Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Random Stuff from Our Genesis Study, Part 11

[The two gatherings of our Tuesdays with Markie studies of Genesis--the Old Testament book and not the band with Phil Collins--that preceded this evening's were cut short for various reasons. So, I didn't bother presenting summaries of them. I'm going to try to cover some of the territory we discussed in several shorter posts over the next few days.

[If this is your first look at this series, in it, I'm simply summarizing the discussions of Genesis that we're having on Tuesday nights. The "we" are members of the congregation I serve as pastor and me.

[Links to previous installments in the series appear below.]

1. Genesis 28 opens with a strange scene, strange because it presents one of those apparent fissures that sometimes seems to disrupt the Genesis narrative. As Jacob prepares to go to Paddan Aram, the ancestral homeland situated somewhere in modern Iraq, Isaac blesses him.

Say what?

Hadn't Isaac already given Jacob what amounted to a blessing obtained under a false pretext (i.e., Jacob had presented himself as Esau, the one for whom Isaac meant the blessing)?

Wasn't Esau already on the warpath, intent on killing Jacob, making time a valuable commodity?

And wasn't Isaac less than enamored of Jacob, described tonight by one of our study participants as "the nerd" to Esau's "jock"?

The answers to the last three questions are Yes, Yes, and Yes.

Some scholars look at this and say that the seeming incongruities stem from varying sources for Jacob's story being blended, perhaps clumsily.

Maybe. But I'm not so certain that what are called incongruities are in fact, incongruities.

No matter how Jacob had deceived him, he was still Isaac's son. There's no reason to believe that he wanted his son to be harmed by the other son, any more than Rebekah, the sons' mother, wanted harm to come to Isaac's favorite, Esau.

Furthermore, Isaac and Rebekah appear united in their desire that their son, now the heir of the Abrahamic promise, not marry a woman from the country in which they lived as nomads. Esau had already done this. No, they wanted him to go back to the ancestral home from which Rebekah herself hailed, and find a wife among her kin.

So, Isaac saw Jacob as he prepared to make the journey once taken by his father Abraham's servant. (That Isaac would send Jacob makes sense for two reasons: Isaac was apparently ill, portrayed as on the verge of death in the previous chapter, and, given the danger in which Jacob found himself, it only made sense that he should leave on this errand any way.)

2. Poor Esau! Duped into selling his birthright for some soup, tricked out of his father's blessing by his brother and his mother, and repudiated for making bad marriages, he impulsively tried to atone for it all. He found local kin, the daughter of Ishmael, Isaac's half brother. As we leave him for now, we can only conclude that Esau's future isn't very bright. He's too witless, too impulsive, and living under the burden of a blessing that doesn't seem like one. But don't write Esau off yet!

3. The dream and the vision that Jacob had at Bethel are part of a single incident about which every Sunday School student of my generation probably learned. The image he at first saw is akin to some buildings in the near East that were dedicated to the worship of gods. The "stairs" were like ramps that led to heights on which it was thought worshipers were closer to deities. People of many religions believed that there were places that acted as special conduits between heaven and earth, highways used by God's angelic emissaries as they traveled to the places where they would undertake their missions.

At Bethel, Jacob received God's promise, one that echoes that given to his grandfather Abraham and his father Isaac. From their line, a great nation, a light to all the other nations of the world, would proceed. God promised too, to protect Jacob. This is a promise which, in spite of a number of harrowing experiences, God fulfilled time and time again in the subsequent narrative.

4. When Jacob woke up, he was filled with what the theologians call numinous awe, the sense of God's presence. The mood was one of reverence and a kind of fear. Jacob concluded that this place was the very doorway to heaven and called it House of God, which is what Bethel means.

As was the custom in places where God was worshiped, or God had done great things, or people entered into holy agreements (covenants), Jacob erected a stone and anointed it with oil, designating this as a place where God had acted.

Twice, I've heard Eddie Fox, one-time director of evangelism for the worldwide Methodist movement, speak. Once, I heard him speak of visiting a remote south Pacific village and being taken to a stone marker that had been erected. "Here," the marker noted and mentioned a specific date, "the Holy Spirit came" to that island. From that moment, the fledgling group of Christians who had been visited by God on the island fanned out among their neighbors and friends and lived out their faith and told others about the love and new life that Jesus gives. And within a short time, the whole island had turned their lives to Christ.

For the people on that island, no less than for Jacob at Bethel, God had come to them in an unmistakable way. So, in both cases, they marked the moments not with photographs, but with monuments.

This passage is one of several that seem to intimate that Jacob was rather strong. We don't know how big the pillar at Bethel was. But stone isn't light.

Here too, Jacob pledges that he will tithe to God, dedicating one-tenth of all he owns to God.

More tomorrow, I hope.

[Here are links to the previous installments in this series:
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5
Part 6
Part 7
Part 8
Part 9
Part 10]

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