February 22, 2020

Another Look: Now there’s a story

Jacob Wrestling the Angel. Knippers

One of my favorite stories in scripture is that of the patriarch Jacob. Or, “that rascal,” as I like to call him. From birth, Jacob was never anything but a piece of work. His entire life was one giant con. Born trying to supplant his brother’s place (which is the meaning of his name), Jacob lived as a schemer to the end.

As a youngster, his infamous career began when he tricked his brother out of both birthright and blessing. The fallout was so severe it forced the young scoundrel to flee home.

Then the living God met him on the road in an dream encounter that we sometimes speak of as Jacob’s “conversion” at Beth-el, the house of God. However, if it was a conversion, it didn’t appear to change Jacob very much. He emerged from the vision and immediately began bargaining with God and setting his own terms for their relationship:

If God will be with me, and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat and clothing to wear, so that I come again to my father’s house in peace, then the Lord shall be my God, and this stone, which I have set up for a pillar, shall be God’s house; and of all that you give me I will surely give one-tenth to you (Genesis 28:20-22).

What a deal for God.

Moving down the road, Jacob’s conniving ways were about to advance exponentially. His fugitive journey led him to a school of treachery as he went to live with his uncle Laban, a double dealer who almost proved to be a match for Jacob in treachery. The story of their many years together is a tale of two tricksters continually trying to outdo each other.

And Jacob had more on his plate than duking it out with Laban. In his own tent he had to deal with two scrappy wives who scratched and clawed to gain an advantage in the family like prizefighters.

Ultimately, Jacob won the showdown with his shyster uncle Laban, packed up his contentious clan, and hit the road with a pile of booty.

Having left that frying pan, he turned to travel back home toward the fire that was his brother Esau, who had held grudges ever since Jacob left. Jacob shook in his sandals at the prospect of meeting the brute and getting the beating he deserved.

One night, while camping en route, a man (an angel? God himself?) ambushed the patriarch in the darkness and they wrestled through the night until Jacob emerged a crippled “victor” with a new name — Israel.

I guess you could call that transformation. I call it a busted hip and the knowledge that the only hope he had was in hanging on to God for dear life.

For the rest of Jacob’s days, he and the family dealt with the consequences and ongoing patterns of his lifetime of deception. The character traits engraved on Jacob’s face and visible in his constant limp flowed through the rest of the household, and until the day he died, Jacob worried and struggled to keep faith, hope, and love alive in a clan full of connivers.

The last story about Jacob before his death brings a smile. Son Joseph presents his two sons to their grandfather for his blessing. Manasseh, the firstborn, should be blessed with Jacob’s right hand. Instead the patriarch crosses his arms and places it on the head of the younger, Ephraim. Manasseh, the elder and rightful heir, gets the left hand — second best.

Joseph has a hissy fit and objects. He thinks the old man made a mistake because of his failing eyesight. This is the ultimate faux pas; it will scar his boys for life.

But Jacob insists. Here at the culmination of all his journeys, he wants to pass on what he’s learned about the only thing that really matters: It’s all about God’s choice, God’s blessing, God’s grace, God’s relentless promises. Maybe God is the ultimate Trickster.

I can just see that rascally twinkle in Jacob’s eye, as he puts one over on his own son and grandsons.

And I can hear Jacob chuckle a little at Joseph’s indignation. We chuckle with him. Joseph, who knew all about his dad and the ways of his family, probably broke down and cracked a smile himself. Perhaps a saint is nothing more than an old scoundrel we can’t help but smile at.

Fact is, Jacob was endlessly persistent in trying to get his own way and gaining advantage over others. But he was not nearly as persistent as the God who stuck with him and blessed him in spite of himself.

And I’d be willing to bet that if you asked God, he’d say, “One of my better stories.”

Jacob was not someone any right thinking person would admire. Deceiver, con artist, trickster, conniver, swindler, rascal and rogue. From the day he was born to the day he died.

And yet — “Jacob have I loved,” says the Lord.

Now there’s a story.

Comments

  1. Jacob was not someone any right thinking person would admire. Deceiver, con artist, trickster, conniver, swindler, rascal and rogue…….And yet — “Jacob have I loved,” says the Lord.

    I’m going to put on my Devil’s Advocate hat here. My question to fellow “liberals”, who feel the way I do about him: Is it possible that the “Deceiver, con artist, trickster, conniver, swindler, rascal and rogue” in the White House is similarly loved by God? And it is obvious from this story that God did not love Jacob in some abstract theological way, the way he is said to love everyone, but affectionately, with fondness, as a friend, who would play a special role in God’s drama of salvation. Is it possible that the guy in the White House is like that in relationship to God, as many of our Christian coreligionists would have it? And if you say it is not possible, why was it possible in the case of Jacob, but not in this case we are living through now?

    • At this point, I don’t see Trump having had a “Jacob’s ladder” experience or using his deviousness to lay hold of what really matters. As flawed and scoundrel-like as Jacob was, he always grasped what was most important — the blessing. Maybe one day DJT will meet God at the river Jabbok and they will wrestle. If so, will he likewise prevail by clinging helplessly, wounded, to the only one who can give the blessing?

      • We are told that all things are possible with God. It must be possible for God to bring a man of advanced age and folly to the place where he can see, and admit to himself, that the only way he can prevail is by being bested by his Lord, who after all loves him.

    • Jacob is a character in a story. Everybody loves those kinds of “Bad Boys” because it doesn’t cost us anything. Trump is incompetent and corrupt. And all too real. Sure he’s a con man but not a very good one. But of course he didn’t have to be a good one did he?

      • I think that’s right. We like stories like this, especially when a character as big as God counterbalances the bad boy character with redemptive plot points; but if we had to deal with a stinker like Jacob in real life, we’d kick him out of the church after he fleeced the first few parishoners — unless of course he was running the church.

    • I think he is loved by God. But it’s hard to see him as having a clear enough mind, with all the sniffing & dilated pupils, plus all the other odd neurological stuff you can see him displaying more & more, to actually have a genuine grasp of anything God is doing. He just seems increasingly addled.

  2. senecagriggs says

    Eh, Trump serves God’s purposes for the time being. Will he repent for his waywardness before his life is over? God only knows.

    • It’s a weak hope, at best, to deem Trump a servant of Gods purposes. Leaders, biblical or otherwise, have come and gone and been found to be serving nothing but their own dinner. Sure they are in place for a time but are then deposed and their wickedness must be dealt with and undone. If you’re comparing Don John Trump to Jacob you are wildly askew. They are black and white, east and west, night and day. The overall tenor and direction of Jacob’s life, scoundrel though he was, was for God, toward God and in service to God. God is a talking point to Trump by all appearances. Nothing in his treatment of fellow human beings indicates otherwise.

  3. God loves authenticity more than rule following. For the most part we, all of us, don’t get that. We find it hard to believe. The person who eschews the phony baloney persona and just IS, warts and all, stands in closer proximity to God than the well behaved teacher’s pet. He broke all of His own rules with Job, sanctioned David’s rule breaking and took delight in Jacob. So there you go. Anyone who wishes to constrain the Spirit of God into the starched shirt and tie of their orderly expectations is in for a stomach ache.

    • Burro (Mule) says

      `A man who would not be tempted by Bathsheba could never have written the Psalms.

      Just sayin’

      And I remember something St John Chrysostomos said, that God offered Christ’s humanity on a hook, as it were, to Hades and the Devil, after biting into which they encountered Divinity and were unmade. Dana maybe can make up my lack and find the context.

      So, there may be something to God not being above using some Anansi tactics after all.

      • We take Him for granted at our own peril.

        • Burro (Mule) says
          • I agree. I have a few thoughts on how that plays out in our lives, practically speaking, but I must get to work. The other scary thing is that we are speaking so agreeably so we should probably stop now don’t you think? I hope you have a safe but not entirely predictable day.

            • Burro (Mule) says

              Following Eeyore’s exercise in multiplex-level projection, I submit that there are enough fools on all sides to give us all pause. Heaven help us if they should all simultaneously become full of food.

              …but I follow my heart, and with such depth of feeling, is not my heart infallible? the much-maligned Douglas Wilson

              • Nothing but bozos on this bus…

                Who is Douglas Wilson and why is he “much-maligned”? You’ll have to forgive me but I haven’t owned a TV since 1998 and many current media stars are unknown to me.

      • Mule,

        Gregory of Nyssa was first, I think – but this analogy shows up in other fathers as well.

        D.

  4. God uses who God will use and man does not/cannot understand until we are with God. The second born ending up with the blessing and riches of this world is common in the Bible. All the tribes of God’s chosen people come with the rascal Jacob and history journey shows God knows it will end as he deems. Gentiles could be as beloved as the chosen children of Jacob.

    • Burro (Mule) says

      Say it again, Flannery:

      She saw the streak as a vast swinging bridge extending upward from the earth through a field of living fire. Upon it a vast horde of souls were tumbling toward heaven. There were whole companies of white trash, clean for the first time in their lives, and bands of black niggers in white robes, and battalions of freaks and lunatics shouting and clapping and leaping like frogs.

      And bringing up the end of the procession was a tribe of people whom she recognized at once as those who , like herself and Claud, had always had a little of everything and the God-given wit to use it right. She leaned forward to observe them closer. They were marching behind the others with great dignity, accountable as they had always been for good order and common sense and respectable behavior. They, alone were on key.

      Yet she could see by their shocked and altered faces even their virtues were being burned away.

      • ah, Mrs. Turpin’s brawl with Mary Grace . . . . .

        classic Flannery O’Connor, she who once said that critics of her writing often ‘got hold of the wrong horror’

    • “God uses who God will use and man does not/cannot understand until we are with God.”

      Perhaps but I’ll wager much money that there are many more people who claim they’re doing God’s will than are actually doing it. Funny how God’s will so frequently turns out to be what we wanted to do all along.

  5. If we don’t think that the worst of us are loved by God, there’s no hope for ANY of us.