Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Rebekah: Desperate Housewife

I once openly criticized a fellow seminarian for reserving the television in the student lounge to watch Desperate Housewives. It was new in the UK, and she had never seen the show before. Normally, I wouldn’t have said anything (and I shouldn’t have, anyway), but this student was one of those truly special human beings who exudes holiness. I couldn’t figure out why she of all people would want to watch a show that I perceived as being sensationalist, sex-filled worthlessness. I’m embarrassed to remember how self-righteous I was.

When I read this morning’s OT lesson (Genesis 27:1-29), I’m shamed even further because this passage about Jacob stealing his father’s blessing away from his older brother involves as much deceit and seeming unholiness as any prime-time drama. Rebekah overhears her husband sending her older son out into the fields to hunt game for his last meal, and she seizes the opportunity to trick him out of his blessing. The bond between a father and his son is a special thing. Sure, so is the bond between a mother and her son, but to use complete and total dishonesty to get what one wants seems wrong on every level.

Jacob fakes the stew. He fakes his name. His mother puts goat-skins on his hands and neck to fake his brother’s hairiness. He fakes his brother’s outfit. And he fakes his way into the blessing that was intended for his brother. It’s all a lie—every bit of it. Yet this is how the Lord works. We know how the story plays out—Jacob is blessed; he wrestles with the angels and is renamed “Israel”; he becomes the father of the twelve tribes; and, as patriarch, is partially responsible for the salvation of the world. And all of that because of a scheming plot worthy of Desperate Housewives.

What really bothers me is that this isn’t an obscure text in one of those books of the bible whose name I can barely remember. This is central, front-page Judaism. This is a foundational story in the narrative of God’s people. And there’s nothing to be proud of here. How is it possible that God uses these means to work his will in the world? Even the Psalm for today declares, “Through your commandments I gain understanding; therefore, I hate every lying way” (119:104). How does Rebekah’s treachery end up paving the way for God’s plan to unfold?

One might simply say that a wife knew better than a husband what God wanted in this situation. That’s often the case. My wife is usually right about things like this, but (thank God) she doesn’t often resort to this level of chicanery. I think a better way to put it is this: even Isaac’s best intentions were unable to undo God’s will for the world. Isaac intended to bless his elder son, but, as God message to Rebekah had been delivered while the twins were still in her womb, the younger was destined to rule over the elder. Ultimately, it didn’t matter what Isaac thought was best. God was in control.

How often do we think that we know what’s best, yet how often is God’s way different than our own? We rely on things like custom, tradition, heritage, and precedent. God is the author of all those things. It matters not whether we prefer first-born children or good-for-you television. Whether we forsake our earthly responsibilities or refuse even to consider what God’s will might be, God is in control. In the big picture, even our biggest failures cannot undo God’s plan for us. Maybe that’s a source of comfort.

Don’t get lost in worrying about what God wants. Let God take care of that. Our job is not to anticipate everything that God would have us do, agonizing over the “what-if” question of what happens if we make a bad decision. We might as well flip a coin. God will work through even the ungodliest plans to reveal his will to the world. Our job is not to anticipate that will but to discern that will as it unfolds around us.

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