraham or Sarah, or even a herdsman, had told Isaac how Abraham had offered his mother Sarah to Pharoah, and then to Abimelech. Don’t you think he was grossed out at the thought?

And yet, when he was in a similar position, filled with fear, what did he do?

He offered his wife.

When will we learn? When will we learn to not give into fear but to trust God? When will we learn to consider loved ones as precious, deserving to be protected? When will we learn to not follow the example of others, but to do what is right in the sight of the Lord, no matter the consequences?

God, in his grace and mercy, did not give Isaac what he deserved. But there was continued conflict between he and Abimelech until they made a covenant.

God, in his grace and mercy, doesn’t always give us, at the time, what we deserve. Do we see this as grace, unmerited favor, or as an excuse to go on sinning, expecting more and more grace?

When will we learn to do what is right? 

Two Brothers – Genesis 25-27

“Two nations are in your womb,
and two peoples from within you shall be divided;
the one shall be stronger than the other,
the older shall serve the younger.”

Sibling rivalry. 

It exists in most families, children trying to figure out who is the “favorite” and then trying to dethrone them.

And in the case of Esau and Jacob, it was obvious who the favorites were – Esau was loved by Isaac because he was masculine, a hunter, rough around the edges, a man’s man. He was born first, and despite what God told Rebekah, Isaac wanted a man like Esau to be his successor.

And then there was Jacob, his mother’s favorite, second by only seconds. His mother told him God spoke to her and he would be his father’s successor. But could he believe her? 

What Jacob lacked in strength, he made up for in cunning. He took advantage of Esau’s moment of weakness and traded his stew for Esau’s birthright. Obviously, Esau didn’t take his birthright seriously, or he would have never made the trade.

But the birthright and the blessing were somehow separated. If Esau could get the blessing, then birthright was empty.

The moment Esau was waiting for finally came. His father was ready to give him his blessing. All would be made right.

But once again, Jacob took advantage of the situation, with his mother’s prompting. He fooled blind Isaac into thinking he was Esau, so he gave his blessing to Jacob.

Oh, what regret all around!

Esau was weeping. Isaac was blessing him with what he could. Jacob ran away in fear of Esau’s revenge. Rebekah never even saw her son again.

Family relationships can be hard. Little do we realize as we are growing up, that the little things we do will set the course of generations to come. In this case, the favoritism of parents, the competition of sons, set the stage for conflict which affect us even today.

What if the story could have been written differently? What if the parents hadn’t played favorites, a united front in parenting? What if the boys had been furiously loyal to each other, defending each other before others? What if they had accepted God’s will and sought it together?

The world today would be a different picture.

What if my story had been written differently? What if I had sought God’s will? What if, instead of competing, I had been forgiving?

Is it too late?