Thursday, December 13, 2012

Deeds Of Love & Faithfulness (part 1 of 2)

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. – Genesis 32:10  (ESV)

The words of this text are spoken by Jacob.  In them, he makes reference to the steadfast love of the God of Abraham that has been shown to him as covenant faithfulness.  He speaks of the fact that, when he first crossed the Jordan, when he was escaping the sure wrath of his brother Esau, that he crossed over the river with nothing but his staff in his hand, and presumably, the clothes on his back.  The point was, he had nothing.  Now, however, Jacob has become rich.  He had so much that he was able to divide his people and property into two camps.  He “divided the people who were with him, and the flocks and herd and camels, into two camps, thinking, ‘If Esau comes to the one camp and attacks it, then the camp that is left will escape’.” (32:7)  It seems that his riches and possessions were the evidence, in his mind, of the covenant blessings of God, which is why he prefaces his statement of the tenth verse, by saying “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’.” (32:9)

The preface to this story has Jacob leaving the house of his uncle Laban, for whom he has labored many years.  He is returning to his home, the place he had left years prior, fleeing from Esau, having secured the blessing that would rightfully have fallen to Esau as the firstborn.  As he returns, he is fearful of how his brother will react, and whether or not Esau is still angry with him.  In order to appease him, he is willing to give him “oxen, donkeys, flocks, male servants, and female servants” (32:5a).  Jacob sends some of his servants on ahead of him, to ascertain his brother’s mindset, and they returned to Jacob, telling him that Esau “is coming to meet you, and there are four hundred men with him” (32:6b).  Naturally, Jacob thinks the worst, and finds himself “greatly afraid and distressed” (32:7a). 

In the midst of his fear and distress, Jacob is sure to remind the Creator God of the covenant that had been made with Jacob.  This was the extension and continuation of the covenant that this God had originally made with Abraham, and which had been passed along to Isaac.  When Jacob is blessed by Isaac, Isaac references the covenant that we first find God making with Abraham in chapter twelve of Genesis, saying “Cursed be everyone who curses you, and blessed be everyone who blesses you” (Genesis 27:29b).  This, in both narrative structure and in historical understanding, is designed to reflect God’s words to Abraham, when he was told “I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth will be blessed” (12:3). 

Returning to Jacob, the blessing from his father was obviously something nice to receive, but the Scriptural record indicates to us that it was not precisely in Isaac’s power to transfer the Creator God’s covenant on from himself.  It seems that this was something that is left to God alone.  Abraham had not passed along the covenant to Isaac.  Rather, Isaac had received the call of the covenant in the twenty-sixth chapter of Genesis, when the Lord appeared to him and said, “I am the God of Abraham your father.  Fear not, for I am with you and will bless you and multiply your offspring for My servant Abraham’s sake” (26:24b).  Abraham is not reported to have taken steps to pass along the covenant to Isaac through customary and traditional means.  So as Isaac is reported to have received the covenant directly from the covenant maker (as did Abraham), so too should the same type of scenario be expected for Jacob, rather than the passing on of the covenant from father to son, though this is something that Isaac is shown to have apparently attempted.   

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