A Playground, A Patriarch, and God’s Promises

Friday Gleanings by Carmen

Blessed are those whose strength is in you, whose hearts are set on pilgrimageAs they pass through the Valley of Baka (weeping), they make it a place of springs; the autumn rains also cover it with pools.  They go from strength to strength, till each appears before God in Zion.” Ps. 84:5-7 (NIV) 

Remember when playgrounds had metal monkey bars?  One of the most challenging feats for me was grasping the metal rings lined up one after another on my way from one end of the monkey bars to the other. At the outset the task seemed easy.  Effortlessly I made progress toward my goal.  About a third of the way, however, my muscles tensed up, and more effort was required to hold on while suspended in midair.  The force of gravity was pulling me down while I counted on the strength and permanence of each ring to support my weight.  As I reached for each ring along the route, I sometimes doubted that I would complete the entire journey, but faith and hope caused me to persevere.  So I summoned strength where I thought none remained and always celebrated when I touched the last one and jumped down to land on solid ground again.

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In Genesis 48:1-2, we find Jacob in bed and close to death.  Previously, Jacob describes his life as a difficult pilgrimage (Gen. 47:9).  If we examine his history, we have to agree. In his mother’s womb, Jacob struggled with his brother Esau (Gen. 25:22). As a youth, he deceived his father, Isaac, in order to receive the blessing meant for his brother (Gen. 27:24).  Fleeing from Esau’s wrath, he remains with Laban for 20 years, after which he returns home with Laban in hot pursuit (Gen. 31:38). It is on the way home that Jacob has an encounter with God.  He struggles all night with God, and is injured in body, but blessed and strengthened in spirit and given a new name, Israel (Gen. 32:22-30).

Not only does Jacob struggle with God, Esau and Laban, but his married life is marked by conflict.  Jacob is married to Leah and Rachel, two women who vie for his love, because Rachel is loved and Leah is not (Gen. 29:33).  As a consequence, Leah’s sons hate Joseph, Rachel’s son and Jacob’s favorite.  Joseph is sold into slavery in Egypt, and for years Jacob mourns, thinking he is dead (Gen. 44:28).

Finally reunited with Joseph, as the result of a famine, Jacob is ready to meet his maker (Gen. 46:30). After 17 years of living in Egypt under Joseph’s protection, the time comes when Jacob is ill and Joseph, being told of his illness, comes to him (Gen. 48:1). I almost cried when I read the words that describe how Jacob received Joseph’s visit.  It says: “When Jacob was told, “Your son Joseph has come to you,” Israel rallied his strength and sat up on the bed.” (Gen. 48:2 NIV).

Jacob was still reaching for the next ring.  Before he died, he would bless Joseph and his grandsons Ephraim and Manasseh (Gen. 48:14-16).  He would bless his others sons (Gen. 49), and secured a promise that he was to be taken back home to be buried with his forefathers in the cave of the field of Machpelah in the land of Canaan (Gen. 47:30). Israel had passed through the Valley of Weeping, he had been blessed, wounded, and redeemed, always struggling to reach the end of his journey.  He did it by going from “strength to strength”, strength through faith in the LORD’S promises.

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Dearest Heavenly Father,

Thank you for giving us your Word.  Thank you for not hiding Jacob’s imperfections from us.  Help us to finish well this pilgrimage of faith.  Help us to persevere and to reach for your strength when ours is spent.  Keep us looking toward the goal you have set before us.  Please know that we are looking forward to the time when we can let go and be received into your loving arms like a child jumping off the monkey bars happy and eager to finally stand with you on solid ground.

Amen

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