Adventures in the Bible 1


At the beginning of the year the new bishop of the Virginia Conference of the United Methodist Church (which covers the vast majority of the state of Virginia), Sharma Lewis invited all Virginia United Methodists to commit to reading the whole Bible in 2017. In order to accomplish this she would provide us with a reading plan that is released each month for that month. I accepted this challenge. And like all New Year’s Resolutions and plans, I immediately fell behind.

But I will stay strong! I will catch up! And in the meantime we will be a people of grace!

Going forward, I wanted to use this space to offer reflections on what I’m reading as I progress through the Bible this year. And since I’m so far behind you might not have to deal with too many posts on Leviticus! Count your blessings friends.

Admittedly I’m still in Genesis. Remember: people of grace. As I was reading through the Genesis stories of Jacob and Esau I was struck by something I’d never seen before.

Now I am a nerd and I am abnormal. I have read the stories of Jacob and Esau a bunch. So they are quite familiar to me. But here’s the gist of the story:

Jacob and Esau are twins. Esau is the firstborn which entitles him to all of the inheritance. But two things were working in Jacob’s favor: he was crafty and his mother liked him best. In one story Jacob tricks Esau into giving Jacob Esau’s birthright. In another story Jacob tricks his father into giving Jacob the blessing that was rightly due the firstborn. The end result is that legally, Jacob has usurped his brother’s rightful place as heir.

As I was reading these stories, though, I was struck by a connection I’d never read before. And it was in this short section:

Genesis 25:21-26 Isaac prayed to the Lord on behalf of his wife, because she was childless. The Lord answered his prayer, and his wife Rebekah became pregnant. The babies jostled each other within her, and she said, “Why is this happening to me?” So she went to inquire of the Lord. 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.” When the time came for her to give birth, there were twin boys in her womb. The first to come out was red, and his whole body was like a hairy garment; so they named him Esau. After this, his brother came out, with his hand grasping Esau’s heel; so he was named Jacob. Isaac was sixty years old when Rebekah gave birth to them.

Here’s the strange part of the story that needs some explanation: at the end the Bible says that Jacob was grasping the heel of his brother. What’s that about? Well, in ancient customs the firstborn son got everything. So when we hear that Jacob was grasping the heel what its saying is that Jacob was trying everything he could to beat his brother out of the womb. Jacob was trying to grab and claw and fight his way to being the heir. Which explains a lot of what happens later.

BUT! Here’s the crazy thing: God had already told Rebekah, their mother, that the older brother would serve the younger brother. God had already declared that the younger brother would come out on top. God had already said whoever was out second wins.

So Jacob is scratching and clawing and working and fighting and competing and scheming in vain. He’s working for something that won’t be to his gain. He’s working towards something that will ultimately be to his detriment.

Jacob did everything he could to try to be the firstborn.  God had promised that the firstborn would ultimately serve the younger son.  This connection totally stopped me in my tracks!  Jacob, the smart one, the cunning one, the man with the plan is working against his best interests.

How often do we do this? How often do we focus on things that are self-defeating? How often do we strive towards things that will hurt us?

I think this passage seeks to the difference between following the things that we think will bring us success and following the things of God. I know this passage calls me to focus much more on what God wants for my life than what I think is best for my life. What is God calling you to do? Where might God be calling you to go? And what about our life, our world, our culture keeps you from going there?

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