This past Sunday, the Sunday School lesson was about Jacob receiving the blessing from Isaac (Genesis 27, LifeWay’s Explore the Bible curriculum). The blessing was intended for the firstborn (Esau) as was the custom of the day, but God told Rebekah (the mother) that the older would serve the younger (Gen 25.23).
The story has many elements to it. We are reminded that Isaac was the younger brother of Ishmael (both born to Abraham whose wife was also barren – at least for a while). We see the challenge of when parents play favorites with their children (Gen 25.28). We see that Isaac followed in his father Abraham’s footsteps by lying to protect himself (compare Gen 26.7 with Gen 20.2, in the same land, and perhaps the same king!). And we see Jacob following with his own pattern of lying in the story where he receives the blessing. But we also see that Isaac quoted the same blessing (almost verbatim) to Jacob that God has given to Abram (end of Gen 27.29; Gen 12.3) so the blessing had been passed down well (and Jacob would bless his children too – see Gen 49).
Perhaps the biggest issue in this story is that Rebekah helped Jacob deceive his father. Jacob followed his mother’s instructions, but in doing so dishonored his father (and twin brother). And the issue is that God had promised Esau would serve Jacob, but Rebekah took this into her own hands. As has been said, doing the right thing at the wrong time is still the wrong thing. This statement is epitomized in this story. But, God still used the situation and the people involved to accomplish His purpose. And He is still doing so today. You see, the story of Rebekah choosing her time over God’s time is still happening today. How do I know? Let me share a story.
My wife and I just celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary last week. However, we were not supposed to get married until 1995. That was the year she was supposed to graduate college which made for a practical reason, but more importantly, it was the year I firmly believe God told us we should get married. We began dating in 1991 and within a few months we knew we would get married. Later that Fall, while we were away at separate colleges, I had a dream where God (very vividly) spoke to me and said, “Wait until 1995. It will all be better.” Now, that was before the internet was available to the masses, so I had to write a letter because I could not afford to call her. (Some will remember when long distance calls cost money and as a college student you had to choose between eating or talking to loved ones who were elsewhere.) So, a 29 cent stamp had to do the trick for me that week.
When we did talk later, I was so excited and as we have re-read the letters we sent to one another back then, many of them contained some reference to 1995 being the year. But, as I said, we just celebrated our 25th anniversary, which means we were married in 1993. I graduated from college earlier that May and six months later we were married. But it was good. And we were happy. And then, in 1995, we had our first child – a daughter. So, we tried to change the scope of God’s meaning by saying that Nicole’s birth is what He must have meant. But we knew better. And we still do – know better, that is.
Like Rebekah and Jacob, Susan and I jumped God’s timetable. Has God used the situation for His glory? I do believe so as we are both active in ministry and serving Him. Both of our children (Andrew, our son, was born in 1996) are great kids (I know, most parents will say this) and are involved in ministry as well (and our son-in-law, Sam, is training to be a pastor). So, while we hope to be a blessing to God, we know He has blessed us in many ways – just like He did with Jacob.
However, Jacob’s life was not without difficulty and much of it came because of his choices. Having betrayed his brother, his mother sent him to a foreign land where he lived for many years and was deceived himself (remember the story of Leah and Rachel). Additionally, when he decided to return, news that his brother was approaching caused immense distress and Jacob split up his family until he learned that Esau came in peace. (Their descendants however were enemies – Esau, the Edomites and Jacob, the Israelites.)
Likewise, Susan and I have had issues that likely would not have challenged us (primarily finances) if we had waited. Again, we have been blessed with each other, with our children, and many opportunities to serve God. And we are thankful for those. We also know that our life would not be perfect if we had waited until 1995, but the promise was that “it will be better.” Therefore, as good as our life has been, it would have been better if we had not stepped out on our own ahead of God. What that life would be, only God knows. But I also know that is the only time I have audibly heard the voice of God and I missed out on following what He asked me to do.
Of course, we all make mistakes, and oftentimes, those mistakes have to do with timing. One of the verses that has been consistently brought to my life this year is Proverbs 16.9, which says, “The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps.” That was true when written some 3000 years ago, and it is true now. As we prepare to celebrate Christmas, we think of the birth of a baby. But that baby grew to be a man who showed that living a life with purpose and following the established steps perfectly is possible. More importantly, that man would die to provide forgiveness for anyone and everyone who has taken a misstep along the way. And most importantly, that baby, turned man, rose again to allow us to meet the great and glorious God who gives from His fullness the “grace upon grace” that we need so often (see John 1.16), if we will only place our faith in the gift Jesus provides and receive what He offers in return.
That is why Jesus came. He came because the people in the Bible were flawed as their stories show us. He came because people today are flawed as our life stories too readily provide. But whether we step ahead of God or around God or completely ignore God, God loves us. And He has made a way for us to be reconciled through Jesus. I encourage you to deeply reflect on the fact that a humble beginning in a “cradle” became a humiliating death on a cross and it was done for you and for me and all the others like Rebekah and Jacob who push God to the side for the sake of selfishness and convenience.