Thursday, July 21, 2011

Results or Relationship

Genesis 29 tells the story of Jacob meeting Rachel and eventually marrying her and her sister, Leah.  In some ways, this story sounds similar to a story just a few chapters earlier in Genesis 24.  In that chapter, Abraham sends a servant to find a wife for his son.  The servant meets Rebekah at a well and knows that she is the one for Isaac when she draws water for him and his camels. Rebekah and Abraham's servant then go and report all that happens to Laban (Rebekah's brother and Rachel's father).  Likewise, the story of Jacob and Rachel's meeting takes place at a well, the watering of animals is significant to the story, and the meeting is ultimately reported back to Laban. However, it seems the similarities in these stories really serve to highlight the differences of these two characters.

Abraham's sending of his servant is a story of trust.  Abraham states that the Lord "will send his angel before" his servant in order to guide him and ensure that he finds the proper wife for Isaac.  The story, indeed, unfolds in this way.  The servant's prayer is answered, Rebekah willingly goes with him, and the story concludes by noting that Isaac was comforted by Rebekah's presence.

These elements of trust in God to provide are absent from the story of Jacob.  Instead, Jacob is portrayed as taking matters into his own hands.  Rather than waiting for the right woman to come along to provide water, Jacob provides water for Rachel's flocks.  (This is a clear demonstration of strength on Jacob's part since he rolls away from the mouth of the well by himself the stone which the other shepherds say they can not move until all the shepherds have gathered to move it together.)   Jacob also does not propose the matter of marriage with Rachel to Laban as guidance from God.  Instead, he offers it as a business contract; Jacob will work seven years for Rachel.  When those seven years are complete, Jacob demands that Rachel be given to him as if he has earned her.  Of course, things don't turn out quite that smoothly.  Instead, Laban shows that Jacob is not the only one capable of deception.  He throws a party and gives his oldest daughter, Leah, to Jacob instead of Rachel.  Somehow Jacob manages to have intercourse with her without noticing that it is not the woman he has been pining over for seven years.  In the morning, he realizes it is Leah and he becomes angry with Laban who says he must work another seven years if he wishes to marry Rachel as well.

At this point, it would be easy for me to say that this story demonstrates yet again why we should trust God instead of trying to be in charge of our own lives.  It's tempting to say that if we will trust God as Abraham did then things will always go smoothly for us as they did for Abraham's servant and if we try to carry out our own agenda then we will run into problems as Jacob did.  While there is probably some truth captured in that statement, it is not a whole truth.  It doesn't do justice to the experience of those who have placed their trust in God and find that things still often do not go so smoothly.  And I don't think it does justice to this story in its context either.  After all, even though Isaac is initially comforted by Rebekah's presence, it is this same Rebekah who will incite Jacob to steal his brother's blessing, causing Isaac tremendous discomfort in his old age.  Likewise, while Laban and his daughters will cause Jacob tremendous anxiety along the way, they (and their maidservants) do ultimately give him 12 sons (as well as some daughters) which would have been counted as a tremendous blessing in this culture.  Additionally, these 12 sons are the fulfillment of the promises God made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; they are the 12 patriarchs of Israel.

So here's my crazy conclusion from all that.  The primary difference between Abraham and Jacob wasn't the results of their lives but their relationship with God.  Or to put it another way, the results of their lives were not a measure of their relationship with God.  Abraham's closer relationship with God didn't automatically mean he was more blessed than Jacob.  Jacob was actually blessed by God tremendously despite the fact that he showed no interest in having the kind of relationship with God that his grandfather had.  Abraham knew God, walked intimately with God, knew the presence of God and that was its own blessing much greater than than any blessing Jacob would ever know.  Jacob, on the other hand, knew the blessings of God but never really seemed to know God and seemed to be perfectly content with that.

I think this is a point worth making because I think most Christians and churches in America today are much more like Jacob than we are like Abraham.  We too often equate God's blessing with knowing God himself and experiencing his presence.  We assume that if an individual is blessed or a church is growing then "they must be doing something right".  We assume that God would not bless a person or a church unless they really knew God but the story of Jacob demonstrates that this is not always true.  Indeed, Jacob shows us that God can bless and bless and bless a person and that person still not be drawn any closer to God.  They simply go on enjoying the blessing but they miss out on the relationship, the intimate presence of God that Abraham came to know in his life.  As the Church, we have to ask ourselves whether or not really knowing God, experiencing his presence, being in intimate relationship with him is actually more important to us than whatever blessing God might pour out on us along the way.

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