(These notes were my "back-up" reflection for Sunday 9/22/13. God delivered a much more intense word in reality. The audio is in this post.)
Genesis 27:1-4, 15-23; 28:10-17
For me, the stories of Genesis begin to feel “real” when Jacob appears on the scene. I understand Abraham as the “Father-of-many” and father of our faith. I sympathize with Isaac- in the binding, in the grief of the death of his parents, etc. However, Jacob- wrestling within the womb, grasping all he can, wanting more than he can define clearly, and prepared to do anything to get it- Jacob is a truly fleshed-out character, a human being, a person who makes the Scriptures pop and sing. After all, why would this ancestor be included, with his cheating and tricky ways, except that through him, we understand (like many generations before us) that God is no respecter of persons.
Jacob comes out of the womb clinging to Esau’s heel and spends the rest of his childhood trying to overtake him. An oracle is revealed to his mother, Rebekah, there were two nations in her womb and the younger would overtake the older. Whether this provokes her later actions or gives her an excuse for what she does, Rebekah doesn’t hold back from helping Jacob grab onto what’s not his.
Of course, Esau doesn’t help. He is very willing to give into his human desires, too. A birthright, his right to inherit all his father’s material property, for a lentil stew- is this the decision of a model older sibling? Of course, we grieve for Esau when he loses out on Isaac’s blessing. This is not a mere “bless you, my child”- but a powerful blessing that conveys with it the covenantal relationship between God and Abraham that will now be passed to Jacob. God’s words brought this into being and Isaac’s words pass it to Jacob. He cannot withdraw these words once spoken.
Jacob has to flee so that Esau will not kill him. He has both the birthright (his father’s property) and the blessing of an elder son, but he is afraid and alone. He sleeps on a rock- probably terrified for his life for the first time ever. In his exhaustion, he has a vision of heaven and God speaks to him.
Jacob is granted the one thing he cannot grab for himself- God’s blessing. God shows him a glimpse of heaven and speaks to Jacob of what is to come. Jacob will own the land on which he currently sleeps. He will have many children. God’s own legacy will spread out through Jacob.
And it does. It is neither Abraham nor Isaac who receive the name “Israel”. It is not Sarah or Rebekah who give birth to the man who will save the Hebrew people from starvation- it is one of the wives of Jacob. The people of Israel are named through Jacob. The 12 tribes of the nation come through Jacob. Much of the identity of what it meant to be an Israelite comes through Jacob- a man who wrestled that blessing from God.
The story of Jacob tells us that God is in places we do not expect, as Jacob found out when he slept in the desert. More importantly, God is present in people we do not expect and God is using them in ways we do not expect. Additionally, God’s blessing is not something we can grasp for ourselves. No one is keeping it from us and we are not earning it through good behavior. It is God’s to give freely and God does so, through the power of the Living Word.