A NEW NORMAL FOR JACOB, AND FOR US
By Karen Ediger
Jacob’s story begins with Isaac (Abraham’s son) and Rebekah. In Genesis 24, Abraham wanted his son Isaac to have a wife from Abraham’s homeland, so he sent his servant Eliezer to find a wife for Isaac. Eliezer prayed and asked God to help him find the right young woman for Isaac. Rebekah returned with Eliezer to marry Isaac. Rebekah gave birth to twins, Esau, born first, and Jacob. Because Esau was born first, he should have received the birthright from their father, including a special blessing and an extra portion of inheritance. But Jacob, with Rebekah’s help, was able to trick their father into giving it to him instead.
Genesis 28 tells the story of a dream Jacob had. In this story, Jacob, having just stolen Esau’s birthright, escapes Esau’s wrath by traveling to his Uncle Laban’s (Rebekah’s brother’s) place. The first night on his travels, he looks for a good place to sleep. He finds a flat rock on which to lay his head and goes to sleep. During the night, he dreams. From the rock on which his head rests, a ladder rises up to Heaven. Angels are going up and down the ladder and God is standing beside Jacob. God tells him:
“I am the LORD, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring; 14 and your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and all the families of the earth shall be blessed in you and in your offspring. 15 Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” Genesis 28:13-15
When Jacob wakes up, he realizes this place, this rock, is the entrance to a portal leading straight to God in Heaven. This is the place from which God sends the angels out with their messages. He takes the rock, places it upright, and names the spot “Beth-el” or House of God.
In response to God’s promise that Jacob is still part of the promise made to his grandfather, Abraham, Jacob also makes a promise:
“If God will be with me, and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat and clothing to wear, 21 so that I come again to my father’s house in peace, then the LORD shall be my God, 22 and this stone, which I have set up for a pillar, shall be God’s house; and of all that you give me I will surely give one-tenth to you.” Genesis 28:20-22
Read the promise that Jacob made again. Can you see his fear? What is there that resonates with what we as a people are experiencing during the COVID-19 health crisis? Like many people today, Jacob is worried about having food to eat and clothing to wear, the necessities of life. He is worried about the new normal he will experience at his Uncle’s place and wants to be able to go back to his father’s house in peace, to how things used to be.
Jacob, being Jacob, tries to bargain with God. He says IF God will provide for him, he will make a physical recognition of God for all to see, a House of God. He doesn’t ask for wealth from which to give one-tenth. He’s promising to give one-tenth of whatever he receives.
In the meantime, Jacob will have a new normal at his uncle’s place. And we are experiencing a new normal also. The world is going through a crisis that will change us. We’re not sure that things will ever again be “normal” as we have known it. And like Jacob, we know that God will be present with us in our changing situation.
Jacob doesn’t mention gratitude, but I think that is what his promised actions express. I have found that during some of the most challenging times of my life, it has been helpful to focus on the things for which I was grateful. During this time as we are finding safe ways to live until we can contain or eradicate COVID-19, we can express our gratitude to those around us. There are so many people who have and continue to risk their lives, not only in healthcare, but also in keeping the necessities of life available to all of us. We can keep a gratitude journal to help us focus on what we have rather than what we may lose. And to the extent that we are able to do so, we can connect with those around us and help each other.
Karen Unruh Ediger, North Newton, Kansas, is a member of Bethel College Mennonite Church. She is married to Glen. She is retired and volunteers at the Mennonite Library and Archives at Bethel College and serves as the Secretary on the Board of Springs Forth! Faith Formation, Inc.