************ Sermon on Genesis 35:8-29 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on June 22, 2014
"The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly"
I have borrowed my sermon title from a Clint Eastwood movie, "The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly." Because that is what we see in our Scripture reading this morning: the good, the bad, and the ugly. But before we look at this, let us remind ourselves of the context.
The context is the heart and life of a sinful and fallen Jacob. Jacob, you see, is not the kind of person we would want to do business with unless we have an ironclad contract examined by a lawyer for loopholes. We would not want him to marry into the family. We would not want to get on the wrong side of him and his sons. We would not even want to worship with him. Jacob is a conniving, sneaky, deceitful, supplanting scoundrel. As I have said more than once, in Jacob we are to see ourselves. Because we, too, are so unworthy; we, too, are fallen; we, too, are deceitful.
Here is the amazing thing: God was working with Jacob. And, God works with us too. God is working out His plan. God is forming for Himself a people. God is the Potter and we, with Jacob, are the clay. God is sculpting and molding and cutting away and polishing.
Remember what we learned last time? We learned that God called Jacob back to Himself. God called Jacob to Bethel to renew and keep his vows to worship. God took the initiative because renewal always starts with God, His Word, His Spirit, His call. Jacob, cannot change himself. In fact, Jacob doesn't want to change himself – he is comfortable in his sin and half-hearted obedience.
We also learned that Jacob, by grace, responded to God's call. He and his household got rid of their idols. They purified themselves. They changed their clothes. And then they worshiped God.
In New Testament terms we would say Jacob was born-again by the Spirit of God. We would say Jacob had a conversion experience. We would say Jacob repented and believed. We would say Jacob got a new heart. We would say that Jacob died with Christ and rose with Christ.
Now what? Our Bible reading is a reminder that the resulting Christian life is not always a victorious Christian life. The resulting Christian life is not flowery beds of ease. The resulting Christian life includes the good, the bad, and the ugly.
I The Good
A Jacob is walking in fellowship with God. His spirit has been renewed. His heart has been changed. And in the midst of this we see the good: "God appeared to him again and blessed him" (Gen 35:9).
The most important thing in life is to receive the blessing of God. Let me repeat that: The most important thing in life is to receive the blessing of God. Without that blessing life is meaningless and empty and unfruitful. But with that blessing Jacob knows he can do all things (Phil 4:13). Remember what happened when Jacob wrestled with God? Jacob was asked to let go, for it was daybreak. But Jacob replied, "I will not let you go unless you bless me" (Gen 32:26). Jacob knows he can do nothing and accomplish nothing without God's blessing. Jacob knows he needs that blessing as he faces his brother Esau. Jacob knows he needs that blessing as he journeys to the Promised Land. Jacob knows he needs that blessing on his home and marriage.
As the children of Israel listen to Moses tell them the story of Jacob they realize they also need God's blessing. They, too, are on a journey to the Promised Land. In front of them are giants and fortified cities but with God's blessing they, too, can accomplish all things.
B Notice the particular form of the blessing given to Jacob. First of all, a new name:
(Gen 35:10) God said to him, "Your name is Jacob, but you will no longer be called Jacob; your name will be Israel. " So he named him Israel.Remember the meaning of Jacob? Literally, Jacob means "he grasps the heel." Figuratively, Jacob means "deceiver." Jacob certainly lived up to his name. But now, thanks to the work of God's grace within him, he is given a new name – the name "Israel." Israel means "struggles with God." Jacob has been struggling with God. Not just during the wrestling match at the River Jabbok but all his life he has been struggling with God. Jacob's new name is a reminder that God has been working, is working, and will continue to work with him. Yes, his was a life of sinful compromise. Yes, his household had idols. Yes, He was half-hearted in his commitment to God. But God remains true to His Word and to His covenant promises. God's good work in Jacob's life, once begun, cannot be halted. God's grace is overwhelming in its kindness. As Lamentations puts it,
(Lam 3:22-23) Because of the Lord's great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. (23) They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.
Think of what this says to Israel, the original audience of the book of Genesis. Like Jacob, they also struggle with God, and are disobedient to God, and have idols, and stop short of full obedience. They are being told that in spite of their sin God won't let go of them just like He won't let go of Jacob.
And, of course, God struggles with you and me too. We may neglect Him. We may fall away from Him. But, as He did with Jacob, God remains faithful to His covenant promises and calls you and me back to Him. He calls you and me to live for Jesus and to serve Jesus.
C Second, notice the next form of God's blessing upon Jacob. And God said to him:
(Gen 35:11-12) "I am God Almighty; be fruitful and increase in number. A nation and a community of nations will come from you, and kings will come from your body. (12) The land I gave to Abraham and Isaac I also give to you, and I will give this land to your descendants after you."
This promise and blessing of God should sound familiar. The language is the same as was said to Isaac and Abraham many years before (Gen 26:24-25; Gen 12:1-3; Gen 17:3-8). Truly, God's mercies are from generation to generation. Jacob is promised many seed – as was Abraham and Isaac. Jacob is promised a land – as was Abraham and Isaac. Jacob is promised that kings will come from his body – as was Abraham and Isaac. We know, of course, that these promises are especially fulfilled in the Lord Jesus Christ.
Notice, Jacob is promised "a nation and a community of nations." This promise was first stated at Bethel (Gen 28:3). God is not making a promise about an international organization like the United Nations. Rather, what God promises to Jacob is nothing less than the beginning of His people, Israel. God promises Jacob a true community of brothers and sisters chosen for eternal life and united in true faith. God promises Jacob the formation of a community that shares in Christ and in all His treasures and gifts. God promises Jacob the formation of the church. Though the church has existed from the beginning of the world to its end, it finally becomes more than one man and one family. In the family of Jacob, it finally becomes a community.
The psalmist talks about this community when he says, "How good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell together in unity!" (Ps 133:1). Most of us know from experience, in families and in churches, that the unity of which the psalmist speaks is rarely experienced in a fallen world. In fact, as we continue our study of Genesis we see the attention falling on the rivalry, the hatred, and the lack of community of Jacob's sons as Joseph boasts about this coat and is sold as a slave into Egypt. However, community remains God's promise and is His goal for His people.
To sum up the good of life with God: we see that obedience and faith is rewarded by the Lord as a gift of His grace in Christ.
II The Bad
A As I said, the Christian life is not always a victorious Christian life. The Christian life is not flowery beds of ease. The Christian life includes not only the good but also the bad.
I need to emphasize this because there are those who preach and teach and believe a health and wealth gospel. Believe in Jesus, they say, and yours will be riches. Give in faith, they say, which means give more than you can afford, and you will reap ten-fold. Believe in Jesus and all your troubles and sorrows will disappear.
But now look at our Bible reading. Was Jacob's life trouble free after God has changed his heart? Did Jacob enjoy flowery beds of ease? Hardly. In fact, his life was filled with as many sorrows after being called by God as it was before he was called by God.
Did you notice the bad in our Bible reading? It is something mentioned three times. It is something that happened to three separate people: Rebekah's nurse, Deborah; Rachel; and, Isaac.
I am talking about death. After being called and changed by God, Jacob experienced the death of three people in his life.
First, there was the death of Deborah. Huh, I thought when I read this. Who is this? And, why is she suddenly introduced to us? We need to go back to Genesis 24:61. At that time, Rebekah "and her maids" got ready and mounted their camels and went back with Abraham's servant. Now we are told the name of one of the maids. Deborah, we are told, was a special maid. She was Rebekah's nurse. It was she who long cared for Rebekah – when Rebekah was a child, at the time of her marriage to Isaac, during the pregnancy and birth of the twins, and in the years since. Jacob and Esau would have known Deborah. So, Deborah would have been quite elderly when she died.
Deborah was a woman of great faith. I say this because, like Abraham, she left her home for a strange land. And, I say this because she was commemorated with an oak tree. In the Ancient World, oaks were often chosen as holy places, and God's people followed this practice (Gen 12:76-7; 13:18). Commemorating Deborah with an oak tree indicates this woman of faith was dearly loved and would be greatly missed.
Isn't it strange that the death of Deborah the nurse is mentioned while the death of Rebekah the mistress is not chronicled? Rebekah is the only matriarch whose death and burial is not recorded by Moses. Telling us what? Telling us the Lord was displeased with her. Rebekah had faith, but she sinned greatly when she deceived her husband (Gen 27).
Second, there was the death of Jacob's beloved Rachel. Rachel died giving birth to her second son, Benjamin. Jacob named him "son of my right hand" rather than the name Rachel had suggested, "son of my sorrow." Jacob mourned Rachel's death. To remember her he set up a pillar.
Third, there was the death of Isaac. He died an old man of 180 years. He was gathered to his people, old and full of years. And his sons Esau and Jacob buried him in much the same way as Isaac and Ishmael had earlier buried Abraham.
B We see that the way to glory is paved with sorrows. It is through many tribulations that we enter the Kingdom of God (Acts 14:22). Losses and crosses are strewn across life's path to remind us that we must lean upon the Lord Jesus every step of the way. As with Jacob, gravestones of people dear to our heart are pillars designed to wean us from self-reliance to reliance upon Christ.
We also see that the dark line of grief and sorrow is often drawn around our experiences of blessing! In the wake of covenant renewal comes the sting of death. Three graves cast a long shadow over Jacob's renewal and change of heart.
Believers express grief at the loss of loved ones in different ways. Yes, death puts an ends to our sinning and is our entrance into eternal life. Yes, the death of the saints is precious in the eyes of the Lord (Ps 116:15). But this does not mean Christians will not grieve when a loved one dies.
III The Ugly
A This brings us to our third and final point: the ugly.
The ugly is ugly indeed. "While Israel was living in that region, Reuben went in and slept with his father's concubine, and Israel heard of it" (Gen 36:22).
There are at least two sins here. First, we see sin on Jacob's part. What did Jacob do in response to his son's sin? He "heard of it." That's it. Nothing more. He kept quiet. He said nothing. He did nothing. Remember, this was the same response he showed at the rape of Dinah. Then, too, he said and did nothing (Gen 34:5). Here we see Jacob's failure as a father. Here we see Jacob letting down Bilhah (who had no say in the matter); he failed to protect her and defend her even as failed to protect and defend Dinah. Here we see Jacob tolerating a great evil and a great wickedness.
Jacob may have been called by God and renewed by God's Spirit but he was still a sinner.
B The second sin is the sin of Reuben. But let's be careful to properly identify his sin. Reuben's sin was not just adultery. His sin was much worse. Reuben committed the same sin as Absalom when he lay with David's concubines (2 Sam 16:15-22).
Reuben committed incest. The law condemned such relationships (Lev 18:8; 20:11-21). Incest is one of the main reasons God removed the Canaanites from the Promised land (Lev 18:24-25). Even many pagan nations looked down on this practice; for instance, Hammurabi's famous law code, reflecting the customs of Babylon in Jacob's day, lists incest as a crime. Centuries later, the Apostle Paul rebuked the Corinthians for tolerating a man who took his father's wife as his own (1 Cor 5).
Reuben committed incest. He was trying to take his father's place. He was usurping his father's authority. But, notice, he did this to Bilhah, not to Zilpah. He slept with Rachel's maid. He was hoping that this would so defile Bilhah that Jacob would want nothing more to do with the maid of Rachel. He was hoping that his mother, not Bilhah, would take Rachel's place in Jacob's affections. So, his motive was envy and hatred and jealousy.
We see, then, that sin remains even after renewal. We know that even the holiest of saints has only a small beginning of living according to God's commandments. We see that even after covenant renewal the ugliness of sin remains. We see we all need a closer walk with Jesus.
By God's grace in Christ we may get a new heart. The Christian life, however, contains the good, the bad, and the ugly.
Remember the song we sang just before this message? "Just as I Am." That was Jacob's song. He came to God with many a conflict, many a doubt. With fightings and fears within and without. This, also, is your song and my song as we face the good, the bad, and the ugly.
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