Slideshow image

Year 1, Week 6, Day 4

I have a brief observation for today’s reading of Genesis 35-36.

Today’s reading completes a unit of thought that began in Genesis 25. Before the new unit begins with Genesis 37, Genesis 35-36 has the feeling of miscellany, and brings a few matters to a close. Today’s reading: (a) records another encounter between the LORD and Jacob at Bethel, while mentioning the death of Rebekah’s nurse, Deborah; (b) notes the deaths of Rachel and Isaac, while also noting that Rachel had another son, Benjamin, and while Reuben, Jacob’s oldest son, slept with one of his father’s concubines; and (c) ends with an extended genealogy of Esau. Before Genesis shifts its attention to Joseph, several matters that have relevance to Jacob are wrapped up.

What struck me the most from today’s reading was what it reveals about the LORD’s focus to carry out His covenant plans and promises. Once again, features of the covenant, made with Abraham, come up in Jacob’s life: “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.” (Genesis 35:11b-12). In fact, things reaching all the way back to Adam and Noah re-emerge: “And God said to him, “I am God Almighty: be fruitful and multiply.” (Genesis 35:11a). The LORD just keeps bringing these things up, for the LORD is being clear about what He is up to. The LORD will have a people living in a land, with whom He will dwell: “He remembers his covenant forever, the word that he commanded, for a thousand generations, the covenant that he made with Abraham,  his sworn promise to Isaac, which he confirmed to Jacob as a statute, to Israel as an everlasting covenant, saying, “To you I will give the land of Canaan. as your portion for an inheritance.” (Psalm 105:8-11). These plans and promises will continue to be stated throughout the Old Testament, and will begin finding their truest fulfillments as the New Testament unfolds. Jacob is not to forget what the LORD has purposed to do, He will do: "Remember the wondrous works that he has done…O offspring of Abraham, his servant, children of Jacob, his chosen ones!” (Psalm 105:5-6).

The placement of another encounter between Jacob and the LORD underscores something vital to the outworking of God’s plans. The LORD’s meeting with Jacob at Bethel, for now the second time, is a bracketing event in Jacob’s life. The LORD first met with Jacob at Bethel as Jacob fled Esau, but prior to his arrival at Laban’s house (see Genesis 28:10-22). Now, as Jacob is older and away from Laban, this second meeting refocuses on what the LORD has promised, even as it clarifies additional features. Things have changed in Jacob’s life, but God’s purposes have remained the same: “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.” (Hebrews 10:23). Jacob is brought back into the land of his fathers, just in time for a burial: “And Jacob came to his father Isaac at Mamre, or Kiriath-arba (that is, Hebron), where Abraham and Isaac had sojourned. Now the days of Isaac were 180 years. And Isaac breathed his last, and he died and was gathered to his people, old and full of days. And his sons Esau and Jacob buried him.” (Genesis 35:27-29).

But the placement of another encounter between Jacob and the LORD, is also connected with the encounter that Jacob had with the LORD immediately prior to Jacob’s reunion with Esau and before the confusing mess with the Shechemites unfolded. The bracketing of encounters between the LORD and Jacob from Genesis 32 and now Genesis 35 further underscores how resolute the LORD is to accomplish His purpose through His people, in spite of their present moral and spiritual state. There is not one reference to the LORD in Genesis 34, as Jacob and his sons each, in their own way, attempt to resolve matters apart from the LORD. The moral debacle with the Shechemites, while complex, is not complicated. In spite of being recipients of the LORD’s covenant plans and promises, no thought is given to the LORD. The reiteration of the covenant plans and promises in today’s reading, in the aftermath of the Shechemite incident, should remind us that the achievement of the LORD’s purposes, is not rooted in any confidence He has of what His people are capable of doing. The LORD’s plan involves His people and is for them, but will not be carried out because of them.

These observations are not meant to encourage unfaithfulness to the LORD, nor should they minimize the importance of cultivating faithfulness. But they are designed to assist us in seeing that as the LORD carries out His purposes to have a people, whom He will give a place, and be present with them, something else of major importance must get figured out. How will unfaithful people receive forgiveness before a faithful God? This answer gets progressively worked out over time as the Bible unfolds. But for now, it will suffice to say that forgiveness is needed, but also that the LORD’s continued insistence on stating His plans and purposes to a people who need forgiveness, suggests He will make a way: “But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared.” (Psalm 130:4).

What struck you in today’s reading? What questions were prompted from today’s reading?

Pastor Joe