Light from the Sidra


Torah:Genesis.28:10-32:3(2).Haftarah:Hosea 12:13(12)-14:10(9)

Deal or no deal?

From time to time (not as often as I used to thanks to anti-spam software) I receive emails from people asking me to allow them to deposit a fortune in my bank account for a short period of time until they have done a bunk from their country of origin, after which they will reward me with several million dollars. The day after Yasir Arafat died, I received an email from his wife offering me part of his fabulous wealth if she could park his ill-gotten gains in my bank for until the heat died down! Well, you know what they say, if someone makes you an offer that seems too good to be true, it usually is.

Perhaps that’s how Jacob felt when God appeared to him when he was on the run from his brother. Jacob had tricked his brother Esau into trading his birthright (a double portion of his father’s wealth) for a plate of lentil stew and with mum’s help, he deceived his father into bestowing the blessings of the firstborn on him. When all became clear, and Esau declared his intention to kill his manipulative kid brother, on the advice of Rebekah Jacob legged it for Padan Aram where he would spend the next twenty years.

On his first night away from home, Jacob has a dream in which God appears to him and tells him:

I am the LORD, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac: the ground on which you are lying I will ascribe to you and to your offspring. Your descendants shall be as the dust of the earth; you shall spread out to the west and to the east, to the north and to the south. All the families of the earth shall bless themselves by you and your descendants. Remember, I am with you: I will protect you wherever you go and bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I promised to you. (Gen 28:13-15, Tanakh-The Holy Scriptures, The New JPS Translation According to the Traditional Hebrew Text. Jewish Publication Society, 1988))

God had entered into the same unconditional covenant with Jacob’s father Isaac (Gen 26:3-5) and his grandfather Abraham (Gen 15). It was a covenant that included the ‘offspring’ of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and the nations. God’s blessing on the patriarchs of the Jewish nation was ultimately for the blessing of the nations, and that worldwide blessing would come through the ‘seed’ (singular) of these men. One descendant of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob would bring blessing to the world. This was the ‘seed’ of the woman who would crush the head of the serpent, as promised in Genesis 3:15.

The promise of blessing came with no strings attached. Jacob was a shrew man. Perhaps the promise of God seemed just a little too good for Jacob. After all, nothing is free.

Jacob makes a vow:

If God remains with me, if He protects me on this journey I am making, and gives me bread to eat and clothing to wear, and if I return safe to my father’s house—the LORD shall be my God. And this stone which I have set up as a pillar, shall be God’s abode; and of all that You give me, I will set aside a tithe for You. (Gen 28:20-22, ibid)

What is clear from this vow is that, as yet, the LORD was not the God of Jacob. There were many gods competing for attention in the world in which Jacob lived.

Whatever god or gods he worshipped (if any) at this point the LORD does not appear to have been among them. Throughout the narrative, for Jacob the LORD is ‘the God of Abraham’ and ‘the Fear of his father Isaac’. He is not, as yet, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

When Jacob and Laban have their showdown, in Gen 31:42 Jacob lets his father-in-law know, ‘Had not the God of my father, the God of Abraham and the Fear of Isaac, been with me, you would have sent me away empty handed.’

Twenty years will pass before the LORD becomes Jacob’s God. And when that happens, it will not be because of Jacob’s deal with him at Bethel. It will not be on Jacob’s terms. Though Jacob does not yet know it, although the LORD is not yet his God, he is the LORD’s.

Israel – the Jewish people today – is in a situation similar to that of Jacob. The majority of the nation is secular, and many Jews are actually atheists. The nation is surrounded not by one big brother but by many of their Semitic brethren who are determined to kill their smaller sibling and take back what they consider to be their birthright.

But even though most Jewish people do not realise it, they have a God who has pledged himself to protect them and provide for them and make them a blessing to the rest of the world.

The nation of Israel right now is ‘Jacob’. What will it take to bring them to the point where they become truly Israel, a ‘prince with God’?

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