Two weeks ago, in our look at the life of Jacob (through the book "Escaping with Jacob" by David Ramos), we read about how Joseph is faring well in Egypt, but things aren't so well at home with Jacob. The famine is taking its toll and life's difficulties were pressing down on Jacob; and in the midst of all of this stress, Jacob has again chosen one of his sons, this time Benajmin, as his favorite. Does God still have a plan?
Week 22: Read Genesis 43:1-34 (God Loves Works in Progress)
"Jacob has delayed his sons from traveling back to Egypt, but the famine has not let up and he is forced to make a decision. Does he send his son Benjamin and risk losing his last child from Rebekah, or does he hold him back and risk angering the man who has already kept his son Simeon in Egypt? Jacob's sons plead with him. They are worried about their own children as well. Now the brothers are willing to lay down their own lives to ensure Benjamin's return, a complete reversal compared to how they treated Joseph all those years ago.
Though apprehensive, Jacob agrees. He cannot deny their struggle and sends his children back to Egypt, with Benjamin, and with a host of gifts in hope of finding favor with this man. The brothers arrive back in Egypt and are welcomed into Joseph's home. The scene continues better than they ever could have hoped - a full feast in the ruler's home with all of their brothers (who were mysteriously seated in their birth order). Nevertheless, they lower their defenses completely unaware of the troubles that are about to arise.
One thing you'll notice in many chapters towards the end of Genesis is how Jacob is referred to as both Jacob and Israel. The narrative goes back and forth with his name, using Jacob nearly half a dozen times in chapter 42 and then only using Israel in 43. Why the back and forth? There is a technique in writing where storytellers reveal messages to the audience without ever explicitly telling them. It could be using code names or anagrams to give clues as to what will happen next. Or as a more popular example, using the name Vader (which is German for father, vater) to hide one character's relationship to another. We see the Genesis author using a similiar technique here.
Jacob was known as a "trickster" until God transformed him and gave him a new name: Israel, the overcomer. However, as we have seen, Jacob has struggled to hold true to his new identity. At times, he is a strong character, the God-seeking patriarch. But during other trials, Jacob falls back into his old ways, a man ruled by fear and comfortable with deception. This famine has brought back that struggle within Jacob. The author communicates this by switching back and forth between his names. He is Jacob when he lets fear control his actions: holding Benjamin back, yelling at his sons, continuing to play favorites. Israel emerges as he fights for what he knows he must do: allowing Benjamin to go to Egypt, trusting that God will see him and his family through.
Jacob is the person we are before Christ and Israel is the person we are called to be with Christ. But the change isn't easy and is never complete on this side of eternity. Just as Israel struggled to walk in the life God had spoken over him, so we struggle to live as new creations - men and women who are truly different because Jesus has entered our lives. If you find yourself still stuck in old temptations, falling prey to bad habits and fear-based decisions, I want you to read this next line very carefully: You are not still a Jacob. You are an Israel, an overcomer."
Struggling doesn't mean you haven't changed. Accept the fact that as a human being you will always have times of doubt, fear, indecision. Give yourself grace to struggle, but never give yourself permission to give up. Struggling means you are a work in progress, and God loves using works in progress.
Takeaway from today's lesson: We are all Jacob's struggling to be the Israel God has called us to be.
Prayer: God, thank you that you chose me, that you love me, and that you will never give up on me. Help me not to give up on you and not to give up on myself. I am your work in progress. Amen.