Tuesday, January 29, 2008

A Man Trying To Find Himself

This was the title of a sermon that aired on the local Christian radio station last night. I was hoping he would get the right man, but I was disappointed once again.

It is both disappointing and amusing to me to watch evangelical commentators and preachers trying to deal with the life of the patriarch Jacob. Almost without fail they identify Jacob as the scoundrel and Esau as the hard-done-by honest guy. They identify with Esau when he complains about Jacob.

Now, we are told in Psalm 1 not to walk in the way of the wicked, stand in the way of sinner, or sit in the seat of the scoffer. But it seems to me that we do all these things at once when we prefer Esau to Jacob, who is spoken of in the text as a "perfect" man. Esau is the one out quadding all the time, not looking after his responsibilities, while Jacob is looking after the farm.

Jacob, in the sermon, was a fellow trying to find himself, which seemed to be a code word for finding God. He still has not found himself, and he is almost back to meeting up with Esau again after 20 years with Laban (who is bad, but not as bad as Jacob, of course!)...

I wish these guys would take the Bible more seriously. There is only one man in the Bible who ever "found himself", and that is Philip, who found himself at Azotus after talking to the Ethiopian Eunuch.


Valerie (Kyriosity) said...

But Jacob is rather scoundrelly, isn't he? And we get to hear about his shenanigans in detail. The "finding himself" stuff is humanistic goofiness, and of course he wasn't as bad as Esau or Laban, but how do we square his flaws with the "perfect" stuff? I'm guessing the same way as we do with David, the adulterer and murderer who was "a man after God's own heart." Human righteousness is measured by relationship to God, not by behavior. Not to say that behavior can't ever be a good indicator of the relationship....

Jamie said...

Hi, Valerie!

re. Jacob's "shenanigans", consider first that God had told Rebekah before the twins were born that the older would serve the younger. This would not have remained unknown to Isaac, and there should have been a preference built into Isaac toward Jacob because of God's promise. When the boys are grown and Isaac prefers Esau to Jacob, it seems to me that red flags should be going up about this Isaac character first. He should be making it clear that God's promise and plan made Jacob the head. He didn't, so Jacob and his saintly mother acted.

Consider also the text in Gen.25:27. Esau is described in Nimrod-like terms, and Jacob is described as "perfect" or "complete". He was no weak-kneed sneak. He was the one who did the books, balanced the budget, ran the farm, kept track of the flocks. Esau was a floater, Jacob was solid.

1. The birthright.

How this is anything but a free exchange of goods is beyond me. Jacob is future-oriented; he wants to secure his future place that God has promised him, Esau is profoundly present-oriented and can't see beyond his next meal. They negotiate and both agree with the outcome. Esau later complains of being deceived, but he has given us no reason to believe him. He marries wives that are a trouble to his parents, and he gives no thought to tomorrow. His perspectives are the ones given ("I'm starving!" "He cheated me!"), but we need to consider the source and not be so ready to agree with him.

2)The blessing:

By the time this happened, Jacob and Rebekah had watched Isaac harden against God's promise for 78 years. When Rebekah heard the deal going down with Esau, she did the only thing left at her disposal; she deceived the serpent who would have destroyed God's promise. Please notice how Jacob was obedient to his faithful mother over against his unfaithful father throughout this whole narrative. Is he a slimy deceiver? No, he is an obedient AND FAITHFUL son.

A week later, he still is obedient. When Isaac is finally reconciled to God and his promise, he commands Jacob to go get a wife from Haran, so as not to sin like Esau had done with foreign women, and Jacob goes without a fuss.

It seems to me that Jacob was obedient and faithful throughout the whole narrative, and the ones who accuse him of wrong in the text are the ones who are themselves in the wrong.

Tracy said...

Maybe an addiction to patriarchalism blinds us to the fact that Isaac was NOT being faithful and even though he was the daddy, at this point the wife and son had a duty NOT to go along with him. Strange to see how this 'son of promise' looked for for so long, having been offered up as a sacrifice as a lad and the focus of so much attention should, for a time, be SO out of step with the Lord.

Dale Callahan said...

Hi Jamie,

Not to try and sound too much the politician...I agree with both you and Val.

As Christians we must walk a narrow path indeed...with deep and dangerous ditches on either side of us.

On the one side are those who read sins into the bible characters lives that were never really there...they take their 21st century ideas and shape the text by them.

On the other side are those who neglect the reality that all the Bible characters [humans] minus one was without sin.

I think it was Wilson who said that God draws straight lines with crooked sticks.

I am not putting either of you into these ditches...I am just stating that they do exist and we must be careful to avoid them...man I am sounding like a politician.

Valerie (Kyriosity) said...

Thanks, Jamie, for your reply. That's a really helpful perspective. I was already with you on the birthright thing -- Esau was a moron who gave it away -- but the blessing part is a new slant for me. It really casts Jacob as more of a suffering servant type, doesn't it.

Dale, you're wrong about one thing: While Mrs. Soles may be a Val, I am a seven-letter, three-syllable Valerie. ;-)

Jeri said...

There is only one man in the Bible who ever "found himself", and that is Philip, who found himself at Azotus after talking to the Ethiopian Eunuch.

Love it, love it, love it!!! You songwriters...