Genesis 28:13-15, 20-21 Then God was right before him, saying, "I am God, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac. I'm giving the ground on which you are sleeping to you and to your descendants.  Your descendants will be as the dust of the Earth; they'll stretch from west to east and from north to south. All the families of the Earth will bless themselves in you and your descendants.  Yes. I'll stay with you, I'll protect you wherever you go, and I'll bring you back to this very ground. I'll stick with you until I've done everything I promised you." … Jacob vowed a vow: "If God stands by me and protects me on this journey on which I'm setting out, keeps me in food and clothing,  and brings me back in one piece to my father's house, this God will be my God. (THE MESSAGE)
Of the 3 patriarchal sagas (Abraham, Jacob, and Joseph), I am most fond of the middle story. Abraham (the mac-daddy of faith for all of us) is pretty appealing, because of the riskiness of his faith - it seems he would do anything God asked... yet, when left to his own devices, he could mess up with the best of them (so I can identify with Father Abraham in that sense). Joseph is almost too good to be true. Now bad things do happen to Joseph, because he is surrounded by mean people (and that I can identify with, too!), but he's like the golden boy, every step backward is followed by several giant steps forward (and that has certainly not been my experience!).
Jacob is simply a scoundrel - and I think that is why I like his story so well. (I love Buechener's nickname for Jacob in his novel, Son of Laughter, he calls him "Heels!") Of course, that is a play on his name (being born as a heel-grabber), but even more fitting, it is a name that defines his character - he is, more often than not, a real heel. This scene in Genesis 28 (known as Jacob's ladder, or the Bethel encounter) has been far too romanticized in my mind. But I do find it a compelling story of the struggle most of us have with faith and life with this prickly God who summons us to live in covenant... Life with this God is far from a bed of roses!
Along comes God (in an unexpected place and time while Jacob is on the run for his life) and God appears in a fantastic dream and makes some pretty amazing promises to Jacob. It is the passing on of the Abraham blessing: land, descendents, blessing... and a promise to be with Jacob, protect Jacob, and bring Jacob home at last. Now, considering Jacob's record so far, this says some pretty scandalous things about a God who would not only associate with, but bind God's own self and future up with, such a rascally scoundrel. That is not only mystery to me, that is good news... because there is hope for us scoundrels... we can be part of God's family and participate in God's inscrutable ways in this world.
But I am also thankful for the raw honesty of the biblical record. After receiving such an amazing revelation as this, Jacob does not suddenly turn into and model the great hero of faith, his grandfather Abraham. (Remember, that when God first spoke this incredible promise to Abram out of the blue...God called Abram to leave his home and follow, and Abram just got up and left it all, no questions asked). But Jacob, true to his name (schemer) does not make a mountain-top confession as Father Abraham did. Jacob makes a bargain-basement kind of deal with God... "Tell you what God, you make good on your promises to me, and... if it all pans out well for me as you say, then I'll let you be my God."
Come on, what kind of faith is that? I have prayed that prayer a thousand times... God, help me pass this test... God, get me out of this mess... God, help me win the lottery (by finding the winning ticket laying on the ground, of course)... God, if you bless me, and do good by me, and get me out of this trouble I'm in (trouble which, more often than not I have brought upon myself), then I will serve you." This is not one of your Hebrews 11 Hall of Faith moments, is it? But it was enough for God!
This story blows me away! And I am glad that it falls in this beginning of the new year in the Daily Office - because my earlier posts have been looking at the human response of faith with a bit of rose-colored glasses... Lord, help me be entirely devoted to you! But this text brings me back down to earth. It reminds us that God still speaks, moves, works, blesses, summons, journeys with and employs people whose faith response is less than ideal. And that does give me hope today. The ones who are just (righteous, live "in the right" with God) do so not by their own faithfulness, but by the faithfulness of God (to paraphrase the prophet Habakkuk).
Maybe, for today - while it is great to aspire to be a Father-Abraham kind of responder to the call of this Mysterious God-of-our-future... it is enough to know that, because of the faith and the faithfulness of this God, our future is settled and secured in the death and resurrection of Jesus. Therefore, we can rest assured that when our faith response is at best a Jacob-like bargain, God still makes room for us and will use us in some small way to keep us on the journey and moving forward toward the consummation of God's great saga of redemption.
Soli Deo gloria