Monday, January 21, 2008

Learning That Seeing Is Not Belieivng

And God said to him, "I am God Almighty: be fruitful and multiply. A nation and a company of nations shall come from you, and kings shall come from your own body. The land that I gave to Abraham and Isaac I will give to you, and I will give the land to your offspring after you."
Genesis 35:11,12
Whether dealing with Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, or anyone else, God remains the same. I am amazed by this as I journey through the book of Genesis. The promise carries from one man to his son, from one generation to the next, and the death of a man in one generation has no effect on the outcome of the promise. A promise unfulfilled in a lifetime does not amount to a promise unfulfilled when dealing with the living God. This is the story of the Bible. Oh, what we can learn for our lives in the 21st century! What might we learn from this about our lives of prayer, that a prayer unanswered in a lifetime does not amount to a prayer unanswered because of the nature of the God with whom we have to do?

Again and again, throughout the book of Genesis I am blown away by the One whom if I could only choose one word to describe Him I would simply call Him this: the faithful God. I was reminded of God's faithfulness yet again, and what it means that He is faithful, in a way that I didn't expect as I read through two consecutive chapters of Genesis.

At the start of Genesis 35, after two of Jacob's sons slaughter all the men in the city of the man who raped their sister Dinah, God tells Jacob to go to Bethel to make an altar for Him. This was the place where Jacob had a dream of angels ascending and descending on a ladder that reached from heaven to earth (Genesis 28) and where the Lord had first spoken to him. God made a promise to Jacob at that time. And when Jacob returned this time, God met him again in that same place and once again makes a promise:
And God said to him, "I am God Almighty: be fruitful and multiply. A nation and a company of nations shall come from you, and kings shall come from your own body. The land that I gave to Abraham and Isaac I will give to you, and I will give the land to your offspring after you."
Genesis 35:11,12
Jacob then sets up an altar to God once again. But soon after, his wife Rachel dies while giving birth to his last born son and then his father Isaac dies as well. Interspersed in the account of these two deaths in Jacob's family is a record of Jacob's descendants. Twelve sons. That's it. End of the chapter. Doesn't seem like a whole lot is going on.

But do you ever wonder why the Bible writers have recorded what they have recorded in the places that they do? I know that often I feel as though a passage of Scripture is an interlude amongst what I am really interested in. The beginning of chapter 36 begins like this:
These are the generations of Esau.
Genesis 36:1
OK. I can feel rising up in me the feeling that this might be one of those interlude chapters. And sure enough the entire chapter is about Esau's descendants and the land that he inhabited. But look closer. And think about what Moses has just told us in chapter 35.

We are told that Esau settles in a land of his own called Edom, or Seir (v.8). We are told that Esau already has grandchildren (v.11-13). His descendants are quickly growing. We read that Esau has chiefs that proceed from him. We read that Esau has kings in his land, and this before any king reigned over the Israelites (v.31).

Why do we learn all of this after God just got done telling Jacob, not Esau, that nations (numerous descendants) would come from him, kings would come from him, and that he would receive his own land?

Jacob is a sojourner without his own land. At this time, it appears that Jacob only has thirteen descendants (including his daughter Dinah) and no grandchildren. He certainly has no kings. For those of us reading, it seems like God is fulfilling the promise for Esau and not Jacob. What's going on? Isn't God supposed to be prospering Jacob and not Esau? Well it certainly looks like He's prospering Esau and not Jacob.

That's exactly the point. I think these chapters appear consecutively for a reason (surely more than I could ever know). And I think the point is this: the Word of God stands regardless of what we see. And just so that we might be tested, God begins to let the reality in front of us appear as though His Word isn't being fulfilled. I don't know if Jacob could see what we can see when we read these two chapters from Genesis, but I feel as though if I were him seeing all of this the question for me would be: Do I trust my God more than I trust my eyes?

We live in a society in which "seeing is believing." Our eyes can't lie to us and this governs our lives more than we might think, whether we are Christian or not. And though I would never consider that my eyes could lie to me, the sad truth is that I don't put anywhere near as much confidence in my God as I do in my eyes. I doubt Him all the time. Every day. I should be the freest, most joyful, most confident, most satisfied person in the universe (along with all other Christians) at any and every moment if I believed that my God is who He says that He is. But I'm not.

I know how Jacob's and Esau's stories play out. And that's why I stand in awe of the God of Genesis. Because He intentionally ordains lives in such a way to show that He is more reliable than eyes. He knows that for me "seeing is believing" and it seems like everything in the Bible is there to prove to me that this is not so with Him. I think His faithfulness in our lives shines forth most brightly when although we are forced to come face to face with a visible reality that seems to contradict what He has promised, we stand with complete confidence. We wait quietly, patiently for Him to act with His victorious right arm. Is this not why we often read about the psalmists' struggles with seeing the wicked prosper while the upright seem to be forgotten (e.g. Psalm 73)?

This God is who He says He is. He will do what He says He will do. Whether my eyes see it or not. And surely when they fail, He won't stop working.
"The older will serve the younger." As it is written, "Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated."
Romans 9:12
Father in Heaven, I thank You that You are the faithful God who remains faithful to a sinner such as myself who lives so often as though You are not faithful. I thank You that You have made promises to me that You will fulfill not because of anything good in me but because it pleases You to do so. I stand in awe of You because not only are You patient with me, but because You are the One who gives the grace for me to trust Your Word when I am inclined not to. Indeed, all things are from You and through You and to You. And so I delight for You to get all the glory. I pray that one effect of such profound truths would be an unceasing, perseverance in prayer, prayer for You to glorify Yourself in doing the impossible. Your Son told us to pray and never lose heart. He also told us that whatever we ask in Your Name, You would do so that You will be glorified. And, Lord, are You not most glorified in the salvation of sinners? I think so. So please help me to pray for my brother and sister and the most hardened and hopeless unbelievers as though their salvation is a certain future reality despite current rebellion, as certain as the fact that Your name will be exalted in all the earth. Is this not why Daniel and the psalmists' often pray "for Your name's sake"? May the prayers of Your people always be for Your name's sake so that Your name is always exalted in the answer of our prayers. And may we know that such prayers are never wasted, even if answered 100 years after we die. For Your faithfulness stretches far before and far beyond our lifetime. Indeed, it is the reason we believe in the first place. In Jesus' faithful name I pray, Amen.

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