Intermarry with us; give us your daughters and take our daughters for yourselves.
It can be very difficult to live as a Christian in the western world. Christians are called to follow Jesus’ example, and that means setting a very high bar for morality, fairness, and attitude towards others. It can be very hard to be loving and positive when those around us are negative and full of hatred. It can be very hard not to succumb to brazen materialism when society around us is all about the acquisition of more and more. It can be very hard to live pure lives when there is so much impurity around us. Yet we are called to be salt and light in our world, so that others may see our good deeds and glorify our Father in heaven (Matthew 5:13-16).
This is one of the struggles that Jacob and his family have to contend with in the rather dark times we read about in Genesis 34. Upon returning to his homeland, Jacob bought a piece of land “from the sons of Hamor, the father of Shechem” (Genesis 33:19) on which to settle. Soon after, Shechem took and raped Dinah, the daughter of Jacob and Leah. In order to smooth the relationship over between his own family and Jacob’s, Hamor, Shechem’s father, proposes a tightening of the bond between them. Why don’t Jacob’s family intermarry with his own, Hamor suggests. He surely has more than Dinah on his mind, however; after all, Jacob’s family have been richly blessed and are very wealthy! Jacob faces a real dilemma with this suggestion, however. His family have received a promise from God and have become his chosen people. How would God’s promise stand if his family intermarried with a people who did not love and respect God, who did not follow his rules and guidelines, and who were clearly morally dubious?
This is a very similar situation to the one we find ourselves in today, living as “foreigners and exiles” in the world, much as Jacob and his family did. Do we conform to the expectations of the world, lower our standards, and water down our beliefs to bring us in line with those around us? Or do we endeavour to love God, to follow his teaching, and to strive for a more Godly way of living?
But Esau ran to meet Jacob and embraced him; he threw his arms around his neck and kissed him. And they wept.
Have you had to ask someone to forgive you recently? Perhaps you found a piece of chocolate that someone was saving and ate it without thinking. Maybe you arrived late for supper with friends. No matter how hard we try, it is inevitable that there will always be times when we annoy or upset people, or when we let someone down. In these circumstances it is good to know that we have been forgiven because we can move on with our lives. I’m sure there are also people who you feel have let you down, or hurt you in some way. Being able to forgive people, no matter how badly they have acted against us, is very important; without doing so we can cause hatred to take a root in our hearts, and it will end up burning us up inside. Forgiveness can be very, very hard to do, however.
In today’s verse we see forgiveness in action. Jacob has returned home after twenty years away. He left after cheating his brother, Esau, out of his father’s blessing, which he should have received as the eldest son. Esau was clearly very, very upset, and very angry about this. Consequently, when he returns home, Jacob does so extremely cautiously, fearing a possible attack from his brother. He must have been shocked by Esau’s response to his return, therefore; Esau “ran to meet Jacob and embraced him.” Both of the brothers were overcome with emotion and wept. I’m sure a good deal of Jacob’s weeping must have been due to his surprise, delight, and happiness that his brother was not still angry with him. He is absolutely overjoyed at Esau’s forgiveness, which he no doubt felt he did not deserve. He even compares Esau’s forgiveness with that of God when he says in verse ten, “to see your face is like seeing the face of God.”
I wonder if there are people who we need to ask for forgiveness from, people that we know we have wronged but who we’re hiding away from. I have no doubt that we also have people who we need to forgive, even if we think they do not deserve to be forgiven. Perhaps we can pray for forgiveness and reconciliation with our friends and family today. Most of all, maybe we should thank God that we can be forgiven because of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, who paid the price for all of our wrongdoing, and reconciled us to his father in heaven. Just as Esau ran to greet his forgiven brother, God is desperate for us to return to him, and is waiting to forgive and embrace us.
Then Jacob prayed, “O God of my father Abraham, God of my father Isaac, Lord, you who said to me, ‘Go back to your country and your relatives, and I will make you prosper,’ I am unworthy of all the kindness and faithfulness you have shown your servant. I had only my staff when I crossed this Jordan, but now I have become two camps. Save me, I pray, from the hand of my brother Esau, for I am afraid he will come and attack me, and also the mothers with their children. But you have said, ‘I will surely make you prosper and will make your descendants like the sand of the sea, which cannot be counted.’”
Do you make promises to your friends and family? Are you always able to keep those promises? There are few things worse than a broken promise; they can leave the person who was made the promise feeling upset, let down and angry. A broken promise has the potential to really damage a relationship.
Today’s verses, which are a prayer prayed by Jacob as he approaches his homeland, deal with God’s promises to Jacob. Jacob left his homeland on bad terms with his brother, Esau, not least because he had cheated him out of his father’s dying blessing. He doesn’t know how safe it will be for him to return, and so he turns to God in prayer. His prayer is an interesting one, and we can certainly learn from it. Jacob begins by making a statement of the promise that God made to him when God told him to “‘go back to your country and your relatives, and I will make you prosper’.” Next he affirms his faith that God keeps his promises, by praising him for keeping previous promises: God told him that he would prosper, and, despite the fact that when he left, he had practically nothing, now he has great wealth, and has “become two camps.” Thirdly, having stressed that he knows God keeps his promises, he asks for God’s protection: “save me from the hand of my brother Esau.” Fourthly, he stresses that he makes this request of God in order that God’s promise to him to make him prosper and give him many descendants is fulfilled.
I wonder if you’ve ever prayed a prayer like this? I’m not sure I’ve ever done so quite as effectively as Jacob. Perhaps we could try and pray a similar prayer today. Why not jot down some of the promises that God has made to us? Maybe you could read through some favourite Bible passages and underline God’s promises to us? Then perhaps we could try praising God for keeping his promises. Next we could petition God for something that we feel that we need or desire in order for God’s promise to be fulfilled. By no means an easy feat, but surely worth a go!
Then the Lord said to Jacob, “Go back to the land of your fathers and to your relatives, and I will be with you.”
I’ve just come back from a holiday with Claire, my wife. We were lucky enough to be able to visit both Venice and Rome, two very beautiful cities that neither of us had had the opportunity to visit before. Rather unusually for us, we didn’t get lost. Not once. This is very unusual for us, since we have a tendency to head off in the exact opposite direction to the one we should be heading in. We’ve managed to get ourselves lost in cities all around the world! I blame our poor sense of direction.
I’m sure many of us struggle with our sense of direction. That can also apply to our lives too, of course. With so many jobs on offer, so many places to live, so many people we could marry, how on earth are we supposed to know the correct route to pursue in our lives?
Today’s Daily Reading is about exactly that. Jacob has been in Paddan Aram, with his mother’s family, for twenty years. He knew from the outset that this wouldn’t be his permanent home; God had made that clear to him in a dream on his way to Paddan Aram (Genesis 28:15). Jacob had himself started to desire to return to his family, saying to Laban, his uncle/father-in-law (twice over!), “send me on my way so I can go back to my homeland” (Genesis 30:25). Then later, he overheard his cousins/brothers-in-law saying, “‘Jacob has taken everything our father owned and has gained all this wealth from what belonged to our father’” (Genesis 31:1). They were clearly getting a little irritated with him. Jacob even noticed that “Laban’s attitude toward him was not what it had been” (Genesis 31:2). Even his wives seem to be getting a little fed up with their present circumstances, saying, “‘do we still have any share in the inheritance of our father’s estate? Does he not regard us as foreigners? Not only has he sold us, but he has used up what was paid for us. Surely all the wealth that God took away from our father belongs to us and our children’” (Genesis 31:15-16). All indications are that Jacob’s life will take a change in direction. The final sign comes when God himself spoke to Jacob, telling him to go back to the land of his fathers, as we see in today’s key verse. What we also see in this verse in God’s promise that he will be with Jacob as he takes this new direction.
There’s much for us to note in this verse as we seek to find God’s direction for our own lives. God had clearly been preparing Jacob for the return to his homeland for some time. It looks like God had been at work in Laban, his sons, in Jacob himself, and his wives, all preparing them for their return to Jacob’s home. Finally, Jacob received a clear direction from God that he should return. I have no doubt that God works in us and and in those around us in a similar way today. I also take great comfort from the fact that when Jacob follows God’s direction, God will be with him. This must be a good incentive for us to seek out God’s path for our own lives!
When Rachel saw that she was not bearing Jacob any children, she became jealous of her sister. So she said to Jacob, “Give me children, or I’ll die!”
Jacob became angry with her and said, “Am I in the place of God, who has kept you from having children?”
Is there something you’d really like in your life right now? Maybe you’d like a new job, one that is better paid and more fulfilling. Perhaps you’d like a partner to share your life with. Maybe you’d really like to have a child. I guess the truth is that whatever our situation, there’s always something that we would like in life. If we want something enough, we’ll do anything in our power to obtain it.
That’s what we see in the verses above. At the end of Genesis 29 we saw Jacob marry two of his cousins. He was desperately in love with Rachel, but his uncle, Laban, deceived him and he ended up marrying Rachel’s sister, Leah. In return for working for Laban, he was also given Rachel’s hand in marriage. Now we see Jacob beginning his own family. Leah had borne Jacob four sons, but Rachel had been unable to get pregnant. Not unexpectedly, she “became jealous of her sister.” Jacob could not bear to see Rachel plagued with jealousy, and “became angry with her.” Jacob understood that children, like all that we have, are a gift from God. Only God can determine if and when someone is to have children. Perhaps rather than becoming jealous, Rachel would have been better off praying to God, and asking him to bless her in the same way that he was blessing her sister Leah.
We often find ourselves getting angry because we haven’t got something that we’d like to have. Perhaps we too need to see our situation as Jacob sees Rachel’s here. Maybe rather than getting angry, we too should bring our desires to God in prayer. After all, as James writes in his letter, “every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows” (James 1:17).