And Jacob worshipped as he leaned on the top of his staff (Gen. 47:31).
Even while Esau was out hunting his father’s favourite wild game, Jacob and Rebecca slaughtered and cooked two choice young goats. Jacob served these to Isaac, pretending to be Esau, stealing Esau’s blessing.
And so mercy triumphs over justice. The deep magic from before the dawn of time.
Jacob recovers Joseph; Esau was, in fact, blessed.
* * *
For myself, I want to sow good seed for the rest of my life.
But the bad seed I have sown? The things I am ashamed of? The things I did because of my small, bewildered, wounded heart?
I confess them.
I ask God’s forgiveness. I ask Christ’s blood to cover them.
And I step into the waterfall of mercy, the mercy that triumphs over justice because the One who loves the world is good.
I ask him to let all the bad seeds I’ve sown, which are still dormant, die.
And I ask him for grace to overplant much good seed to crowd out the bad seed.
And I ask him, the ultimate genetic engineer, to somehow, even now, change the DNA of the bad seed I’ve planted, and bring good from them.
And I place my life and future in His hands.
Holly Grantham kindly hosted this. Thanks Holly.
I am reading the story of Jacob in Genesis.
Jacob was in a most unpromising position to make a fortune.
“Name your wages,” Laban said, and Jacob did, modest ones: the streaked and speckled sheep and goats, and dark sheep (Gen 31-32). (Sheep were normally pure white, and goats pitch black).
Laban agreed, but then removed all the streaked or spotted or specked goats, and all the dark lambs, and put them in the care of his sons, a three days’ journey from Jacob.
Who must have realized, of course, but uses his own selective breeding to create his own strong speckled flocks which he too keeps separate, so growing exceedingly prosperous.
Laban changes his wages ten times (Gen 31:7) but still God ensures that the strong lambs and kids born had the colouring of those promised to Jacob. He leaves with hundreds of goats, rams, camels, cows, bulls, donkey and servants
* * *
Protection from one’s enemies is one of the surprising aspects of God’s covenant and blessing of Abraham (Gen 14:20).
I guess Israel, as an embattled nation in hostile enemy territory, needed this psychological and actual protection.
Enemies are a fact of life. We make some by our own bad behaviour, alas. But some just appear like mould or fungi, through no fault of our own.
Some people are jealous of your face, some are jealous of your place, some are jealous of your lace, and some are jealous of your grace, R. T. Kendall writes.
If, however, we were unable to do the work God gave us to do, because of enemies or opposition or hostility, faith would be toothless. We would be living in a world in which men were sovereign, not God.
Even when we do suffer at the hands of our enemies, they are God’s tool to move us upwards and onwards. They provide “the kick from behind and pull from in front” which is, often, how God indicates his will. And by blocking us, they, ironically, often increase our focus on the work God has called us to do.
* * *
Are you facing hostility or opposition or difficult circumstances?
Some God will allow to strengthen your character. Some of these will ensure that you turn your eyes upwards and see what He can do despite your circumstances.
How would you ever know that God is greater than all the circumstances ringed against you, unless you experienced difficulties and his deliverance?
So there is always a way of escape I believe; a way of following God and stepping into the destiny he has called you to, even when pursuing it seems to be difficult or impossible.
Because the forces ranged against us, of circumstances, enemies or difficulties are only part of the picture.
* * *
The King of Aram sent horses and chariots and a strong force.
An army with horses and chariots had surrounded the city. “Oh no, my lord! What shall we do?” the servant asked.
“Don’t be afraid,” the prophet answered. “Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.”
And Elisha prayed, “Open his eyes, Lord, so that he may see.” Then the Lord opened the servant’s eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.
As the enemy came down toward him, Elisha prayed to the Lord, “Strike this army with blindness.” So he struck them with blindness, as Elisha had asked. (2 Kings 6).
Though you have laboured all night and caught nothing, the seas are, in fact, alive with fish. Ask the Lord where to cast your net.
Though things appear bleak and impossible, you serve the God of clever ideas, of miracles whose heart is “to set your hands free from the basket, remove the burden from your shoulders” (Psalm 81:6.)
Cast your eyes upwards. Help—good ideas, wisdom, providential circumstance, even, perhaps, a small miracle– is very likely at hand.
I would like to have been successful in everything I did the first time round. Sure, I would.
And some things I have failed in, yeah, sure, I would rather have been successful in.
However, what failure has taught me is to learn to lean.
In that way, ironically, it has brought me peace, even more perhaps than success which merely propels you up the ladder, substituting one level of hard work and stress for another.
* * * *
I am learning to substitute God-confidence for self-confidence. When faced with something challenging, I say to myself, “Well, who knows how I am going to manage that, negotiate that, keep my head above water during that, but I guess I will lean on God, and God will help me, and will tell me what to do, minute by minute.”
The Song of Songs has a beautiful line, “Who is this coming up from the desert leaning on her beloved?” (Song of Songs, 8:5).
She who has failed, who is no longer supremely self-confident, who knows she needs to lean. That’s who.
* * *
I am reading the story of Jacob in Genesis. Jacob is self-confident, tricky, unscrupulous. He’ll stop at nothing to get what he wants. He exploits Esau out of his birthright, deceives Isaac into giving him Esau’s blessing.
And all this achieves is that Jacob is now on the run from Esau, hiring himself out to his uncle Laban, who tricks him into serving seven years for Leah whom he does not want, besides the seven year for Rachel, whom he does want.
But Jacob is strong and he does it.
And Leah gives him four sons.
* * *
Jacob has been unstoppable. Smart, strong, hardworking, tricky, manipulative.
Had God not intervened, Jacob would, in fact, have been condemned to a hard life of getting everything he wanted through cleverness or trickery or hard work. What a treadmill!
So God, for now, does not allow Rachel to bear children.
* * *
And Jacob is faced with something hard, something inexorable which he could not get around by trickery, or deceit or even hard work.
He is faced with his powerlessness in all the really huge things—such as life itself.
And in despair, Rachel says, “Give me children, or I’ll die.”
And Jacob became angry with her and said, “Am I in the place of God who has kept you from having children?” (Gen 30:2).
* * *
And this perhaps is a turning point in the story of Jacob.
He has reached a barrier which neither charm, nor guile, nor hard work could cross.
He needed God, and acknowledges his need for him.
And from this point, his story begins to turn.
* * *
All his trickery achieved was that instead of gaining Esau’s birthright, he had to run away from home with just the clothes on his back, fleeing from Esau’s wrath.
But now, broken, he acknowledges his powerlessness and need for God.
And God begins to bless him. Though his bumbling experiments with cattle breeding have no basis in science, God allowed them to succeed (Gen 30).
By the end of the chapter, we are told, “Jacob became exceedingly prosperous, and came to own large flocks, and maidservants and menservants and camels and donkeys.” (Gen 30:43).
He has moved from the realm of addition, of what we can achieve with our puny efforts, to the realm of multiplication, of what can happen if God steps in to bless us.
* * *
Not everyone comes to the end of themselves, to the end of their resources to make things happen, to the point of exhaustion, when you throw your weapons down in helplessness.
For me, reaching that point has consistently opened the door to better things, to learning to listen and lean.
My first business, embarked in 2006, with enthusiasm, but without much prayer, was unsustainably exhausting. It was through desperate prayer, that, in 2007, I “heard” God whisper the idea for a new business, which now supports our family.
And, in 2006, my memoir had reached top agents in the UK and the US, but each wanted changes, and I didn’t know how to make them, and had lost enthusiasm and love for the project, and so laid writing down, to found a business so my girls could go to the very academic private school I judged right for them.
I resumed writing in 2010, after “hearing” God suggest blogging, and the pressure of writing every day in public smashed my perfectionism about writing, my fear of writing anything that was not unassailable, my preciousness, my fear of criticism.
When I first started, a mean reader at a Writers’ Conference criticised the grammatical structure of a sentence, and I lost confidence, more so when a powerful woman assailed my style, (along with lots of praise, but the criticism froze me). Now when my writing is criticised, I no longer take it personally. I say “Yeah,” and fix it. Or “Yeah,” and leave it.
I am constantly putting my writing in God’s hands, again and again, because it is the easiest thing to take out of his hands. But in his hands, it has the possibility to reach more people, and do more good than it ever would in my own hands, so take it, Lord Jesus, bless it.
I am reading the story of Jacob in Genesis. God tells Rebecca who was pregnant with twins, “The older will serve the younger.”
When we meet the twins in Genesis 26, Esau, “a skilful hunter,” comes in famished, and wants Jacob’s red stew. Jacob, “a quiet man, staying among the tents,” driving an exploitative bargain, demands Esau’s birthright, traditionally a double portion of the inheritance, in exchange for the bowl of lentil stew.
Isaac was “very wealthy. He had many flocks and herds and servants.” (Gen 27:25). So Esau is asked to give his extra third of all this to Jacob for a bowl of aromatic stew. In his impulsivity, he agrees.
* * *
A cruel bargain, but not a deceitful one. What is cruel and deceitful is how Jacob later takes advantage of blind Isaac, and pretends to be Esau to steal his blessing, wearing Esau’s clothes, passing off choice young goats from their flock, skilfully prepared by Rebecca, as game caught and cooked by Esau.
And despite his misgivings, “Your voice is the voice of Jacob,” Isaac blesses Jacob with the blessing he had intended for Esau
“May God gives you of heaven’s dew,
and of earth’s richness—
An abundance of grain and new wine.
Be Lord over your brothers
And may the sons of your mother bow down to you.”
Jacob no sooner leaves than Esau enters, with game he had killed himself, tastily prepared.
“Isaac trembled violently, “Your brother came deceitfully, and took your blessing. I blessed him and indeed he will be blessed.”
Esau “burst out with a loud and bitter cry,” ‘Bless me—me too, my father. Do you have only one blessing, my father? Bless me too my father.’ And Esau wept aloud.”
His father answered him
“Your dwelling will be away from the earth’s riches
And you will serve your brother
But when you grow restless,
You will throw his yoke from off your neck.”
* * *
And then what happened?
* * *
God did not allow this trickery to prosper.
Blessing comes from God. Parental blessings are only prayers to God to bless children. As such, there is power in them. But not magic. If our blessings of our children determined their destinies, the world would be full of Einsteins, Leonardos, Shakespeares, Michael Phelps and Bill Gates.
Furious at his deceit, Esau plans to kill Jacob, and Jacob flees, living in exile for 20 years, as a hired man, serving Laban.
Esau, meanwhile, built up his own wealth, staying home as a rich man’s son. “I have plenty, my brother,” he tells the returning Jacob (Gen 33:9).
And Esau uses family wealth for the bride price of his three wives, whereas Jacob worked as a hired man for fourteen years for his two wives, one of whom he did not love or want.
“Be Lord over your brother and may the sons of your mother bow down to you,” was the blessing Isaac meant to give Esau, and Jacob “stole.”
However, when he returns, it is Jacob who bows to Esau and calls him Lord–always the blessing Isaac had intended for Esau.
“Jacob bowed down to the ground seven times as he approached Esau.” (Gen 33:3). He introduces his children, “They are the children God has graciously given your servant.”
He sends Esau a gift of “two hundred female goats, and twenty male goats, two hundred eyes and twenty rams, thirty female camels with their young, forty cows and ten bulls, and twenty female donkeys and ten male donkeys.” The servants are to say, “They belong to your servant Jacob and are a gift sent to my Lord, Esau.”
Jacob insists, “Please accept the present that was brought to you. They are to find favour in your eyes, my Lord.” (The Hebrew word berakah means both blessing and gift or present.) “And because Jacob insisted, Esau accepted.”
So, in a sense, Jacob returns the stolen blessing and birth-right and Jacob now bows to Esau, and the wealth he has gained goes to serve his brother, which were the blessings Isaac had intended for Esau.
And Jacob gets the blessing/curse that Isaac sadly gave Esau. “Your dwelling will be away from the earth’s riches ( he was a hired man for twenty years). And you will serve your brother (which he does with his massive gift). But when you grow restless, you will throw his yoke from off your neck,” as Jacob does by refusing to follow Esau to Seir but instead settling in Succoth and later in Hebron.
* * *
What were the result of Jacob’s attempts to manipulate Esau’s birthright and blessing away from him?
He had to run away from his home. He never saw his mother again. Deceived, he worked seven years for an older daughter he did not love or want, and another seven years for the beautiful daughter he did. He worked for 20 years as a hired man, frequently cheated (Gen 30:35-36; Gen 31:7). He gave a good portion of his wealth to Esau.
God did not allow his trickery to prosper. Esau got the blessing Isaac mistakenly gave Jacob. He gets earth’s richness and abundance; Jacob bows down to him and calls him Lord. Jacob gets the “blessing” Isaac sadly gave Esau—he lives away from the richness of Canaan for 20 years, his labour serves his brother, and he eventually shakes him off.
* * *
However, just before meeting Esau again, Jacob is blessed by God in a dramatic encounter by the Jabbok River which left him limping and in no doubt that blessing comes from God, not from our intrigues, manipulations or even hard work.
And he enters Canaan, the land of blessing, once he is “broken.” He now limps, leaning on Him who had always intended to bless him, and would have done so far more rapidly, had Jacob not tried to help him out with his own manipulations.
And from that second blessing, the blessing of God, not the stolen one, all subsequent goodness in his life would flow.
* * *
So Jacob, running from murderous Esau whom he has cruelly and unscrupulously deceived, rests at Bethel.
And in his dream, he sees a stairway between heaven and earth, with the angels of God ascending and descending on it. And at the top, stood the Lord, who speaks blessing and encouragement.
And Jacob says, “How awesome is this place. This is the house of God; this is the gate of heaven.”
“Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it.”
* * *
Jacob is in a fix. He has stolen Esau’s birthright, by taking advantage of his hunger and weak character. And then, taking advantage of Isaac’s blindness, he pretended to be Esau, stealing the blessing Isaac intended for him. He is now running for his life from Esau. He will never see his parents again, never return home.
And in the midst of this self-caused tragedy, God meets him, and blesses him.
* * *
When are we most likely to be unaware of the presence of the Lord?
When we are in the land of suffering.
I am working through Donald Miller’s StoryLine.
Step 1: We plot out our life to date, as if were a movie script, or the outline of a novel or memoir, assigning a positive or negative value to each event.
Step 2. We try to see if something good, something redemptive has come out of all the negative plot turns.
We make two lists for each negative event. Along with the list of catastrophic things, we make a list of the good things which emerged from the event.
* * *
Viktor Frankl, the Austrian psychiatrist, founder of Logotherapy, helped thousands of patients heal as he helped them see the good, positive, and beneficial things which came to them or others because of their greatest sufferings.
In fact, once people see the good which has come out of their sufferings, they no longer view it as suffering.
Donald Miller writes, “I now claim what I used to see as tragedies as honest gifts from God. Still painful, but redeemed.
* * *
Doing the exercise was eye-opening for me. I found myself assigning positive values to the most painful, disappointing and traumatic things that happened to me because I now, in middle age, can see the good which came out of them.
Some of the best things in my life have come out of some of the worst things, out of failure, humiliation, shame, and loneliness.
In fact now, there is nothing I assign a straight negative score to, for each of these “plot turns” has led to so much good.
* * *
Here are some of my plot twists:
1) I was “the naughtiest girl in school” in my first school run by local nuns, and got expelled at 8. Who gets expelled at eight? Apparently, I!
As a result, I went to a boarding school, run by German and Iris nuns in Nainital, in the Himalayas, receiving a rather more cosmopolitan education than I would have got in my small Indian town. Boarding school was a calm and very disciplined environment, with set hours for study and reading. I read hungrily and left relatively well-read, having read hundreds of books.
2) After my undergraduate degree in English at Somerville College, Oxford, I was offered a place for a Ph.D in English at Oxford, contingent on getting a First.
I did not, and was overwhelmed with shame.
Instead, I went on to graduate school in the US, earning an MA, and then some of a Ph.D in English and Creative Writing, before quitting that to get married.
I would never have gone to America on my own, but having lived there 17 years, I am as comfortable with Americans as with Brits; have a sort of Anglo-American sensibility; and, psychologically, live mid-Atlantic, which is an asset in the blogosphere.
3) I was so depressed after the rejection of a manuscript in 1996 that I diagnosed myself as “sick,” and decided I needed a physican. I committed to 90 minutes a day of prayer and Bible study.
That practice has changed who I am, and the course and events of my life more than anything else.
4) After a painful conflict (about a group I was leading), I withdrew for a few years from active involvement in church life and politics (though not from church services), pouring my energy first into establishing a stable family business, then into blogging.
The redirection of energy, away from leading Bible studies which I did for over ten years into writing , proved a blessing to me. And I left that church, SO toxic for me, for a grown-up, emotionally healthy church.
A few examples of “negative turns” eventually bringing many blessings my life.
It makes me more convinced that God is definitely working through my life, working through its plot, bringing good out of all the plot twists.
That He was there in each plot twist, though I might not have been aware of it.
Blessed are the broken,
Blessed are the failures,
Who set out to do glorious things
Everest, Antarctica… higher, faster, stronger, first
Whose bright promise was praised
And they believed their press.
Who have schemed and striven and intrigued,
Only to find themselves with empty hands
After they wrestle though the night with the Mysterious One
Whose face they cannot see,
Who will not share his name,
Refusing to let him go unless he blesses them.
And then he does.
And this is the blessing:
He wrenches the tendon of the hip
So that, ever after, one walks with a limp.
Ah, what kind of blessing is this?
You have disabled me.
I will never run again.
Climbs will exhaust me.
I will have to leave shepherding to others.
And this was the blessing:
You slowed me down.
I can no longer walk miles
I have to be deliberate about where I walk.
I tire easily.
I have to choose my projects carefully
For I can now do so few of them.
I will forever limp through life:
And that is my blessing!!
Limping, slow enough to see beauty.
Walking at a child’s pace,
Slow enough to listen.
No more running, no more sprinting
Just limping, at this slow, measured pace,
My routes considered carefully.
I will now always need to ask for help
From the Nameless Great One who crippled me
Because I have to!
I cannot manage without it.
My limp sets me free
From having to climb, scale, ascend
I have time for people.
Delivered from running,
from the possibility of ever running,
I will now limp though
an examined, reflective, contemplative life,
keeping pace with the slowest of these, the youngest of these,
with Joseph, with Benjamin,
learning, at last, to love.