15th Jan 2012

Abraham, Isaac and Jacob: Patriarchs

By Andy Jarvis

The story of God's salvation plan for fallen humanity does not begin with angels visiting Mary, or with prophets speaking of Messiah or even with the line of David. It begins here - God's plan to bless all the now dispersed nations of the earth begins with God's covenant, His promise to bless Abram.
The significance to Jews and Christians of the number sevenis founfd here in Genesis 12:2-3 with a 7-fold promise/blessing:
1. I will make you into a great nation.
2. I will bless you.
3. I will make your name great.
4. You will be a blessing.
5 I will bless those who bless you.
6. I will curse those who curse you.
7. All peoples on earth will be blessed through you.
The key isn't 7 - it's this last part of the covenant that 'all nations will be blessed through you.'
One question that may arise when reading these passages is the 'fairness' of God choosing one over another; Isaac over Ishmael, Jacob over Esau. The answer could be that it's God's right to choose, but that doesn't satisfy the 20th/21st century occupation with eqaulity. The point of choosing is to fulfil the purpose and the purpose is to bless all. God chooses Isaac, but makes a nation out of Ismael too - the Arabs.
God chooses Jacob, but Esau, with 400 fighting men isn't exactly scrabbling about in poverty.
Second theme of these passages: wrestling with God.
The chunks we read end with Jacob 'wrestling with God', but the wrestling runs through all the stories in Genesis.
v9 Jacob sees himself and his situation in relation to God'srevealed promises and purposes.
v10 'I am not worthy'. It's his confession of guilt. He realizes 'I began with a stick and now I have become 2 groups' and that's God's prospering.
v11 Save me from Esau.
v12 You said 'I will make your descendants like the sand of the seashore which cannot be counted.'
Having asked for help he sets his plan in motion:
5 flocks -goats, sheep, camels, cows and asses; each a gift with a servant bowing and repeating a rehearsed line 'a gift to my Lord Esau, from your humble servant Jacob'.
Surely by the fifth gift Esau's hostility will have died down. But this is not what God said Jacob would be - it's the opposite!
The wrestling that has taken place in terms of  who is master between God and this family now becomes a real wrestle (Genesis 32:22-32). Jacob wrestles a man all night. Defeated and in incredible pain Jacob clings on like a tired boxer. 'I won't let go until you bless me.' He requests a share in the might of the one who defeated him.
He is given a new name 'Israel', or 'he struggles with God'. He realizes 'I've seen the face of God! I've wrestled with God - but I'm still alive. My deception of Esau, of Laban, my choices which were against you - I'm forgiven!
In 33:1-3 a new 'Jacob' goes on ahead of his family to meet Esau. Jacob bows and waits, one man against 400 and his angry brother.
v4 Esau ran and embraced him (was this the picture Jesus saw as he told of the prodigal coming home?)
v10 'For to see you is like seeing the face of God'
-What does God look like? Forgiveness, welcome. Come back to God, Jesus paid the price.
-Wrestling with God- the struggle this family put itself through.
- The consequences - far reaching - of their determination to help God or to be God. Who holds the reins of our lives? Who is the one who should be holding them?
'Take my yoke upon you', says Jesus, 'for my yoke is easy and my burden is light.' Matthew 11:29-30
We shouldn't be wrestling with God. Let Him lead.
Finally, what stands out in these passages is the standing promise of God:
At moments of drama-
-when Pharaoh discovers that Abram is Sarai's husband
-when Sarai passes her mothering sell-by date
-when Abram raises the knife over Isaac
-when Esau wants to kill Jacob
-when Jacob finds an unexpected bride in his bed
-through three generations of wanderers prey to wilderness life and when Jacob faces 400 fighting men.
God's promise stands - Abraham is becoming a nation, from which a saviour will come, Jesus, through whom all nations on earth are being blessed.
What has God spoken over you?
It stands! No matter what.