Saturday, October 28, 2006

The Life of Jacob, Part Five

I was computer-deprived yesterday, so this Saturday edition of DD finishes my five-part on the life of Jacob. Reading it again reminds me of the limits on publishing a sermon. At one point, I gave Jacob a kind of grizzled old man accent; another place, a Yiddish accent. We all read the Blessing of Aaron togteher to "bless one another." And then there's the ad-libs! Oral communication is very different from written communication! The dates are when the messages were given at the First Baptist Church of Temple City. For more, see If you are really interested, email me regarding the PowerPoints I did for these messages: Shalom!

Finishing Well
(Genesis 46-50)
Part Five of the Series Struggling With God—
Lessons from the Life of Jacob
October 22, 2006

So now we come to the end of the story of Jacob. First, we saw him born, a fraternal twin to Esau, and given a name that means “Cheater.” We saw him live up to that name when he cheated his brother not once but twice. We saw him get cheated by his father-in-law Laban. We saw him afraid of Esau’s thirst for vengeance.

But we saw another man emerge from Jacob. A man God had his hand on, and to whom God made promises. We saw his faith grow slowly. Then the great crisis occurred, and we found Jacob wrestling with God on the bank of the Jabbok River. We saw God touch him in a way that would forever change him, and God gave him a new name that means “God-Striver”, the name Israel.

That was in Genesis 32. Then a large portion of Genesis is given over the amazing story of Jacob’s next to youngest son, Joseph. Joseph’s story fills Genesis 37-50, and is so beautifully told that some have called the Joseph story “The World’s First Novel.” Jacob becoming a supporting character in the Joseph story: the doting father who makes Joseph his “favorite” and gives him a richly ornamented robe, the “coat of many colors” as it’s called in the King James Version. Then we see him as the grieving father when it appears that Joseph is dead. (You may recall that his jealous brothers sold him into slavery to a caravan on their way to Egypt and faked his death to fool their father.)

Then he is the astonished father. About 20 years after mourning Joseph, he learns that he Joseph is still alive. The severe drought that was affecting the land of promise forced them to pack up and move to Egypt, under the protection of Joseph, who had become kind of Prime Minister of Egypt under Pharaoh.

Every twist in the road leads to another turn, and this was no exception. The family of Jacob—the growing tribes of Israel—goes off to Egypt for protection. This protection would turn into slavery within a generation. Then God raised up Moses to lead them out—some 400 years later. But that’s another story.

What we want to do is look in the closing chapters of Genesis and see the kind of man Jacob became in his later years. Did his experience with God last? Was Jacob a different man?

I know a man. He had a thriving ministry and was one of the best-known evangelical pastors in the Northeast. In his late 40s, though, he threw it away on a sordid affair—this from a man who had written books on Christian marriage and who had led countless marriage seminars. He resigned in disgrace.

He confessed it all to his wife and his closest friends. They had a little house in Loudin, New Hampshire, and the nearest evangelical church was the church I pastored in Laconia. That’s how I came to know them.

They spent about a year in a kind of spiritual exile there. I was their pastor. They would travel frequently, seeing old friends all over the country.

Near the end of the year, I was invited along with about five others to their home. What we had in common is that we were all in our 30s—the “next generation” of leadership. He talked at length about their experiences, his repentance, and what he prayed the Lord would allow him to do with the remainder of his life.

Two things he said that day have especially stayed with me. First, he emphasized the importance of finishing well. Many start well, but few finish well. He was someone who, halfway around the track, and totally fallen down and was grateful to God for the chance to get up again. He was passionate that we not fall also, and that we would finish the race well.

The second thing he said was that his prayer was that, if God granted him health, that his 80s would be the most productive period of his life. You must understand: he was only about 55 when he said this. He was taking the long view.

God worked patiently in his life, much the same way He’d worked patiently in Jacob’s life. My friend had had his own version of wrestling with God, and had also known God’s touch, which both breaks us and heals us.

Let’s look at some pictures of Jacob in his latter days. Let’s look at the last years of Jacob in terms of advice he would give us as someone who’d seen God at work in the years of his life. Here’s one who didn’t start well, but who finishes well. Very well.

I think the first piece of advice he would us is

Listen to God (Genesis 46:2-4)

Hearing that Joseph was alive, he began moving his people—his sons and their wives all and their children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren—toward Egypt. They moved from Hebron to Beersheba, where Jacob’s father Isaac had lived most of his life. And there God spoke to him. Look at Genesis 46:2-4:

2And God spoke to Israel in a vision at night and said, "Jacob! Jacob!" "Here I am," he replied.
3"I am God, the God of your father," he said. "Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for I will make you into a great nation there. 4I will go down to Egypt with you, and I will surely bring you back again. And Joseph's own hand will close your eyes."

Some people in their later years tend to hang back and say, “I did my part. Now I’m going to take it easy and let others do it all.”

There is a balance here. As we age, we have to make room for the next generation. More than that, we have an obligation to pass on everything we know. Young people aren’t so much interested in our knowledge as our experience. Nothing beats experience!

Sometimes we even go into a passive mode when it comes to God. Every year thousands of elderly people from New York and Pennsylvania and Ohio move there to retire. Vast retirement communities, far larger than Leisure World or Sun City are all over Florida; places where men play golf and women play bridge. No wonder some people call Florida: “God’s waiting room.”

The Lord doesn’t want us to just wait out the clock. He still speaks! Peter quoted the prophet Joel in Acts 2:17:

In the last days, God says,
I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
your young men will see visions,
your old men will dream dreams.

The coming of the Spirit means that God has a place and a plan for the sons and the daughters, the young and the old. “Your old men will dream dreams!” I love it!

And in Jacob’s night vision, God tells him to have no fear; that His covenant promise to turn his family into a great nation would come to pass, and that he would die in the presence of his son Joseph.

No matter what age you are, if your ears are open, listen! God is speaking to you. Take the time to listen.

Bless All (Genesis 47:7-9)

Then Jacob is reunited with his son Joseph. Imagine the scene: the clean-shaven, well-dressed, very Egyptian looking Joseph and his gray-bearded, scruffy-looking father.

Joseph has a plan. Knowing that his father’s family were all shepherds, he had his eye on a section of the Nile delta called Goshen as a good place for them to settle. So he arranges for five of the brothers to go before Pharaoh and ask for permission to settle there, which he granted. Then Joseph brought out Jacob. Let’s read the story in Genesis 47:7-9:

7Then Joseph brought his father Jacob in and presented him before Pharaoh. After Jacob blessed Pharaoh, 8Pharaoh asked him, "How old are you?"
9And Jacob said to Pharaoh, "The years of my pilgrimage are a hundred and thirty. My years have been few and difficult, and they do not equal the years of the pilgrimage of my fathers." 10Then Jacob blessed Pharaoh and went out from his presence.

There are two things very striking here: first, isn’t the humility of Jacob just amazing? If you’ve been here for all five messages, you can really see the contrast. Jacob had always been such a self-centered rascal. Now he appears content and he sees himself in perspective. “You think I’m something? You should have know my dad, or my grandpa. Those guys really lived a long time. Me? I’m a nobody. They were real menschen.”

The second striking thing is the fact that we’re told on the way in and the way out, he blessed Pharaoh. He blessed Pharaoh! Here’s this old, old shepherd, coming in on his walking stick, still limping from that night he wrestled God. There on the marble throne of Egypt sits the most powerful man on earth, the Pharaoh of Egypt.

Hebrews 7:7 says, “The lesser person is blessed by the greater.” Jacob is unimpressed by Pharaoh. His palace and his robes do not impress him. But he is grateful that his family would be allowed to settle in the fertile area of Goshen. And he remembers the God’s promise given to his grandfather Abraham: “Those who bless you I will bless.” Perhaps those were the very words of blessing Jacob blessed Pharaoh with.

To bless is a beautiful thing. This is the same Jacob would stole his brother’s blessing. Now he stands before this world ruler and gives him a blessing, something he was stingy with before. The lesson for us is to bless freely, to speak words of blessing that lift people up, and to do so as one who serves a God who loves to bless.

A blessing is never a wish: it’s a prayer announced. The most famous blessing is the Bible is found in Numbers 6:24-26:

24" `"The LORD bless you and keep you;
25the LORD make his face shine upon you
and be gracious to you;
26the LORD turn his face toward you
and give you peace." '

Be generous with your blessings as well! Bless all…the mothers and the fathers and the brothers and the sisters; bless your fellow Jesus-followers. Bless the teachers and the bosses and the people at the store. Bless the Pharaohs and the nobodies, because in God’s sight, there are no nobodies.

Pass the Baton (Genesis 48-49)

In chapters 48 and 49 of Genesis, we see the old and infirm Jacob. Joseph brings his sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, to see their grandfather. And he blesses them. Then in chapter 49, he calls all his sons in and blesses them all, all twelve one at a time.

Not only was he blessing them, he was passing the baton of the blessing onward. It was so important that they would love the God who had shown so much love to Jacob, far more than he could have imagined, infinitely more than he deserved.

We cannot guarantee what the next generation will do with the faith. Whole centuries of carelessness toward God have been part of the story of God at work. Eras of apostasy and denial of Biblical truth have plagued and interrupted the plan of God. But God is faithful, and He sees to it that the plan is never cancelled. His will must prevail.

You see that in the blessing Jacob gives his son Judah, in Genesis 49:10:

The scepter will not depart from Judah,
nor the ruler's staff from between his feet,
until he comes to whom it belongs
and the obedience of the nations is his.

It was from Judah that King David was from; it was from Judah that Jesus, the true ruler of all nations, came. God’s plan will come to pass!

Finally, at the very end of chapter 49, we read of the death of Jacob, and the lesson for us is…

Face death with faith (Genesis 49:29-33)

29Then he gave them these instructions: "I am about to be gathered to my people. Bury me with my fathers in the cave in the field of Ephron the Hittite, 30the cave in the field of Machpelah, near Mamre in Canaan, which Abraham bought as a burial place from Ephron the Hittite, along with the field. 31There Abraham and his wife Sarah were buried, there Isaac and his wife Rebekah were buried, and there I buried Leah. 32The field and the cave in it were bought from the Hittites."

33When Jacob had finished giving instructions to his sons, he drew his feet up into the bed, breathed his last and was gathered to his people.

Death is not a natural part of life. We were designed to live forever. But until Christ comes again, it is a reality of life.

Jacob was prepared to die. He had his own “plot”, not at Forest Lawn or Rose Hills, but in the cave at Machpelah, near Hebron in southern Israel. The tombs there are preserved in a structure built by King Herod to the present day. After making his burial requests known, “he drew his feet up into the bed, breathed his last and was gathered to his people.”

He died, knowing that he was both going to his rest, and on a journey. He’d spoken of the years of his life as being both “few and difficult.” Now, the struggle is over. The glimpse he had of God’s face when he wrestled with him was over. As Paul put it, “Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face.” (1 Corinthians 13:12) This world dissolved at God’s presence came into full view. All the promises were true. And if in heaven you can cry, he cried for joy.

Jacob’s story is not the story of a perfect man. It’s the story of a deeply flawed man that God loved and pursued all his life. It’s our story too. We can be stubborn, stupid and slow, and yet God still loves us and comes after us.

As we close, I’m going to ask that we take a minute or two of complete silence. In that time, just come before God and say, “Where am I in the story?” Are you still trying to run your life on your own terms? Maybe instead you’re right in the middle of your own wrestling match with God. Are you blessing others? Are you passing on your faith to the next generation? Are you facing death with faith? (Those questions are on your message outline to assist you in your reflection.) I’ll lead us in prayer and then we’ll give you time to pray and think before moving to our offering and closing.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The Life of Jacob, Part Five TIMES SIX! Too many times of the same entry