The Burden of Speech – October 1, 2017 – Exodus 4: 10 – 17

Last week, we read the story of Jacob’s vision of God which we call Jacob’s ladder. We jumping ahead again in the story of God and the people of God. I’m going to do some very high level overview because I don’t think we need to know much between the stories of Jacob and Moses to understand Moses.

So, I’ll jog your memory of some stories that you’re probably familiar with. Jacob works for many years for his uncle Laban to marry Leah and Rachel. Leah and Rachel and their maid servants give Jacob 12 sons. Jacob and his family return to Canaan and Jacob reconciles with Esau. Jacob’s sons were Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Dan, Naphtali, Gas, Asher, Issachar, Zebulun, Joseph and Benjamin.

Joseph was a dreamer and able to interpret dreams. His brothers sold him into slavery and he was taken to Egypt. Joseph became a powerful servant of the Pharaoh and he brought his family to Egypt during a famine. Jacob’s family grew and grew and God fulfilled His promise to make the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob many.

Over time, the Pharaoh changed and Jacob’s people fell out of favor with the Egyptians. The Egyptian Pharaoh enslaved Jacob’s people. I think most of us know the rest of the story thanks to Charleston Heston in The Ten Commandments. Continue reading

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The Burden to Bless Others – September 24, 2017 – Genesis 28: 10 – 17

There’s a shorter leap from last week’s text to this week’s story than there was the previous week. This week we jump ahead just 6 chapters. Last week, we read the story of Abraham and Isaac. Today, we read the story of Isaac’s son, Jacob. First, we need a review of what has happened with Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Esau to bring us to today’s reading.
• Abraham bound Isaac to the altar, but God intervened and provided a suitable ram for sacrifice.
• Sarah died and was buried in a field.
• Abraham’s servant went to Abraham’s country to find a suitable bride for Isaac. Isaac marries his cousin, his father’s niece, Rebekah.
• Abraham dies. Isaac and Ishmael come together to bury their father in the field where Sarah was buried.

Isaac’s wife Rebekah had twins, Jacob and Esau. They were like warring nations in her belly. The Lord told her that the 2 sons would be 2 separate nations and people. Esau was born red and hairy. His name Esau means hairy, not the shortened form of Harold; Esau literally means hairy as in he has lots of hair all over his body. Jacob was born next grasping Esau’s heel. Jacob’s name means he grasps the heel.

Esau became a hunter and a man of the country while Jacob enjoyed time with his mother in the home tents. As much as parents shouldn’t have favorites, Isaac favored Esau and Rebekah favored Jacob. One day, Jacob tricks Esau out of his birthright over a bowl of stew.

There was a famine in the land. Isaac wanted to go to Egypt for food, but God told him to go to the land of the Philistines. God affirmed the covenant He made with Isaac’s father Abraham to give Abraham’s descendants the land they lived on. God promised to be with them and provide for them.

In Genesis 26: 4, the Lord affirms the promise to Abraham and confers the promise to Isaac saying:
“I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and will give them all these lands, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed…”

Isaac lied to the Philistines about his wife Rebekah saying she was his sister, not his wife, just as his father Abraham had done with Sarah in Egypt. Isaac’s flock and wealth grew so much that the Philistines kicked him out. Isaac found land to settle in and the Philistine king came to Isaac to make a treaty because he saw God was with Isaac.

Esau marries a foreign girl which upsets his parents. We’ll find out in a few chapters the labor Jacob goes through to find his wives Leah and Rachel who are cousins.

Isaac is old and dying and prepares to give Esau his inheritance and blessing. Isaac asks Esau to go hunt for an animal to make some stew for his before he gives Esau his blessing. Rebekah overhears the request and plans to trick Isaac. Rebekah pulls an animal from the flock and makes stew for Isaac. She dresses up Jacob in his brother’s clothes and hair goatskins so that Jacob would smell like Esau and his arms would be hairy like Esau.

Isaac whose eyesight was failing him seemed to have some questions about what was going on thinking the stew came too quickly and he didn’t recognize the voice as Esau’s voice, but he was relieved to feel the hairy arms of his son and the smell of his clothes. Now, I imagine Esau as a teenage boy who’s going through all the stuff with body odor and body hair where Jacob had not yet reached that maturity even though they were twins.

So, Isaac gives Jacob, who he thinks is Esau, his blessing. In Genesis 27: 27 – 29, Isaac says:
“Ah, the smell of my son is like the smell of a field that the Lord has blessed. May God give you heaven’s dew and earth’s richness – an abundance of grain and new wine. May nations serve you and peoples bow down to you. Be lord over your brothers, and may the sons of your mother bow down to you. May those who curse you be curses and those who bless you be blessed.”

Jacob left with his father’s blessing and shortly after Esau came in from hunting with some tasty stew looking for his father’s blessing. Isaac told Esau he had already given his blessing to Jacob. Esau was angry and pleaded for a blessing. Esau was rightfully angry as Jacob had tricked him out of his birthright and had now stolen his blessing. Esau wept and asked for a blessing. In Genesis 27: 39 – 40, Isaac blesses Esau: “Your dwelling will be away from the earth’s richness away from the dew of heaven above. You will live by the sword and you will serve your brother. But, when you grow restless, you will throw his yoke from off your neck.”

Esau was angry with Jacob for deceiving their father and stealing his birthright. Esau vows to kill Jacob as soon as their father dies.

Isaac asks Jacob to take a wife from his own country instead of a foreign wife like Esau. Rebekah and Isaac send Jacob to their ancestral home for Jacob to find a wife among his people. Esau realized his wives weren’t approved of by his parents so he went to Ishmael’s family and got himself another wife.

That brings us to Genesis 28: 10 – 17. We needed to understand all the dysfunction of this family to get to the part of the story that is today’s reading.

10 Jacob left Beersheba and set out for Harran. 11 When he reached a certain place, he stopped for the night because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones there, he put it under his head and lay down to sleep.12 He had a dream in which he saw a stairway resting on the earth, with its top reaching to heaven, and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. 13 There above it stood the LORD, and he said: “I am the LORD, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac. I will give you and your descendants the land on which you are lying. 14 Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east, to the north and to the south. All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring. 15 I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” 16 When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he thought, “Surely the LORD is in this place, and I was not aware of it.” 17 He was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven.”

Jacob had nothing but a rock as a pillow. He was fleeing from his brother’s wrath in search of a wife that would please his father. He had tricked his brother and lied to his father. He is headed to his mother’s brother’s home. God meets him on his way in the midst of Jacob’s suffering to affirm His promise to Jacob’s family and bless Jacob.

God says, “I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” God has promised Abraham, Isaac and Jacob a blessing of many offspring, a great nation and land for their people. God’s covenant includes, “you will be blessed to be a blessing.”

There’s a lot of inbreeding, lying and deceit in this family, not just among Jacob and Esau. This dysfunction goes back to Abraham and Sarah, down through Isaac and Rebekah to Jacob and Esau. If you follow the story, it includes Jacob’s father-in-law and carries on to Jacob’s 12 sons. Yet, God has promised to bless them and He is faithful to that promise regardless of what they do to show they are unworthy of that blessing.

God will remain faithful to this family, because God is capable of working out His plan in spite of our best efforts to make a mess of it. God can work through our past to bless our future. God’s will is to alter the course of destruction we set and set us on a new path.

I think my favorite part of this Scripture is God’s saying to Jacob: “I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” I hear that as God’s promise to a broken man who’s messed up. God is saying, “I’m not going to be done with you until I have blessed you.” Aren’t those words assuring? No matter how bad we mess up, God won’t be done with us until He has blessed us.

The challenge is: that promise of a blessing comes with a clause that says “by you all the families of the earth will be blessed.” That means that when God blesses you you must be a blessing to others. There are lots of ways to be a blessing to others whether it’s a visit to a lonely friend, a card to a sick church member, a gift to families afflicted by the hurricanes, food to the food pantry, a tithe to the church, being a dedicated parent, being a loyal friend, being a faithful spouse. There are so many ways to be a blessing.

Your burden is to live up to the challenge of blessing others. As tenacious as God is to blessing you, may you be as persistent at being a blessing to others.

The Burden of Sacrifice – September 17, 2017 – Genesis 22: 1 – 13

As we’re reading the Bible as a narrative or story, we can’t read every story in one year so we skip some stories to keep up a pace to make it from Genesis through the prophets by Christmas. We’ll read some important stories along the long narrative of the Old Testament. Each week, I’ll give you a brief synopsis of what’s happened between last week’s reading and this week. I’ll include some important details about a character’s story that may not be included in the day’s reading but is important for us to remember if we are to understand the reading.

Last week, we read the Creation stories from chapters 1 and 2 of Genesis. This week, we jump to the story of Abraham and Isaac in chapter 21 and 22. Here’s what you need to know.
• Adam and Eve’s son Cain killed Abel and Cain’s descendants populated the earth.
• God found humans to be unrighteous. God flooded the earth killing all it’s inhabitants but spared Noah and his family. God promised to never again destroy the earth by flood. Noah’s descendants re-populated the earth.
• Then, begins the story of Abraham. Abraham’s story spans 13 chapters of Genesis. Many of us remember the children’s song: Father Abraham had many sons. Many sons had Father Abraham…couldn’t help but leave you with that ear worm that I’ve had all week. Continue reading