I will admit that I used to be pretty perplexed by God’s use of Jacob in the Old Testament. Why did Jacob (his name literally means “trickster”) get to become “Israel”? It seems wrong. He was not a likable character and is held up as an example of what kind of person we should NOT be. And yet, God allows his trickery and even blesses him for it. The episode in Genesis 27 does not wrap up as we think it should, with Jacob and his mom, Rebecca, being found out for their deception and the blessing Jacob stole from his brother, Esau, being removed. Nope, the opposite. This is no modern-day sitcom. He gets away with tricking his brother and his father and receives the blessing that did not rightfully belong to him! God even goes on to rename Jacob “Israel” and build a nation from his offspring. The chosen nation! It is scandalous, really.
Now, Jacob did receive some payback, with a couple of very interesting twists of fate. His uncle tricked him into marrying the wrong girl, his sons tricked him and got rid of his favorite son, as well as other deceitful actions. The trickery came back to bite him for sure. He and YHWH even wrestled and had to work things out in a way that left him with a limp for life. But overall, there is no moral judgement expressed over how he went about getting the blessing.
What do I do with this story?
One day as I was studying Genesis, I suddenly saw this whole story upside down. I saw Esau, the brother who had the birthright to begin with, as being scandalous. He had this wonderful blessing, but he took it for granted. He thought it would always be there, it was his “right” and he didn’t prize it above anything – not even dinner! Esau was too focused on his immediate fleshly needs to see the value of what he had. At least Jacob saw the priceless value of the birthright and was willing to do anything to get it. Jacob risked everything and gave up his lifestyle for this blessing. He had to flee his home and family so his brother wouldn’t kill him! But all of that was worth it somehow.
It made me think about whether I was that desperate to get the promises that God had for me? Was I taking them for granted and thinking those things would be there after I built the nice, comfy life I wanted? Once I was ready, the blessing of my relationship with God would always be there waiting for me, right? Would I be willing to risk ANY of my creature comforts to get what He had for me? Those were uncomfortable thoughts. They applied not only to me as an individual, but to the church as a whole. Was God more concerned with how desperately I wanted that relationship with Him than where I started?
Later, Eric (my husband) was preaching out of Mark 5:21-43, a passage we have gone over numerous times and both love. It is filled with so much gold! It’s the story of Jairus (the synagogue leader who has a 12-year-old daughter who is dying) and the woman in the crowd (who has had an incurable issue of blood for 12 years). This time I was struck by how both Jairus and the woman risked everything to get the healing (salvation) Jesus had. They were desperate for Him. Jairus risked his reputation with the religious leaders and his standing in the community to go to this miracle worker and fall down at His feet! The woman risked being shunned even more than she already was – if only she might touch his robe! He was their only hope for LIFE. Their desperation touched me.
Jesus was not concerned with where these people (Jairus the synagogue leader & an unclean woman) started. His concern was how much their hearts desired His touch. Was it worth risking everything? He could change “who they were” – no problem. He wanted their hearts totally longing for Him!
So, this week as we were preparing for our podcast on Zechariah 7-8—a passage that caught my breath with amazing promises and beauty—I was brought to tears when I read the last paragraph.
Chapter 8:20-23 “Thus says the Lord of hosts: Peoples shall yet come, even the inhabitants of many cities. The inhabitants of one city shall go to another, saying ‘Let us go at once to entreat the favor of the Lord and to seek the Lord of hosts; I myself am going.’ Many peoples and strong nations shall come to seek the Lord of hosts in Jerusalem and to entreat the favor of the Lord. Thus says the Lord of host: In those days ten men from the nations of every tongue shall take hold of the robe of a Jew, saying “Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you.” (Emphasis mine.)
Holy Moly! This is so sweet! What a beautiful picture. People from all nations and cities will come to entreat the favor of the Lord and to seek the Lord of hosts! They are coming to seek His blessing and relationship. They see the value! There is even a beautiful poetic device in the middle there:
A – Entreat the favor of the Lord
B – Seek the Lord of hosts
C – I myself am going! Many peoples and strong nations shall come…
B – Seek the Lord of hosts
A – Entreat the favor of the Lord
(If you’ve been in any of our study groups where we’ve talked about Literary Structure, you will see the chiastic structure here where the middle is so important!)
And then that last sentence: “In those days ten men (complete number) from the nations of every tongue (Act 2:5) shall TAKE HOLD of the robe of a Jew, saying, “Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you.” That word for “take hold” is quite intense and is used only two other times in Hebrew: In Exodus 4:4 when Moses takes hold of the snake (that was his rod) and in 1 Samuel 17:35 when David is taking hold of the beard of a lion or a bear to strike him down and kill him because he has taken a lamb from the flock. Both of those places it is used in terms of wrestling a wild and dangerous animal – life will be lost if the taking hold isn’t with great force born of desperation. These people see the great blessing this “Jew” has and are determined to get the same for themselves. They take hold of his robe and aren’t going to let go!
This passage brings to mind the Magi in Matthew 2:1 (probably on my mind especially since it is Christmas time). These Wise Men from the East (foreign tongue) came to inquire about the baby who would be King of the Jews. They had seen a star and came to worship Him! They came a great distance. They couldn’t not come and see` and worship! They have come to entreat the favor of the Lord and to seek the Lord of hosts!
This, my friends, is how we “string pearls” – do you see how all of these stories (and so many more) go together to tell us something very important? God has a blessing beyond compare – a Birthright even, for you and for me. He is worth EVERYTHING. There is no “maybe later” for me to get closer to Him, there is only RIGHT NOW. No matter what the cost. He surely isn’t asking me to lie and cheat to get to it, but He does want to know how determined I am to take hold of Him and not let go. It may require wrestling that will leave me with a limp, but it will surely be worth it!
As 2021 begins, let us take each other by the hand and entreat the favor of the Lord and seek the Lord of hosts …. I myself am going!