"Consider the Consequences Before You Cheat"
July 10, 2011 Genesis 27(1-13,30-36a,41)
IF IT'S NOT ONE THING, IT'S ANOTHER
"All have turned aside, they have together become corrupt," Psalm 14(3) says; "there is no one who does good, not even one." Or as the Apostle Paul writes in Romans 3(23), "...all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God..." But some people's sins seem to be more NEWSWORTHY than others.
It hasn't been an easy couple of months for Dominique Strauss-Kahn, who was forced to resign in mid-May following allegations of sexual assault by a hotel maid. Then doubts were raised about the maid's credibility when it was shown she'd lied in statements about her application for asylum and to prosecutors. But just as the former IMF chief was starting to enjoy a greater degree of freedom as he awaits trial, a French writer filed a claim he tried to assault her during an interview in 2003. Is he a power-hungry man with a penchant for sexual abuse? If so, the alleged crimes would seem especially contemptible: must the head of the International Monetary Fund also pick on innocent women to satisfy base desires? On the other hand, the charges may be groundless, in which case contempt would rest with the supposed complainants who, unprovoked, aim to profiteer by making false accusations against a prominent wealthy but innocent target.
Yet, as the Psalmist says, "All have turned aside." Each of us could say with David in Psalm 51(3), "For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me." It's just that, unlike Strauss-Kahn (if factual), OUR misdemeanours didn't make it into the headlines. Today as we continue out study of the Jewish patriarch Jacob, we see highlighted the contemptibility of our sins; the consequences of same; and, how the story hints of the covering for our sins provided by Jesus Christ.
THE CONTEMPTIBILITY OF OUR SIN
The New Testament admonishes: "...whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable-- if anything is excellent or praiseworthy-- think about such things." (Php 4:8) If only it were so! Yet our corruption inclines our minds to dwell on what is ignoble, our hearts to mull over what is base if not raunchy. This leads to words and actions that are contemptible, despicable.
Last week we saw how Jacob shrewdly took advantage of his elder twin brother Esau's hunger, persuading him to sell his birthright for a bowlful of tasty stew. But in Genesis 27, at his mother's prompting, Rebekah's 'favourite' son cuts off his older brother at the pass in receiving his father's blessing. Jacob's trick is contemptible for at least 5 reasons.
First, v1, "Isaac was old..." V2, "Isaac said, "I am now an old man and don't know the day of my death." (Age 137 is definitely 'getting up there'; actually he'd live another 43 years but he didn't know that!) It's contemptible to try to play a trick on an old person especially. Leviticus (19:32) commands, "Rise in the presence of the aged, show respect for the elderly and revere your God.I am the LORD."
Also, Isaac was almost blind: v1 notes "His eyes were so weak that he could no longer see." It's cruel to play a joke on someone who's vulnerable because of their disability. The same chapter in Leviticus commands, "Do not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block in front of the blind, but fear your God.I am the LORD." (Le 19:14)
A third element of contemptibility is introduced in that Isaac was Jacob's own father, who are worthy of their offspring's respect. The Ten Commandments say we should honour our father and mother (Ex 20:12); Paul writes in the New Testament, "Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right." (Eph 6:1) Trying to put one over on dad or mom is never a good idea!
Jacob adds 'despicableness' because he PERSISTS in his scheming practical joke even when Isaac questions him, giving him an opportunity to confess and come clean. V18, when Jacob first comes and calls, Isaac asks, "Who is it?" Blind people get very good at recognizing voices, even footsteps that sighted people filter out. Again in v24, Isaac asks, "Are you really my son Esau?" Jacob insists, "I am."
And a fifth aspect underlining how totally despicable Jacob's sin is can be found in v20: "Isaac asked his son, "How did you find it so quickly, my son?" "The LORD your God gave me success," he replied." (Ge 27:20) Apparently it's not enough for Jacob to just outright LIE - he has to bring God into it! Swearing by the Lord's name to prop up a lie heightens the contemptibility of the crime. Another of the Ten Commandments: "You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name." (Ex 20:7) So Jacob is heaping guilt upon guilt. Not only is he disrespecting his elderly, blind father, he's showing great disrespect for the Lord's name, as if it's just another swear word.
It's pretty easy to see how Jacob's sin is despicable. Not so easy to acknowledge how contemptible and shameful our own sins are; yet if they were broadcast one by one on the screen, we might feel very embarrassed. All sin is an affront to God's glory; it's a falling-short. Martin Luther said, "Sin is essentially a departure from God"; a slap in the face, if you will. If we more often recognized how contemptible our sin is BEFORE we committed it, we might repent, have second thoughts. Jonathan Swift observed: "I never wonder to see men wicked, but I often wonder to see them not ashamed."
THE CONSEQUENCES OF OUR SIN
Sin is not only cause for contempt; sin has consequences, often very serious consequences. In Jacob's case we can identify at least 5 negative effects resulting from his deception.
Note first the effect it has on his father, v33: "Isaac trembled violently..." The Hebrew more literally reads, "trembled with a great trembling greatly." The patriarch was deeply shook up. His sole remaining function in life had been to complete the important ceremony of passing on his blessing to the firstborn son: and he'd blown it! He'd been hoodwinked by his own flesh and blood - someone you're supposed to be able to trust! This upset the aged man mightily.
Second, note the initial effect upon Esau, the older brother who'd been gypped of his inheritance, 'cut out of the will' you might say by his plotting kid brother. V34, "When Esau heard his father's words, he burst out with a loud and bitter cry and said to his father, "Bless me-- me too, my father!"" NRSV, "He cried out with an exceedingly great and bitter cry." Can you hear the distress and disappointment of that wail, loud enough to shake the house? (If tents had walls!) Also v38, "Esau said to his father, "Do you have only one blessing, my father? Bless me too, my father!" Then Esau wept aloud." NRSV, "Esau lifted up his voice and wept." Feel the pathos. How deflated Esau is - all he'd done was go out and hunt like his father'd told him to. HE'D been the obedient one. HE was the oldest, not to mention his father's favourite - and to get cut out like this? What agony he must have felt inside! What emptiness. Esau is totally demeaned, pathetic, pitiable. Undone by the treachery of his twin.
But before long, Esau's grief gave way to a third consequence: a murderous grudge. V41, "Esau held a grudge against Jacob because of the blessing his father had given him.He said to himself, "The days of mourning for my father are near; then I will kill my brother Jacob."" Esau 'hated' Jacob (NRSV), he had deadly murderous intent. Had Jacob or Rebekah thought far enough ahead to realize their little scheme would succeed in setting a death-trap for Jacob? Remember from last week that Esau was an expert hunter, like a William Tell when it came to archery. You don't want to get in this man's bad books! As soon as Isaac dropped over, Jacob too would be dead meat. As Rebekah herself in v45 put it succinctly, "Why should I lose both of you in one day?" Nobody was fooling themselves about this - if Esau wanted Jacob dead, he'd make it happen.
In the following chapters, we see a fourth consequence: separation, exile. For his own protection, Jacob's parents send him away to a far land to his uncle Laban, where he remains for 20 years. John MacArthur comments, "He never saw his mother after that." Rebekah would never again see her favourite son. Sin causes isolation, it drives apart and imprisons, forever undercuts and prevents true connection.
For a fifth consequence, look closely at Isaac's words when he finally is convinced and blesses Jacob with the prayer-wishes he'd been saving up for Esau. Vv27-29, "When Isaac caught the smell of his clothes, he blessed him and said, "Ah, the smell of my son is like the smell of a field that the LORD has blessed. May God give you of heaven's dew and of earth's richness-- an abundance of grain and new wine. May nations serve you and peoples bow down to you. Be lord over your brothers, and may the sons of your mother bow down to you. May those who curse you be cursed and those who bless you be blessed.""
Isaac focussed on blessing his son with productivity and prosperity, power and prestige, and priestly protection: as if Jacob would become a sort of divine representative, mediating God's blessing to those who blessed him - as the Lord had promised similarly to Jacob's grandfather Abraham (Gen 12:3). But I can't help but wonder if that first sentence made the whole thing ring hollow for Jacob: "When Isaac caught the smell of his clothes...Ah, the smell of my son is like the smell of a field that the LORD has blessed..." The only reason Jacob smelled like that at all is because he was wearing outdoorsy Esau's clothes! This blessing had someone else's name written all over it. As if - "It's for you, but not really for you." Must have taken the shine off the whole ceremony as far as Jacob was concerned. His sin, his trickery, perverted what was meant to be a powerful and beautiful moment into a shallow misdirected ritual.
THE COVERING OF OUR SIN
So, the twelve tribes of Israel got off to a rather sorry start. The venerable patriarch is forever recorded as a cheat, a shyster, someone who'd stoop to sort of stab his own brother in the back to get a competitive edge. Not a reputation to be proud of.
Nor do our sins give us grounds for pride. If we stop and reflect, we can look back and see a trail of painful consequences those sins have created for ourselves and others. We start to sense who completely contemptible our sinful follies are in the eyes of others and a holy God. With David the Psalmist we cry out to the Lord, "Hide Your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquity." (Ps 51:9)
Yet even here in one of the most shameful stories in Jewish history, from this side of the Cross we can look back and spot pointers, hints, of the cleansing and covering Jesus provides to sinners who cast themselves on Him for mercy. There are echoes of the Gospel sound, premonitions of Him who became cursed to bless us, who cheated Satan out of any satisfaction on account of our sins.
V9, Rebekah instructed her son, "Go out to the flock and bring me TWO choice young goats..." Why TWO? Wouldn't one goat have provided enough meat, and more than enough, for the hungriest 137-year-old man? Surely even a Toonie Tuesday would have been a veritable feast!
I wonder if the Holy Spirit here is pointing to something much bigger. When else were two goats required? At the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur. In Leviticus 16(15ff) we read how one goat's blood was taken into the Holy of Holies and sprinkled at the Atonement Cover "to make atonement...because of the uncleanness and rebellion of the Israelites, whatever their sins have been." The other goat was not killed, but the High Priest laid his hands on its head and convessed over it "all the wickedness and rebellion of the Israelites - all their sins" thus symbolically putting them on the goat's head. Then that goat was sent away into the desert, carrying "on itself all their sins..." But in explaining the New Covenant, Hebrews 9(13f) says, "The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean.How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!" Jesus has become our 'scapegoat'.
Second, did you notice Rebekah's words when Jacob protested the plan she was hatching, worrying he might be blamed for trying to trick the old man? V13, "Let the curse fall on me." Rebekah accepted responsibility for whatever blame might arise. In the Gospel, we see Jesus voluntarily take on the curse we deserve; it's as if the only truly innocent and perfect Person who ever lived says to you and me, "Let the curse fall on Me." At His sentencing the people told Pilate, "Let His blood be on us and on our children!" It's only by His blood covering our sins that we can be cleansed. Paul wrote to the Galatians (3:13), "Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: "Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree."" Jesus assigned to the cup of communion this meaning: "This is My blood...poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins." (Mt 26:28)
Finally, Jacob's attire as he's blessed is significant when seen through New Testament eyes. Did he come before the father in his own merit? His body was very much COVERED by another: he was wearing Esau's clothes; his hands were covered with goatskin (kid gloves for a real kidder?) to mimic Esau's hairy hide; his neck had a ruff from newly slaughtered goats (to make it seem rough-er like his brother's). He was hiding in his brother, as it were.
Even so, as a believer in Christ, we do not come to God in our own merit - far from it. We can only come covered in Christ His Son. Galatians 3:27, "for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ." Colossians 3:3, "For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God." Only by uniting ourselves with Jesus through faith and obedience, so having His righteousness imputed or attributed to us, are we qualified to come to God.
That precious 'covering' then has an outworking, transforming our behaviour. Colossians 3(9f) continues, "Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator."
IN CONFESSION AND BROKENNESS, FINDING CONNECTION
We each have sins to deal with - sins that need confession and cleansing - sins that would rip our families apart and destroy our loved ones if we tried to hide them or pretend to God they weren't there. I'd like to close today with a blog written by my daughter Emily that discloses some of my own weaknesses and failings, yet also holds hope for the church as community when we give ourselves to God's love and forgiveness and risk becoming real with each other... It's titled, "Why I Still Go to Church". (http://deeperstory.com/why-i-still-go-to-church)
"The air smells of breath mints and old ladies' perfume and the pew digs into my nine-year-old bones. I'm starving in church for more than food and my father stands up front preaching from a Book that forces us to move every few years and his white clerical collar is perfectly straight.
"My leotard itches and we all look the part, all covered in lace and frills like a pastor's family should be and no one would know there's no laughter in our house and that we all miss Daddy and wonder what church has that we don't that keeps him from us.
"I grew up dreading my visits to God's house. It took years to realize that much of the time, God himself doesn't even live there. I discovered the God-beyond-walls, and it happened in the questions posed in university and the Sundays spent with husband in Korea playing guitar in my room and finding Jesus in the cracks of my soul.
"And slowly I forgave while, miles away, Dad watched as Mum was ravaged by brain cancer, and one day he asked for help. He got down from his pulpit and admitted he was human and he let others in.
"And so I packed up and moved home and spent three years caring for Mum, listening to Dad preach again, this time in a school gymnasium that smelled of children's sweat and basketball rubber and we set up chairs each Sunday. I was on the worship team, and there were only a few of us, and I wore jeans but no one said anything as Mum's head drooped onto my shoulder.
"Dad's eyes were red-rimmed from sleepless, and his sermons full of humble, and when we broke bread and drank wine we all stumbled up in crooked lines to receive communion, and everyone waited while Mum took her turn and it was grace and it was holy and it was God.
"There was no pulpit or clerical collar, and Dad left the offering plate at the back of the room, while the women of the church took Mum shopping for dresses and weeded her garden on Saturdays and filled her freezer with casseroles. And we'd potluck after sermon and talk of real: of suffering and community and how to reach out, how to help others, how to make the doors of the school wider so more could come in.
"And I began to see the church for what it is, for the people it is, all broken and jagged and the need for the pastor to see this too, the need for the pastor to be a beggar just like the rest of us, hungry, but knowing where to find the food.
"Begging Jesus to fill, as only he--not frills or lace or sermons or offerings or stained glass windows--can do."
Doesn't that blog speak to us of the need to not be deceitful like Jacob, or hypocrites when it comes to keeping up appearances in church - but instead be honest, genuine, broken, and real with each other? So, despite our sins and shortcomings, by God's grace we find forgiveness in Jesus, and connection in His body. In one of the comments on Emily's blog, a person noted: "This church you describe is church as it should be, truly." Let's pray.