Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Jacob, Leah and Rachel

I had the privilege of preaching on Genesis 29:21-30 this morning in chapel. Here's the gist of it.

The passage is not really about Jacob getting a taste of his own medicine, but comes as part of a wider narrative which emphasises the hardship the LORD puts him through en route to promised blessing. Genesis is more positive than negative about Jacob - every time the LORD speaks to or about him it is to promise blessing. He has, after all, chosen Jacob over Esau, and Jacob is described as a 'blameless' or 'complete' man back in 25:27 ('quiet' in the ESV seems an odd translation).

The route to blessing in the land is paved with hardship as a sojourner and a servant (32:4) in a foreign land. Jacob faces exclusion from his family (Laban treats him as a hired hand), deception and exploitation, and has his claims to being heir mocked by Laban (in 29:26 Laban echoes God's choice of Jacob over Esau and says 'that's not how we do it round here mate!'). The one whom the nations were supposed to serve (27:29) becomes a servant himself.

Yet, this is the LORD's doing. In fact, the LORD uses the hardship instrumentally in his fulfilling of the Abrahamic promise. All four women mentioned in the passage feature in the very next section as mothers to Jacob's children- the patriarchs of Israel. Whatever we may want to say in another context about polygamy, here the LORD turns Laban's deception into Jacob's blessing. A similar pattern follows, such that when Jacob leaves Laban Exodus-style to head to the promised land he has wives, servants, children and sheep all in tow.

As such, Jacob serves as an echo of Israel's own experience in Egypt and eventually in exile too. Moreover, the heir par excellence to the Abrahamic promises undergoes treatment like that Jacob faced. He is the heir who takes the place of a servant, who submits to his enemies deception and exploitation in order to win his bride, is excluded from his family and has his claims to sonship mocked. Yet, this is all used by God to fulfill the promise to Abraham. The Son will have his bride, his children and his land. The nations will bow down and serve him.

As God's heirs we too should expect to receive the blessings of the covenant via hardship. Whether it is blessings we experience now or the final blessing in the new creation-land, the route there is paved with hardship. We know that, whatever hard times we go through, God has designed them to be our necessary route to glory and blessing. So, we must learn to be like Jacob by grabbing a hold of Jesus' coat tails and following him.

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