In Genesis 28-30 we see how God continues the blessing of Abraham through Jacob. Isaac affirms the Abrahamic Covenant to Jacob and then sends him away both to escape the enmity of Esau and to find a wife through whom progeny would come. Esau and Jacob represent not only two nations (Edom and Israel) but contrasting destinies of cursing and blessing. As Malachi later records God’s disposition to both: “Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated.” Jacob is a recipient of and a believer in the Abrahamic blessing; while Esau in unbelief rejects the Abrahamic blessings.
However, as the story of Jacob ensues, we begin to wonder how someone as unlovely and unlovable as Jacob can be the bearer of the promise. He often uses trickery (as his name ‘heel-clutcher’ implies) to get what God has already promised. He often depends on his own strength and cleverness instead of depending on God. Nevertheless, on the way to Mesopotamia God meets him at Bethel and assures him of blessing. While in Mesopotamia he struggles with bickering wives, separation from his parents, his flight from Esau, and uncles and cousins who are self-serving; nevertheless, while there God blesses him with wives, possessions, and children. Geerhardus Vos comments on why the questionable character of Jacob is so prominent:
“This is done in order to show that the divine grace is not the reward for but the source of noble traits. Grace overcoming human sin and transforming human nature is the keynote of the revelation here.”
The Jacob narrative both humbles and encourages us as we labor in the city. We are aware of our own predisposition to find shortcuts or self-contrived means to experience to satisfy the longing of our souls. Though we have God’s Word in the Gospel, our hearts love the lie that God’s promise in the gospel isn’t enough, so we must become clever in helping ourselves and others to find that for which their souls long. Urban centers attract people and institutions who have Jacob-like strategies for gaining the blessing of God. And, urban centers are filled with desperate people who are ready to believe the lie. As we serve in the city, we seek to be aware of the grace we need to faithfully look to the promise of the gospel and we seek to be faithful, not clever, in pointing others to the ONE who alone can satisfy the longing of their soul. Along the way, though like Jacob we slip and fall, we experience a God who is faithful and whose grace overwhelms our failures.
Genesis 25:12-27:46 reminds us that God is faithful to fulfill his covenant promises despite human unfaithfulness. Isaac shows a similar failure of faith, as did his father. He lies about Rebecca being his wife and instead of blessing the nations, he arouses disdain from them. Yet, despite Isaac’s unfaithfulness, the Lord blesses him and causes him to prosper. He recovers numerous wells that his father had dug and digs new ones, making his mark as he sojourns in the land of promise. In the land of promise he builds an altar and worships, calling upon the name of YAHWEH. Isaac’s sojourn in the land of promise it twice threatened both by famine and disputes with Abimelech and his herdsmen. Nevertheless, God encourages him to remain in the land of promise and twice reaffirms to him the promise given to Abraham. Isaac and Rebecca give birth to Jacob and Esau.
Though Esau is the firstborn, Jacob is chosen of God to be the bearer of the Abrahamic promise. Esau later confirms God’s choice showing his disregard for the birthright by selling his firstborn rights for a meal to Jacob. Esau also shows his disregard for covenantal life by marrying two women who displeased his parents. Though the birthright and the Abraham blessing belong to Jacob, he yet resorts to chicanery and deception to obtain the blessing from Isaac. Nevertheless, in grace to Jacob God affirms that the Abrahamic promise will come through his offspring.
Our faithfulness, as God’s covenant people, is often tested. The rest that was expected in the land was only partially realized by the patriarchs. This “rest” in the land anticipated “rest” in Jesus Christ (Matt 11:28-30). This rest is semi-realized in the believers present experience in Christ (Heb 4:3), yet it awaits a more consummate fulfillment (Heb 4:9) in the New Creation. Our rest is sometimes threatened by natural elements (famine) and relational conflict (Abimelech’s herdsmen).
This is especially true in urban ministry. The natural and relational elements of city living are often more adverse due to the increased diversity, density, and depravity of the city. The corrupt politics, the deteriorating infrastructures, the inefficient government services, and the depleted availability of goods and services (especially in poor neighborhoods) aim to disturb the rest (landedness) we have found in Christ. We are often faced with the question faced by the patriarchs: Do we seek to find that rest in some other place than in Christ or do we endure those challenges to that rest by believing that God’s promise is secure in Christ? We bring blessing to the nations, neither by our own self-protective designs, nor by flight from the difficulties of life. We do not need to contrive means to secure the blessing of God in Christ. It is a gift of God’s grace. We bring blessing to the nations by looking in faith to God’s promise in Christ – abiding in Him and enjoying the rest He offers.