For the week of November 25, 2006 / 4 Kislev 5767
Torah: Bereshit / Genesis 25:19 - 28:9
Haftarah: Malachi 1:1 - 2:7
The LORD said to her, "Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you will be separated; one people will be stronger than the other, and the older will serve the younger." (Bereshit / Genesis 25:23)
This week's Torah portion begins the story of Jacob. For the past little while I have been struck with how very far the writings of Scripture are from most of our religious experiences. I am not referring to the contrast of the Scriptures to any particular teaching or ceremony, but what amounts to a whole way of thinking. As I study the Bible, I get the impression that we seek to both know and communicate God in ways very different from how God did so through his written Word.
In the Bible God often time revealed himself through the real-life experiences of everyday people. These people struggled with many of the same things that you and I struggle with. Yes, we read of remarkable happenings, but those remarkable happenings happened to ordinary people living otherwise normal lives.
The reason why it is important to understand this is because I believe God wants to do the same remarkable things today that he did in the Scriptures. God wants us to know him in the midst of everything we do. He is not committed to meeting us only in the context of congregational and religious life. He desires to come to us and work through us in every area of life.
The life of Jacob is but one of a great many examples of someone who is just like we are - if we are honest about ourselves. Many people have had a hard time with him, sometimes doubting his place as a Bible hero, because of how he deals with life. However I suggest that if we have problems with Jacob, then perhaps we are not honest enough about ourselves and our own flaws. Then there are those of us who are that honest, but then we may think that as a result we are beyond God's help and grace. The story of Jacob demonstrates what God wants to do in and through real people like Jacob - real people like you and me.
Jacob was a man of destiny. From before he was born, God had determined that he would be given a special place (25:23). Yet he believed, as did his mother, that he needed to strive after that place. To believe that God could and would act on his behalf to accomplish things that were contrary to his current circumstances was very difficult for him. He really believed that if he didn't protect his own interests and do whatever it took to succeed, then even those things that God himself promised to him would not happen.
Interestingly Jacob's mismanagement of his life did not disqualify him from those things that God destined him for. This does not in any way excuse his bad behavior. His manipulation of others would come back to haunt him time and time again. But God still had plans for him - good plans, including dealing with the very core of his being. The day would come when he would come to the end of his own resources and face God head on.
Jacob was real. He possessed none of the kind of fake spirituality that gives religion a bad name. While he tried to manipulate his circumstances for his benefit, when God brought him to the end of his own resources, he clung to God for dear life, which ended up being the thing that changed his life forever.
For us to grapple with the life of Jacob in order to understand the reality of God through him is no academic exercise. Nor is it a mystical experience detached from understanding. It is a journey into the real. Through Jacob we have the opportunity to also face our own limited resources and learn that real life is found in encountering God.
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