Freshman First 40 — Day 21

DAY 21
FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 9, 2011

Gen 28:10-17; Gen 32:22-31:1

One of the great figures of the Old Testament is Jacob – the son of Isaac, the son of Abraham. The Bible passages listed above tell us of two dramatic encounters between Jacob and God. Interestingly enough, the two events mirror one another in several ways. Each takes place “on the road.” Each takes place in the midst of great anxiety about Jacob’s relationship to his family. Each occurs in the middle of the night. And each encounter comes as Jacob is in a particularly vulnerable place.

Jacob’s first meeting with God takes place as he is running for his life, fleeing from his hometown and from his brother Esau. The second meeting occurs twenty years later, as Jacob is trying to escape from yet another family member – this time his Uncle Laban. What is more, as Jacob travels back toward the land of his youth, he receives word: “your brother Esau . . . is coming to meet you, and four hundred men are with him.” (Genesis 32:6) It is a message that Jacob receives – understandably! – with “great fear and distress.” (Genesis 32:7)

One thing worth noticing in these stories is that these dramatic encounters with God – these times when God meets and speaks with Jacob powerfully – both happen in times of transition. The Genesis accounts make clear that Jacob was clever; good at manipulating others and working the angles to his own advantage. But it was when he was moved outside of comfortable and familiar settings, when he was placed in situations he couldn’t control, that God appeared to him. In much the same way, we may find the transition to a new community, a new school, a new set of peers and friends challenging and unsettling. We are made uncomfortable; we are no longer in control. Jacob’s story suggests, however, that often these are the very moments when we are most open to hearing God’s voice. Transitions are times of spiritual opportunity.

Here is a second point worth noting in these stories: God meets with Jacob both as he is journeying out from home, and as he is returning to his home. Indeed, for Jacob, it is the second journey, the journey back to the land promised to Abraham, that will be most significant. This is also an important lesson for us to carry away from these stories. Our culture values independence, thinking for oneself, becoming one’s own person, standing on one’s own feet, and so on. We are good, in other words, at encouraging people to journey out from home. And certainly, “leaving home” is an important part of growing up. But – as Jacob’s story suggests – an equally important part of growing up is learning how to “return home.” There is in fact a “first journey” to be made; one that includes hearing new voices and learning to think in new ways. But there is also a “second journey” to be made; a second maturity that includes valuing and embracing the wisdom of home; the insights of parents, family, church and the community in which one was raised. Navigating these two journeys isn’t easy. But that’s why it’s good to know that in between these two journeys stands the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. In times of change and transition, he is eager to travel with us, and help us to discern what is to be left behind and what is to be carried along on the journey.

DR. STEVE GUTHRIE
School of Religion

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