Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Eyes on the Promise : The Business of Christian Education LXII

And Jacob said, “O God of my father Abraham and God of my father Isaac, O Lord who said to me, ‘Return to your country and to your kindred, that I may do you good,’ 10 I am not worthy of the least of all the deeds of steadfast love and all the faithfulness that you have shown to your servant, for with only my staff I crossed this Jordan, and now I have become two camps. 11 Please deliver me from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau, for I fear him, that he may come and attack me, the mothers with the children. 12 But you said, ‘I will surely do you good, and make your offspring as the sand of the sea, which cannot be numbered for multitude.’ ”
Genesis 32:9-12

            Jacob was just about to enter the land where he was born.  But remembering Esau’s anger and intention to kill him over the birthright and blessing by their father, Isaac, Jacob felt afraid.  He feared for his life and his family life.  He feared that Esau was still angry at him and intended to harm him and his family to payback what was taken from him.  So Jacob prayed to God.  In his prayer he mentioned something that is often overlooked by readers.  In his humility, Jacob acknowledged his
unworthiness of receiving all the blessings from God.  Jacob testified that when he left his father and mother in rush, he only had his staff on his hand.  When he left home, he did not bring anything from the wealth of his parents, except Isaac’s words of blessing to him.

            Isaac was extremely wealthy.  Isaac received all the wealth of Abraham.  Genesis 25:5-6 gives us the reference:

Abraham gave all he had to Isaac. But to the sons of his concubines Abraham gave gifts, and while he was still living he sent them away from his son Isaac, eastward to the east country.

Then in Genesis 26:12-14 the Lord blessed Isaac even more:

12 And Isaac sowed in that land and reaped in the same year a hundredfold. The Lord blessed him, 13 and the man became rich, and gained more and more until he became very wealthy. 14 He had possessions of flocks and herds and many servants, so that the Philistines envied him.

And so naturally, when in the next chapter it was said that Isaac blessed Jacob, readers commonly assumed that Jacob received all the wealth of his father.  For it was the custom of that time that the wealth of the parents was to be passed on to the person receiving the blessing of the firstborn.  In this case, Jacob received the blessing as the firstborn after he bought the birthright from Esau and deceived his father that he was Esau.  This is Isaac’s blessing in Genesis 27:26-29:

26 Then his father Isaac said to him, “Come near and kiss me, my son.” 27 So he came near and kissed him. And Isaac smelled the smell of his garments and blessed him and said,
                “See, the smell of my son
is as the smell of a field that the Lord has blessed!
                28 May God give you of the dew of heaven
and of the fatness of the earth
and plenty of grain and wine.
                29 Let peoples serve you,
and nations bow down to you.
                Be lord over your brothers,
and may your mother’s sons bow down to you.
                Cursed be everyone who curses you,
and blessed be everyone who blesses you!”

And this blessing could not be taken back, even though soon after Isaac found out that Jacob pretended to be Esau.  This is what Isaac said to Esau in Genesis 27:33:

33 Then Isaac trembled very violently and said, “Who was it then that hunted game and brought it to me, and I ate it all before you came, and I have blessed him? Yes, and he shall be blessed.”

Esau cried aloud hearing Isaac’s answer.  Then he insisted for Isaac to bless him.  And this is Isaac’s “blessing” to Esau (Genesis 27:39-40):

39 Then Isaac his father answered and said to him:
                “Behold, away from the fatness of the earth shall your dwelling be,
and away from the dew of heaven on high.
                40 By your sword you shall live,
and you shall serve your brother;
                but when you grow restless
you shall break his yoke from your neck.”

Isaac’s answer and his blessing to Esau confirmed that Jacob was the one receiving the blessing that was passed on since Abraham to Isaac and now to Jacob.  The assumption that Jacob would now receive all the wealth of Isaac was only natural.  But, as the story unfolds, we found out that Jacob did not receive anything from the wealth of his parents.  Jacob’s prayer in Genesis 32 showed that he left his homeland with only a staff on his hand and his father’s blessing.  Who then received all Isaac’s wealth?

            Apparently Esau was the receiver of the vast wealth of his father.  When eventually Esau met Jacob, Esau was very wealthy.  He was lord of Edom.  Naturally, since Jacob was away from home, Esau was the only one who could take care of their father’s possession.  It would be safe then to assume that Esau inherited Isaac’s wealth.  But then, what is the meaning of Isaac’s blessing?  And why would Jacob risk everything for the blessing?  What was Jacob after?  Why did he want the blessing?

            For our materialistic culture, when we hear about blessing from the parents, our eyes are fixed toward the material blessings, the inheritance.  It is very common in almost every culture that the parents’ blessing would be accompanied by the wealth being passed on to the receiver of the blessing.  Very often we hear siblings tear each other apart over the inheritance of their parents.  And so when modern readers read the story of Jacob and Esau, it was almost always that the assumption is that Jacob received Isaac’s wealth along with his blessing.  But if we read the story very carefully, we cannot deny the fact that Jacob received none of Isaac’s wealth.  This raises the question: “What did Jacob aim when he wanted Isaac’s blessing so badly?”  The Bible did not speak of Jacob’s regret of receiving the firstborn blessing.  He wanted the blessing.  He received it.  But his life was getting miserable exactly after he received the blessing.  He had to part with his family and wandered in a foreign land for 14 years.  In Laban’s house he was deceived many times over promise and salary.  He endured all that.  Yet not even one regret came out of his mouth.

            I’d like to think that Isaac told his children of Abraham.  He told the promise of God to Abraham as written in Genesis 12:1-3:

1Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

In fact, God’s promise to Abraham in Genesis 12:3 was repeated in Isaac’s blessing to Jacob that those who bless Jacob would be blessed and those who cursed Jacob would be cursed.  I think that Isaac told both Esau and Jacob all the promises God gave Abraham, including God’s promise to Isaac himself in Genesis 26:1-5:

1Now there was a famine in the land, besides the former famine that was in the days of Abraham. And Isaac went to Gerar to Abimelech king of the Philistines. And the Lord appeared to him and said, “Do not go down to Egypt; dwell in the land of which I shall tell you. Sojourn in this land, and I will be with you and will bless you, for to you and to your offspring I will give all these lands, and I will establish the oath that I swore to Abraham your father. I will multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and will give to your offspring all these lands. And in your offspring all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because Abraham obeyed my voice and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws.”

Esau had the advantage, because he was considered to be the firstborn.  Besides, Isaac loved Esau more than Jacob.  But both Esau and Jacob wanted the blessing.  Their eyes were on the promise.  They both wanted the blessing to be the receiver of the promise of God to Abraham and to Isaac.  However, Jacob wanted it more.  Esau, on the other hand, took lightly his birthright that he sold it fair and square to Jacob for a bowl of lentil soup.  In that case, Esau did not take seriously his status as the firstborn, the natural receiver of the promise.  Esau gave away his privilege the minute he sold his birthright to Jacob.

            Here we see that Jacob never wanted the wealth.  His eyes were fixed on the promise.  He listened attentively to his father’s story of God’s promise to Abraham and Isaac.  And he wanted the promise to be continued to him.  Including God’s prophecy that Abraham’s descendants would be enslaved in Egypt for many years before returning to the Promised Land.  Jacob’s eyes were not fixed on the worldly wealth.  His eyes were fixed on what is eternal.  Even though he did not see it, but he believed on God’s promise.  And so it did not bother him at all that he did not receive Isaac’s wealth even after receiving the blessing.  For him it was enough to receive the promise.  It was enough for Jacob to be the person who would continue God’s promise to Abraham, which eventually was fulfilled in Jesus Christ.  Paul explained in Galatians 3:16:

16 Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ.

If we have the heart of learning from God’s word as revealed in the story of Jacob and Esau, we would understand that our eyes ought not focus on the worldly treasure.  Thinking of God’s blessing only in terms of material blessing is a grief mistake.  God never promised material wealth on this earth for his children.  His promise to Abraham in Genesis 12 was not about material wealth.  It was about a certain kind of blessing that would change the course of history.  Abraham saw that promise with the eye of faith.  So he believed.  Isaac saw God’s promise in the same way, with the eye of faith.  And so Jacob followed their footsteps and looked at the promise with the eye of faith.

            Jacob never wanted the material wealth.  And so when he left for Padan Aram fleeing from Esau, he did not bring any material possession with him.  He had only his staff on his hand with him.  Jacob did not concern himself with wealth.  He only concerned himself with God’s promise.  This is also should be our attitude as descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in Jesus Christ.  Our eyes should be fixed on the promise and not on the material wealth.  The promise that is fulfilled in Jesus Christ.  The promise that all people in the world will be blessed.  The blessing that God said to Abraham was never about material wealth.  If we understand the integrity of the Holy Scripture then we will understand that the blessing is about salvation in Jesus Christ.  Through Jesus Christ, all people on earth would be saved and once again be positioned as God’s children bearing the image of God.  The inheritance God promised is never about earthly material, but it is always about the Kingdom of Heaven.  Through Jesus Christ, God established his kingdom.  This blessing is infinitely better than any earthly materials.

            Consider this.  When Jesus incarnated on earth, was he born in a palace so as to be pampered with earthly riches?  Did he grow up wearing fine linen and purple garments?  Does not the Scripture testify that Jesus was born in a stable, laid down in a manger.  He was not even born in a house.  He grew up poor.  He lived very simple.  He did not even have a place to lay down his head.  When he died, he was considered a criminal even though his criminal record was clean.  Then he was buried in a borrowed tomb.  Did he ever regret coming to earth not having the earthly riches?  The Scripture bears testimony that his eyes were fixed on God’s promise.  And so in perfect obedience he sacrificed himself on the cross.  For our salvation.  For our redemption.  In order that once again we could be reinstated as God’s children.  That we may be heirs of God’s promise.  Heirs of the Kingdom of Heaven.  Amen!

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