Posts tagged Rebekah
In today’s reading, we see the passing of two of the major characters of the Bible: Jacob (also called Israel) and Joseph. What is interesting to me, though, is a series of events that happens just before Jacob’s death. In previous posts, I talked about the chaos of Jacob’s family and how odd it was that this family would be the “chosen ones” of God. In today’s reading, you’ll notice that some of the same chaos is revisited on the next generation.
From our earlier reading, we know that Abraham, after he was told that he would be the father to many nations, had a son by his wife’s servant, Hagar. This son, Ishmael, was Abraham’s eldest son and, therefore, should have received Abraham’s birthright and blessing along with the highest place of honor among Abraham’s children. However, that was not God’s plan for Abraham and, instead, allowed Sarah, Abraham’s wife, to have a child. This child, Isaac, would be the one to receive God’s blessing and would be the one through whom God would fulfill his promises to Abraham. In this, God essentially flipped convention on it’s head by giving the blessing and authority to the younger son.
Then, later on, Jacob and Esau were born to Isaac and his wife Rebekah. In that famous story, again, the birth order was flipped on its head as Jacob, the younger brother, received the birthright and blessing that his brother Esau should have received. In our current context, we may not fully understand the significance of these events. What was happening here was not only a slap in the face to the traditional way of doing things; it was essentially telling a child, “You are no longer my firstborn, no longer the oldest and no longer have the privileges you once had.” It meant that these older brothers lost a significant piece of their identity.
For the younger brothers, however, this was like winning the lottery, the World Series and the Super Bowl all at once! And the upside-down blessing that Isaac, through God’s intervention, received, he passed on (unknowingly) to Jacob. Jacob then, through no effort or choice of his own, would see Joseph (son number 11) rise to power and rule over his brothers. Even in his blessing of his sons in today’s reading, he actually curses his firstborn, Rueben.
But the thing that I think is the most significant in these chapters is his blessing of Ephraim and Manasseh. Here, Jacob again signals the blessing of the younger over the older. But this time, Jacob is intentionally choosing the younger. Gone is the deception that Jacob used to get his blessing from Isaac. Gone is the sibling envy that served as a precursor to Joseph’s rise to power. Instead, here is a grandfather choosing the younger grandson. His son, Joseph, even tries to correct him. But Jacob indicates that he knows what he is doing and that his desire is to bless the younger son.
So, why is this so significant? Simply put: because we need it to be. The lives of these patriarchs – Abraham, Isaac and Jacob would serve as models and illustrations from that time until now (and beyond). They would be used to tell two stories: the first was the story of God choosing the nation of Israel. They were, in essence, his firstborn. He gave them the inheritance, the blessing and the protection. And he gave them a Savior.
But he did something else. He began to write the second story : a story where the forgotten son – the one born to a servant girl, the one thrown into a pit and sold into slavery – was given the blessing. When God began to send missionaries into the Gentile communities claiming “son-ship” and “daughter-ship” for those people, the “first-born” Jews were incredulous. They were losing their birthright, their blessing and part of their identity. If anyone could be God’s chosen, then who were they?
The good news – for the ancient Jews, modern Jews and all the rest of us – is that, unlike earthly fathers, God has enough blessing to go around. The kingdom is upside-down, but even though the “last shall be first” and the “first shall be last” in the kingdom of heaven, there’s no indication that either group isn’t allowed in. And so, whether first-born or last-born, slave or free, Jew or Gentile, God has made room for us all!
OK…so this is just how crazy the story of “God’s chosen people” is. For those of us who are somewhat familiar with the story of the people of Israel, consider the back half of the book of Genesis the prequel to that story. This is the story of Jacob (later called Israel) and his descendants…and it’s a crazy one. In just these three chapters, we get a good glimpse of the kind of family chaos that was taking place in this family that would become God’s chosen ones.
First, we have the continuation of Jacob’s deception of his brother Esau (aided by their mother Rebekah). Then we see Esau’s anger and desire to murder his brother. Then another act of deception by Rebekah as she tricks Isaac into blessing Jacob’s departure. Then, not to be outdone, Esau recognizes how much his parents hate the idea of their sons marrying Canaanite women, so he goes and marries two more, in addition to the women he is already married to. Uh, yeah…chaos.
I wish I could say it ended there, but no. The chaos continues as the tables are turned on Jacob and he gets a bit of his own medicine in the form of Laban, his “own flesh and blood.” As a result of Laban’s deception of Jacob, Jacob ends up in 14 years of indentured servant-hood (and an extra wife) just to marry the woman he wants to marry.
And out of all of this chaos, the future heads of the tribes of Israel begin to be born – not to Rachel, the woman Jacob loved, but to Leah, the one Jacob kind of just got stuck with. While Rachel was barren, Leah began having children – Reuben, Simeon, Levi and Judah (some important figures in the upcoming story of Israel).
Sound like a daytime soap-opera? Yeah, it’s that kind of chaos that serves as the prequel to the incredible story of the people of Israel. Stay tuned for more!
Once again, I am reminded that there simply is not enough space in an average-length blog post to cover everything that needs to be covered in even just a couple of chapters of the bible. And so, with that in mind, today I’m going to skip over the more popular story of Jacob’s sneaky birthright grab (we’ll get back to these guys later) and look instead at the relationship between Isaac and Abimelek.
In today’s story, we see a familiar series of events and actions – actions that Isaac seems to have inherited from his father, Abraham. Like his father, Isaac moves to a new and unfamiliar place and when he does, out of fear for his own safety, he asks his wife, Rebekah, to pretend to be his sister. Then, like his father before him, Isaac’s deception is uncovered by the king who, instead of punishing Isaac, gives orders that no one is to touch him.
Then, also like his father, Isaac grows in stature and in wealth, until one day, just like what happened to his father, he is asked to leave. I think it’s interesting to note the patterns that we see from generation to generation. We see this pattern in Abraham and in his son Isaac. We will also see it later with Jacob’s descendants in Egypt.
But a funny thing happens in this story – a new understanding in the relationship between Isaac and Abimelek. Abimelek, at some level, gets it. He looks around at Isaac (sometime after he has asked him to move on) and sees that even though Isaac doesn’t have all the luxuries and niceties of the Philistines any more, he continues to prosper. And so Abimelek responds to the blessing of the Lord by seeking a treaty with Abraham.
Now, treaties may not seem all that spiritual. They are, after all, military and/or political in nature. However, it is clear that Abimelek sought the treaty not just because Isaac was powerful and wealthy, but because he was blessed by God. That means that there was something more about this man Isaac than just the fact that he had money. There was something about Isaac that was an indicator of God himself. And Abimelek, in his limited understanding of this kind of God, sought the only remedy he knew to make amends with that God.
I sometimes wonder about my own life. Is there anything about me that would make someone else say, “I know you are blessed by God”? And I’m not talking about how much money God gives me or how much talent or whatever. I just wonder if my life announces to the world the blessing I have received. Is there anything in me that would be treaty-worthy.
Is there anything in you?