Genesis 46:1-7, 28-30
An important part of getting to know someone is finding out about their background – their childhood, family, whatever details they’d like to share. It gives us a fuller, richer picture of the person, puts what they say and do in context, and helps us come to a better understanding and appreciation of them.
Of course, we’re much more limited when it comes to getting to know people in the bible, but that doesn’t mean there is nothing to learn. Sometimes, important details lie hidden between the lines, and knowing them helps us not only to learn more about that person but also more about us and God. This is true for one of the most important, indeed foundational, biblical characters we have heard about this week – Jacob, the son of Isaac and grandson of Abraham.
As we study the chapters of Genesis that tell us about his life, one thing is clear: Jacob came from a dysfunctional family. It began from the twin brothers’ birth. The name Jacob means “to supplant” or “replace,” and that is what he did, first duping Esau out of his inheritance, then tricking his father into giving him the blessing intended for his slightly older brother. But their parents, Isaac and Rebecca, are the real problem; they play favorites, Rebecca going so far as to help her favorite (Jacob) steal from his brother and get away, while Isaac sat idly by as his favorite (Esau) plotted murder against Jacob. Not what anyone would call a healthy family dynamic.
Sadly the problem followed Jacob into adulthood, for he too played favorites. We heard this week how his favoritism of Joseph led to such envy in Jacob’s other sons that like their uncle Esau they too plotted to kill their brother – and nearly succeeded.
Yet we also saw that things don’t always work out the way we think they will. Where in Jacob’s family revenge would be expected, by the grace of God Joseph took a different tack; just yesterday we heard him say to his brothers, It was really for the sake of saving lives that God sent me here ahead of you (Genesis 45:5).
And therein lies the lesson: With God’s help, the unchangeable can change. Like Jacob, we are born with problems, born into problems, problems plague us all our lives. They may be dysfunctional relationships, addictions, abuse, the list is endless. Whatever they are we feel powerless to change them, and on our own we probably are. But the story of Jacob teaches us that we are not alone, that no matter what the problems are God has ways of dealing with them that we do not, and that as St. Paul once said, all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28).
Although Jacob may have taken too much pride in himself and his own schemes over the years, he never forgot God’s purpose and to humble himself before it. In today’s reading we find him doing exactly that at Beersheba. He’s been there before; recall on Monday Scripture told of him fleeing from Esau as a frightened young man. Then, God spoke to him in a dream and, although the words are slightly different, the main points are exactly the same today: I am God… do not be afraid… I will make you great… I will be with you… I will bring you home. Through all that had happened to him from that first moment on – the joys, the sorrows, the love, the loss, the bliss, and the agony – Jacob was never alone. God was right there with him, doing what he said he would do.
So let us resolve to respond as Jacob did. Scripture tells us that he took everything he owned and everyone in his family with him to Egypt (Genesis 46:6-7). That is, he was totally committed to whatever God wanted him to do. This takes great faith but that is ours for the asking. Jacob asked for it at Beersheba; we have the present moment, here in His presence. And let us remember too that God is never outdone in generosity. For his act of faith, Jacob was rewarded not only with the joy of holding his long-lost son in his arms once again but also, through the great prosperity and growth that Israel, the nation named after him, would come to enjoy, he could rest secure in the knowledge that God’s plan is far above any of human schemes and His merciful love infinitely bigger than any of our problems.
The best news of all is that to those who commit themselves to Him as Jacob did hear the same words that Jacob heard. Keep them with you today and everyday. Here they are again: I am God… do not be afraid… I will make you great… I will be with you… I will bring you home.