Light from the Sidra


Genesis 28:10 - 32:3; Hosea 12:13 - 14:10

Choosing the winning author for the Booker Prize must be tough. Choosing a President seems to be causing problems for Americans at present. But what if you were asked to choose the one man in the world who showed the signs of being God’s favourite above all others? An impossible task you might well think. What about in Jacob’s day when there were fewer people to have to consider? No doubt there were a number of suitable candidates but do you think Jacob would have been on the short list?

Consider his situation at the beginning of the Sidra. Jacob had deceived his own father, earned the hatred of his brother and, as a consequence, had to take the drastic step of leaving home to cool the situation down. Would Jacob even be a candidate for God’s favourite man? In fact, that is exactly what God said he was.

Before I explain just what I mean it is worth considering what state of mind Jacob would have been in when he left his family. He had acted with the best intentions, wanting to obtain the blessing and promise of God, but things had worked out very differently from what he had expected. It seemed like he had lost everything. We can well imagine the questions in his mind, and the depression he might have experienced as he lay down to rest that first night, so very, very alone. At that point he had a remarkable dream, the point of which was to assure him that God was with him. The dream of angels going up and down on a ladder or stairway could only mean one thing: he was the man who had inherited God’s promises. We might say he was God's favourite. All the promises given to Abraham and Isaac were to be his, and he was assured of the Almighty’s protection. Angels are God s messengers to bring his truth and blessing to the world and so the dream made it clear to Jacob that he was the man through whom the purpose of God would now be forwarded.

The Sidra finishes on the same note. After twenty years of hard work in which he might have become very discouraged, after engaging in some dubious superstitious practices and having a wife who was not cured of idolatry, he is again met by angels as he returns to Canaan. God encourages him and declares to him again that, despite everything, he is his man, the man with the promises.

Would you have chosen Jacob? It depends on what criteria you use. If the qualifications required were exemplary uprightness then Jacob was not in the running, for all his good intentions. But if the criteria was God's chesed, his grace (unmerited favour), then there need not be any surprise. Indeed, this is how Jacob himself saw things, for we read him saying to the LORD in the next Sidra “I am not worthy of the least of all the mercies which you have shown your servant.”

He was a humbled man, aware of God s graciousness and his own unworthiness. Would you have chosen Jacob? If you are a follower of the teaching of the rabbis then I doubt that you would have. The Rabbis put so much emphasis on our merit that they lead others to focus on worthiness not unworthiness. But that is not the focus of the God of Israel. Have you ever read anything in which reference is made to the ladder which Jacob saw? There is something brief in the Talmud but it ignores the main point: that Jacob is now the man of promise.

You can read something about Jacob’s dream in the Brit Hadashah (the New Testament), which I will sum up briefly. A pious Jew named Nathaniel was sitting under a fig tree near the river Jordan when a friend called him to come and meet a special person he had just met, someone he thought might be the Messiah. When Nathaniel met him, this person indicated he knew something about Nathaniel. “How do you know me?” said Nathaniel.

“Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you”, was the reply. Nathaniel’s response was one of utter amazement, to which he received this reply, “You will see greater things than these... after this you shall see heaven open and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”

The speaker was Yeshua (Jesus of Nazareth) and he was claiming that he was the one who was now God’s man of promise. God was with him in a special way, as he had been with Jacob. Nathaniel, a pious Jew, recognised this by his exclamation, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God, you are the King of Israel!”

Yeshua did not rebuke him or disagree. A bold claim from an apparently ordinary man. But when Yeshua’s miracles and wisdom became known far and wide in Israel there were many who began to think he was right.

But then there was his crucifixion. Is it possible that a person who has been crucified, cursed by hanging on a tree, could be God’s special person? From the perspective of Hosea, in the portion read this Shabbat, the answer is a resounding Yes! In that passage we read of God’s agony caused by the sin of Israel. His desire and determination is to turn them back to Himself. His resolve is so great that we actually read these words, “I will ransom them from the power of the grave; I will redeem them from death. O death, I will be your plagues! O grave, I will be your destruction!”

Astonishing as it may seem, this appears to mean that God himself will suffer the plagues and destruction which sin deserves. The whole Law of Moses teaches not only that sin is to be punished by death, but also that the death of a substitute is God’s gracious way to redeem the sinner. Here, in Hosea, God reveals that he will be the substitute. No wonder there is agony in the words. He knew there was no other way to redeem Israel. God himself would do the unthinkable. This is precisely what Yeshua taught about his death, “The Son of Man is not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” He was God’s man; he was God’s Son. He was God the Son, come into his own world to do what we cannot do for ourselves. And he rose from the dead to prove it.

How great is the Almighty! Do you want to be among God’s people of his promise? You must follow his Son, the one he sent to die for sinners. Jacob was unworthy but he knew God’s mercies. You can too, although you are unworthy. God simply calls you to admit it and trust his Son.

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