Day 21: The Lion of Judah

Genesis 48-50

Key Verses

Genesis 49:8-12
Judah, your brothers shall praise you;
your hand shall be on the neck of your enemies;
your father’s sons shall bow down before you.
Judah is a lion’s cub;
from the prey, my son, you have gone up.
He stooped down; he crouched as a lion
and as a lioness; who dares rouse him?
The scepter shall not depart from Judah,
nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet,
until tribute comes to him;
and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples.
Binding his foal to the vine
and his donkey’s colt to the choice vine,
he has washed his garments in wine
and his vesture in the blood of grapes.
His eyes are darker than wine,
and his teeth whiter than milk.

These chapters mark the end of Jacob’s life and the end of Genesis. We see Jacob blessing each of his 12 sons including Joseph’s children, Ephraim and Manasseh. Each blessing draws from the son’s life and projects their past choices on their future descendants. Judah and Joseph both have the longest and most positive of all the blessings. It’s almost as if the writer of Genesis is wanting the reader to ask… “Will the promised Savior come from Judah or Joseph’s family?”

It’s interesting… this tug of war between Judah and Joseph continues through Israel’s history… When Jacob blessed Joseph’s two sons in Chapter 48, he claimed them as his own sons. After the Israelites conquered the Canaanites to reclaim the land, each son or tribe was given an allotment of land (with the exception of Levi. The Levites were given the honor of the priesthood). Both Ephraim and Manasseh received land, which ensured that Joseph’s descendants received a double portion of the inheritance. Since Jacob gave the blessing of the firstborn to the younger brother, Ephraim, it is from Ephraim’s family that we see many great leaders of Israel.

Could the promised King come from Joseph’s family? But Israel’s greatest king, David, was from the tribe of Judah. In the end, we know it was from Judah’s family that the promised Savior would come. Today’s “Key Verses” contains the blessing Jacob gave to Judah. Jesus’ name in Revelation, the Lion of Judah, came from Jacob’s blessing to Judah.

In the end, Jacob died and was buried with his fathers in Canaan. Genesis was written by Moses for the people of Israel (who had been in Egypt for over 400 years)… so that they would know their history. If you are a believer in Jesus Christ, you have been grafted into the family of Abraham, so Genesis is your family history too! We have the privilege of having seen the promise of the Savior fulfilled – but the promise to Abraham- of a land and a people – will not be completely fulfilled until the end of the age in the new heaven and new earth…

John, the writer of Revelation, writes:

And one of the elders said to me, “Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.” …And they sang a new song, saying,

“Worthy are you to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God
from every tribe and language and people and nation,
and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God,
and they shall reign on the earth.” (Revelation 5:5; 9-10).

And the people said… “Amen!”

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Day 20: My help

Genesis 46-47; Matthew 15:1-20

Key Verses

Genesis 46:3
Then [God said to Jacob], “I am God, the God of your father. Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for there I will make you into a great nation.

Matthew 15:10-11
And he called the people to him and said to them, “Hear and understand: it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person.”

Just a few points from the reading in Genesis before we concentrate on Matthew…

  • Jacob is old… and apprehensive about moving his entire family to Egypt. So before he leaves his homeland, he makes the whole caravan stop at Beersheeba in the southern tip of Canaan. God is kind to Jacob and reassures the old man that He will not leave him, and that Jacob will, at long last, see Joseph (Gen. 46:1-3).
  • The narrator lists all of Jacob’s descendants that traveled to Egypt (Gen. 46:8-27). The Hebrew people will not go back to Canaan for 400 years. When they return, they will have increased in number from 70 to approximately 2 million (Exodus 12:37)!
  • Pharaoh allows Jacob’s family to settle in Goshen, and they flourish there (Gen. 47:27). This is in contrast to the Egyptians who continue to suffer from the effects of the famine (Gen. 47:13).

Today’s reading in Matthew speaks to the hypocrisy of the Pharisees and remains relevant for us, the people of the modern-day church.

If you observe how Jesus interacts with people throughout the gospels, you will find that he is deeply compassionate to those who ask for help. Is it easy for you to ask others for help? This has always been difficult for me. In 2010, my three children and I were in a horrific automobile accident. I was knocked unconscious on impact. When I regained consciousness, our van was surrounded by dozens of emergency personnel. Never have I been more helpless than in that moment. One child was screaming, another was in shock, and the third lay lifeless, slumped, unmoving in the back seat. I could do nothing to help. I remember grabbing through the window of the van for a police officer’s hand and begging him to pray for my children. And as my eyes turned to God for help, He assured me – somehow in my Spirit – that I could rest, that He would help me.

Jesus longs to help. But  he can only help when we know we need help. In my situation, my helplessness was obvious to me because it was physical. Spiritual helplessness,on the other hand, is harder to see – because pride blinds us.

The religious rulers of Jesus’ day relied on their ability to keep the law to make them right before God. There was no humility, no brokenness, no room for failure, no need to ask for help. They didn’t understand how Jesus could associate with tax collectors and “sinners,” so they judged him and eventually came to hate him. In today’s passage, they were nitpicking and judging Jesus for not washing his hands before he ate. In other words, he was not observing the ceremonial washing tradition. Pettiness. It infuriates the savior.

Jesus called the Pharisees hypocrites…

“‘This people honors me with their lips,
but their heart is far from me;
in vain do they worship me,
teaching as doctrines the commandments of men’” (Matthew 15:8-9).

Jesus’ quote from Isaiah points out two ways in which the Pharisees were hypocritical:

  1. Their actions were merely external and didn’t reflect what was truly in their hearts and
  2. They cared more about the traditions of men than the Law of God.

In our churches today, do our external actions match the brokenness in our hearts? In appropriate situations, do we choose to be transparent and authentic in regards to our needs and failures? Or do we choose to mask our heart-ache and act like we don’t need help?

Jesus’ interactions with the Pharisees hit very close to home. Jesus’ words make me examine my heart and ask for help in rooting out the hypocrisy I find there. I am helpless to change my heart!

But.

Jesus longs to help!

Day 18: Grain and Grief

Genesis 42-43; Matthew 14:1-21

Key Verses

Genesis 41:53-54
The seven years of plenty that occurred in the land of Egypt came to an end, and the seven years of famine began to come, as Joseph had said. There was famine in all lands, but in all the land of Egypt there was bread.

Matthew 14:19-20
Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass, and taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven and said a blessing. Then he broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And they all ate and were satisfied. And they took up twelve baskets full of the broken pieces left over.

Genesis 42 begins with an abrupt change of scene. After four chapters devoted to Joseph’s life in Egypt, we suddenly are back in Canaan, and guess what? There is no food. Jacob sends all of his sons to Egypt to buy grain, but he keeps Benjamin at home – for fear that he should lose him just as he lost Joseph. Joseph and Benjamin were Rachel’s only sons. Jacob’s love for Rachel extends beyond her grave to her sons…

The dreams that Joseph had as a young boy in Canaan (Genesis 37:5-11) begin to come to pass. As his brothers come to Joseph, the governor of Egypt, to buy grain, they bow before him with their faces to the ground. The text says, “And Joseph recognized his brothers, but they did not recognize him. And Joseph remembered the dreams that he had dreamed of them” (Genesis 42:8).

These two chapters begin the dramatic story of reconciliation. Joseph cautiously conceals his identity from his brothers, and he chooses to speak with them through an interpreter. He understands them when they talk of remorse over what they had done to him years earlier, and he must turn away so they do not see him weeping. Moved with compassion he sends his brothers away with grain but devises a plan for them to return with his younger brother, Benjamin. And much to Jacob’s distress, the brothers return to Egypt a 2nd time with Benjamin in tow.

This story is tense with emotion as it builds to Joseph revealing himself to his brothers in Chapter 45. Today’s reading in Matthew is also wrought with emotion. Jesus, having just learned that John the Baptist was beheaded, seeks to grieve and pray alone… But the crowds won’t let him, and continue to follow him. The familiar story of Jesus feeding the 5,000 takes on a new light when you read it in the context of Jesus’ grief over John the Baptist. The time that Jesus spends with the crowds amid his difficult circumstances only serves to magnify His compassion.

Both readings end in the middle of a story… So, until tomorrow… :-)

Day 14: Jacob’s Turning

Genesis 31-35

Key Verses

Genesis 35:10-12
And God said to him, “Your name is Jacob; no longer shall your name be called Jacob, but Israel shall be your name.” So he called his name Israel. And God said to him, “I am God Almighty: be fruitful and multiply. A nation and a company of nations shall come from you, and kings shall come from your own body. The land that I gave to Abraham and Isaac I will give to you, and I will give the land to your offspring after you.”

These chapters in Genesis weave a tantalizing story. It’s character driven and full of action. There’s intrigue, rape, slaughter, reconciliation – but ultimately it’s the story of Jacob – finally turning to God.

Background: This story begins in Bethel. Jacob had just cheated Esau out of Isaac’s blessing and was running for his life – fleeing north to his mother’s family. On his way, he spent the night in Bethel, and God met with him there in a dream – a dream of a ladder to heaven (Genesis 28). In the dream, God appeared to him and promised to be with him and bless him. Jacob awoke and made a promise… with a condition – that if God would bless him, he would return to Bethel and worship Him there.

20+ years later… Jacob is a changed man. He is humbled by the trickery and harsh treatment from his Uncle Laban, but despite Jacob’s hardships, God had blessed Jacob with wives and children and many herds and flocks. Jacob manages to escape his Uncle Laban and begins the journey south toward home. However, his changed heart convinces him that he must reconcile with an enemy.

The antagonist: At first, the writer of Genesis leads you to believe that Jacob’s main conflict is with Esau. Jacob sets his mind to reconcile with Esau and sends a messenger to him with a large peace offering. But then the messenger returns reporting that Esau is advancing with 400 men (a small army) and Jacob is terrified. Jacob drops to his knees and initiates his first recorded prayer. It is a cry for help. He sends his family and herds away to safety and spends the night, alone, waiting for his brother.

Climax: The true antagonist, the one Jacob has wrestled with his entire life, comes to Jacob in the middle of the night. Jacob and this mysterious man wrestle until morning. Jacob’s striving endures until finally, the man breaks Jacob’s hip from just the touch of his hand and Jacob realizes that this man could only be God, in human form. However, Jacob still refuses to let God go – until He blesses him. At this moment, God changes Jacob’s name to “Israel” which means “strives with God.”

Peace: Now that Jacob has reconciled with God, his relationship with Esau is reconciled as well. The brothers meet together, and part ways, at peace.

Conflict: Instead of following Esau to Seir, Jacob travels the opposite direction and settles in Shechem. Shechem is 30 miles short of Bethel, the place Jacob promised to return to if God would bless him. Stopping short of full obedience, there is only tragedy waiting for Jacob and his family as his daughter, Dinah, is raped by the prince of the land. Dinah’s brothers take revenge by slaughtering the men of Shechem.

Resolution: God appears to Jacob, and commands him to return to Bethel. Realizing that God will not accept his half-heartedness, Jacob instructs his family to remove all idols and travel to Bethel. Jacob builds an altar to God at Bethel and God blesses Jacob.

The story ends where it began – in Bethel, meeting with God. Jacob’s journey is one of transformation – but it is not perfect. God pursues Jacob, forgives Jacob and changes Jacob – and continues to pursue, forgive and change Jacob throughout his life. He was a work in progress. Aren’t we all?

Day 12: A Surprising Choice

Genesis 29-30; Matthew 10

Key Verses

Genesis 29:31
When the Lord saw that Leah was hated, he opened her womb, but Rachel was barren.

Matthew 10:39
Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.

Genesis continues with more family drama, and this story seems especially sad to me. But God, in his wisdom, knows how to bring good out of our hardships. He does this for Leah in today’s reading.

If you don’t know the story from Genesis 29, you must read it. It’s filled with bitter irony, as Jacob (the cheat) met his match in his Uncle Laban. Laban, agreed to let Jacob marry his younger daughter, Rachel (who was beautiful and whom Jacob loved) after SEVEN years of labor. After the seven, long years, the big wedding day approached and Laban tricked Jacob into marrying his older daughter, Leah (who wasn’t as beautiful as Rachel). Jacob didn’t love Leah. After a week, Laban allowed Jacob to marry Rachel too – but only if Jacob agreed to work another seven years. “And he loved Rachel more than Leah, and served Laban for another seven years” (Genesis 29:30).

This sets the stage for a bitter sister-rivalry. But God was kind to Leah… “When the Lord saw that Leah was hated, he opened her womb, but Rachel was barren (Genesis 29:31).”

Jacob chose Rachel, but God chose Leah.

Leah’s 4th son, Judah (whose name sounds like “praise”) continues the lineage of Christ.

Why Leah? Why Judah? We see throughout Scripture that God often chooses the ordinary to accomplish the extraordinary.

One of the best examples is found in Matthew 10 as Jesus appoints his disciples. Jesus didn’t choose powerful, influential men. Just look at the list of disciples in Matthew 10:2-4… They are not just ordinary; in some cases, they are lower than ordinary. Fishermen, a tax collector, a radical zealot are not the types we would choose to lead the largest religious movement in history. But God loves to surprise us.

For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God (1 Corinthians 1:26-29).

Day 11: A Royal Family

Genesis 25-28

Key Verses

Genesis 28:15
“Behold, I am with you [Jacob] and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land. For I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.”

It was God’s plan from the beginning to preserve a family from which the promised savior would come. The entire world’s survival depended on this family’s survival… All seemed lost when Cain killed Abel – but God knew that the promise would continue through Seth. We follow this family, the royal family line, through Seth and then 10 generations to Noah. It goes through Noah’s son, Shem, and then 10 generations to Abraham. And the drama heightens as we see the very family that God had chosen to carry the blessed seed – threaten God’s plan with their faithlessness. Yet, God’s faithfulness overruled.

God’s promise passed from Abraham to Isaac:

“I will be with you and will bless you, for to you and to your offspring I will give all these lands, and I will establish the oath that I swore to Abraham your father. I will multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and will give to your offspring all these lands. And in your offspring all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because Abraham obeyed my voice and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws” (Genesis 26:3-5).

Then Isaac and Rebekah had twin boys, Esau and Jacob. Which son would carry the promised seed? Isaac wanted Esau, but God’s choice was Jacob. Family dysfunction took center-stage as Rebekah manipulated, and Jacob deceived so that Isaac’s blessing was passed to Jacob instead of Esau.

It’s always been a mystery to me how God uses imperfect people to carry out his good plan. God had always planned for Jacob to receive the blessing from Isaac. And God carried out his good plan in spite of Jacob and Rebekah’s deceit and manipulation.

Jacob, whose name meant “heel-grabber” or “cheater” had spent his life striving to receive this blessing. Nancy Guthrie writes in her book The Promised One, “Jacob wanted the right things. His desire was for the blessing of being in the line of the Promised One. But there was no sign he wanted God. There was no reaching out for God but only grabbing for God’s blessings.” God, because of His faithfulness (not because of Jacob’s faith), extended His original promise that He gave to Abraham – to Jacob:

“I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac. The land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring. Your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south, and in you and your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed. Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land. For I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you” (Genesis 28:13-15).

What do I learn from these chapters?

  1. God is faithful and good.
  2. Man… not so much.

Just like Isaac, Rebekah, Jacob, and Esau, we are in desperate need of God’s grace. Thankfully, this family’s faithlessness could not thwart God’s plan to bring the promised savior. That’s good news to me…. because it teaches me that my faithlessness will not hinder God’s plans in my life – just like your faithlessness will not hinder His work in yours. He is the Lord.

Day 21: The Lion of Judah

Genesis 48-50

These chapters mark the end of Jacob’s life and the end of Genesis. We see Jacob blessing each of his 12 sons including Joseph’s children, Ephraim and Manasseh. Each blessing draws from the son’s life and projects their past choices on their future descendants. Judah and Joseph both have the longest and most positive of all the blessings. It’s almost as if the writer of Genesis is wanting the reader to ask… “Will the promised Savior come from Judah or Joseph’s family?”

It’s interesting… this tug of war between Judah and Joseph continues through Israel’s history… When Jacob blessed Joseph’s two sons in Chapter 48, he claimed them as his own sons. After the Israelites conquered the Canaanites to reclaim the land, each son or tribe was given an allotment of land (with the exception of Levi. The Levites were given the honor of the priesthood). Both Epraim and Manasseh received land, which ensured that Joseph’s descendants received a double portion of the inheritance. Since Jacob gave the blessing of the firstborn to the younger brother, Ephraim, it is from Ephraim’s family that we see many great leaders of Israel.

Could the promised King come from Joseph’s family? But Israel’s greatest king, David, was from the tribe of Judah. In the end, we know it was from Judah’s family that the promised Savior would come. Read Jacob’s blessing to Judah:

Judah, your brothers shall praise you;
your hand shall be on the neck of your enemies;
your father’s sons shall bow down before you.
Judah is a lion’s cub;
from the prey, my son, you have gone up.
He stooped down; he crouched as a lion
and as a lioness; who dares rouse him?
The scepter shall not depart from Judah,
nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet,
until tribute comes to him;
and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples.
Binding his foal to the vine
and his donkey’s colt to the choice vine,
he has washed his garments in wine
and his vesture in the blood of grapes.
His eyes are darker than wine,
and his teeth whiter than milk (Genesis 49:8-12).

In the end, Jacob died and was buried with his fathers in Canaan. Genesis was written by Moses for the people of Israel (who had been in Egypt for over 400 years)… so that they would know their history. If you are a believer in Jesus Christ, you have been grafted into the family of Abraham, so Genesis is your family history too! We have the privilege of having seen the promise of the Savior fulfilled – but the promise to Abraham- of a land and a people – will not be completely fulfilled until the end of the age in the new heaven and new earth…

John, the writer of Revelation, writes:

And one of the elders said to me, “Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.” …And they sang a new song, saying,

“Worthy are you to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God
from every tribe and language and people and nation,
and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God,
and they shall reign on the earth.” (Revelation 5:5; 9-10).

And the people said… “Amen!”

Day 20: My help

Genesis 46-47; Matthew 15:1-20

Just a few points from the reading in Genesis before we concentrate on Matthew…

  • Jacob is old… and apprehensive about moving his entire family to Egypt. So before he leaves his homeland, he makes the whole caravan stop at Beersheeba in the southern tip of Canaan. God is kind to Jacob and reassures the old man that He will not leave him, and that Jacob will, at long last, see Joseph (Gen. 46:1-3).
  • The narrator lists all of Jacob’s descendants that traveled to Egypt (Gen. 46:8-27). The Hebrew people will not go back to Canaan for 400 years. When they return, they will have increased in number from 70 to approximately 2 million (Exodus 12:37)!
  • Pharaoh allows Jacob’s family to settle in Goshen, and they flourish there (Gen. 47:27). This is in contrast to the Egyptians who continue to suffer from the effects of the famine (Gen. 47:13).

Today’s reading in Matthew speaks to the hypocrisy of the Pharisees and remains relevant for us, the people of the modern-day church.

If you observe how Jesus interacts with people throughout the gospels, you will find that he is deeply compassionate to those who ask for help. Is it easy for you to ask others for help? This has always been difficult for me. In 2010, my three children and I were in a horrific automobile accident. I was knocked unconscious on impact. When I regained consciousness, our van was surrounded by dozens of emergency personnel. Never have I been more helpless than in that moment. One child was screaming, another was in shock, and the third lay lifeless, slumped, unmoving in the back seat. I could do nothing to help. I remember grabbing through the window of the van for a police officer’s hand and begging him to pray for my children. And as my eyes turned to God for help, He assured me – somehow in my Spirit – that I could rest, that He would help me.

Jesus longs to help. But  he can only help when we know we need help. In my situation, my helplessness was obvious to me because it was physical. Spiritual helplessness,on the other hand, is harder to see – because pride blinds us.

The religious rulers of Jesus’ day relied on their ability to keep the law to make them right before God. There was no humility, no brokenness, no room for failure, no need to ask for help. They didn’t understand how Jesus could associate with tax collectors and “sinners,” so they judged him and eventually came to hate him. In today’s passage, they were nitpicking and judging Jesus for not washing his hands before he ate. In other words, he was not observing the ceremonial washing tradition. Pettiness. It infuriates the savior.

Jesus called the Pharisees hypocrites…

“‘This people honors me with their lips,
but their heart is far from me;
in vain do they worship me,
teaching as doctrines the commandments of men’” (Matthew 15:8-9).

Jesus’ quote from Isaiah points out two ways in which the Pharisees were hypocritical:

  1. Their actions were merely external and didn’t reflect what was truly in their hearts and
  2. They cared more about the traditions of men than the Law of God.

In our churches today, do our external actions match the brokenness in our hearts? In appropriate situations, do we choose to be transparent and authentic in regards to our needs and failures? Or do we choose to mask our heart-ache and act like we don’t need help?

Jesus’ interactions with the Pharisees make me uncomfortable because they hit too close to home. Jesus words make me examine my heart and ask for help in rooting out the hypocrisy I find there. I am helpless to change my heart!

But.

Jesus longs to help!

Day 18: Grain and Grief

Genesis 42-43; Matthew 14:1-21

The seven years of plenty that occurred in the land of Egypt came to an end, and the seven years of famine began to come, as Joseph had said. There was famine in all lands, but in all the land of Egypt there was bread (Genesis 41:53-54).

Genesis 42 begins with an abrupt change of scene. After four chapters devoted to Joseph’s life in Egypt, we suddenly are back in Canaan, and guess what? There is no food. Jacob sends all of his sons to Egypt to buy grain, but he keeps Benjamin at home – for fear that he should lose him just as he lost Joseph. Joseph and Benjamin were Rachel’s only sons. Jacob’s love for Rachel extends beyond her grave to her sons…

The dreams that Joseph had as a young boy in Canaan (Genesis 37:5-11) begin to come to pass. As his brothers come to Joseph, the governor of Egypt, to buy grain, they bow before him with their faces to the ground. The text says, “And Joseph recognized his brothers, but they did not recognize him. And Joseph remembered the dreams that he had dreamed of them” (Genesis 42:8).

These two chapters begin the dramatic story of reconciliation. Joseph cautiously conceals his identity from his brothers, and he chooses to speak with them through an interpreter.  He understands them when they talk of remorse over what they had done to him years earlier, and he has to turn away so they do not see him weeping. Moved with compassion he sends  his brothers away with grain but devises a plan for them to return with his younger brother, Benjamin. And much to Jacob’s distress, the brothers return to Egypt a 2nd time with Benjamin in tow.

This story is tense with emotion as it builds to Joseph revealing himself to his brothers in Chapter 45. Today’s reading in Matthew is also wrought with emotion. Jesus, having just learned that John the Baptist was beheaded, seeks to grieve and pray alone… But the crowds won’t let him, and continue to follow him. The familiar story of Jesus feeding the 5,000 takes on a new light when you read it in the context of Jesus’ grief over John the Baptist. The time that Jesus spends with the crowds in the midst of his difficult circumstances only serves to magnify His compassion.

Both readings end in the middle of a story… So, until tomorrow… :-)

Day 14: Jacob’s turning

Genesis 31-35

These chapters in Genesis weave a tantalizing story. It’s character driven, but not void of action. There’s intrigue, rape, slaughter, reconciliation – but ultimately it’s the story of Jacob – finally turning to God.

Background: This story begins in Bethel. Jacob had just cheated Esau out of Isaac’s blessing and is running for his life – fleeing north to his mother’s family. On his way, he spends the night in Bethel, and God meets with him there in a dream – a dream of a ladder to heaven (Genesis 28). In the dream, God appears to him and promises to be with him and bless him. Jacob awakes and makes a promise… with a condition – that if God blesses him, he will return to Bethel and worship Him there.

20+ years later… Jacob is a changed man. He is humbled by the trickery and harsh treatment from his Uncle Laban, but despite Jacob’s hardships, God has blessed Jacob with wives and children and many herds and flocks. Jacob manages to escape his Uncle Laban and begins the journey south toward home. However, his changed heart convinces him that he must reconcile with an enemy.

The antagonist: At first, the writer of Genesis leads you to believe that Jacob’s main conflict is with Esau. Jacob sets his mind to reconcile with Esau and sends a messenger to him with a large peace offering. But then the messenger returns reporting that Esau is on his way with 400 men (a small army) and Jacob is terrified. Jacob drops to his knees and initiates his first recorded prayer. It is a cry for help. He sends his family and herds away to safety and spends the night, alone, waiting for his brother.

Climax: The true antagonist, the one Jacob has wrestled with his entire life comes to Jacob in the middle of the night. Jacob and this mysterious man wrestle until morning. Jacob’s striving endures until finally the man breaks Jacob’s hip from just the touch of his hand and Jacob realizes that this man could only be God, in human form. However, Jacob still refuses to let God go – until He blesses him. At this moment, God changes Jacob’s name to “Israel” which means “strives with God.”

Peace: Now that Jacob has reconciled with God, his relationship with Esau is reconciled as well. The brothers meet together, and part ways, at peace.

Conflict: Instead of following Esau to Seir (as he told Esau he would do), Jacob, newly transformed, chooses a shorter route to Shechem. There is only trouble waiting for Jacob and his family there as his daughter, Dinah, is raped by the prince of the land, and Dinah’s brothers take revenge by slaughtering the men of Shechem.

Resolution: God appears to Jacob, and commands him to return to Bethel. Realizing that God will not accept his half-heartedness, Jacob instructs his family to remove all idols – and they travel to Bethel. Jacob builds an altar to God at Bethel and God blesses Jacob.

The story ends where it began – in Bethel, meeting with God. Jacob’s journey is one of transformation – but it is not perfect. God pursues Jacob, forgives Jacob and changes Jacob – and continues to purse, forgive and change Jacob throughout his life. He was a work in progress. Aren’t we all?