Introduction: Do you remember John Bunyan’s words from Pilgrim’s Progress about the ‘pilgrim’ nature of the Christian life? They are adapted to sing in hymn # 603 of our Trinity hymnal: “He who would valiant be ‘gainst all disaster, let him in constancy follow the Master. There’s no discouragement shall make him once relent his first avowed intent to be a pilgrim” (John Bunyan 1678). May God use this week’s Bible notes to remind us of the high privilege of having ‘no country to call our own’ (Hebrews 11:13), as we see Jacob, like his father and grandfather before him, ‘staying as a stranger’ in the land of Canaan (Genesis 37:1, New King James Version).
Monday: read Genesis 35:21-29 and Hebrews 11:13-14. One of the bittersweet but unavoidable proofs that believers in the God of Jacob are ‘looking for a heavenly country to call their own’ is that they suffer unequally in this world. Some live long lives of comparative peace; others short lives of real agony. But whether long or short, good or ill – their lives testify that they are waiting for the day when all of them will share equally in the joys of heaven. Consider for example Isaac’s life as described in Gen. 35:28-29 compared to his son Jacob’s in Gen. 47:9. In 47:9, Jacob sums up his whole life (147 years all told although here he is only 130) as years ‘few and difficult, not equaling the years of his fathers.’ Isaac’s 180 years in Gen. 35:28-29 compare much more favorably, being described as “full years,” a phrase that describes a life lived in peace and quiet in which much that could be desired was accomplished.
Meditate and Pray: Let us humbly begin this week by asking the Lord for contentment and thankfulness for whatever lot in life He has been pleased to bestow upon us. Let us also affirm our confidence that one day, the Last Day, all wrongs will be righted; all tears wiped away. We will not regret even one of the scars of living in this world, but will carry those scars with us and watch with wonder as they are transformed into glorious tokens of God’s conforming us to the Image of His Son – through the very sufferings which we endured on earth.
Tuesday: read Genesis 35:21-29. Further proof that believers are waiting for the lasting joy of heaven is to see how transient periods of happiness can be – even followed by great heartbreak. Take for example the events of Jacob’s life here in Gen. 35, where we see the blessing of family repentance, as all Jacob’s kin forsook their idols and buried them (Gen. 35:1-7), followed by the blessing of bidding goodbye in the faith to a faithful elderly nurse Deborah and a restored wife Rachel – see Gen. 35:8-20. These were memorable events marked by pillars of remembrance. But in the middle of such times of blessing what happens? Reuben, Jacob’s eldest, commits incest with his father’s slave-wife, Bilhah, in Gen. 35:22! In this way Jacob was taught to long for heaven instead of holding on to this world’s happy days as if they would never end. No wonder at the end of his life, when he had Reuben and all his other sons before him, Jacob breaks out with a cry: “I look for your deliverance, O Lord!” (Gen. 49:18).
Meditate and Pray: Even the greatest days of blessing on earth are no substitute for the fulfillment which will be ours when the Lord returns. Let us long with Jacob for that Great Day of Deliverance, and persevere through all the heartbreaks caused even by those nearest and dearest to us. Surely it is one proof of the Lord’s mighty upholding of Jacob that he is able to keep walking in the path of faith even after losing his nurse, his wife and his eldest son’s purity. How much God had taught Jacob as he arrived at the home of his father for the last time in Gen. 35:27! God, keep us faithful ‘to the very end’ as well. Amen.
Wednesday: read Genesis 35:27-29. It is surely a mark of God’s grace in the most unexpected places to see Jacob and his brother Esau reconciled at the grave of their father Isaac in Gen. 35:29. Bill Harrell writes of such moments of grace in times of bereavement: “When God receives a dying saint into heaven, it often is the case that heavenly peace, graciousness, and love are poured upon the surviving loved ones of that saint, making them to be, at least for a time, better in their attitude toward one another in the valley of the shadow of death than ever they were while their departed one lived. This sweetness of common grace should quicken men’s hunger for God’s special, saving grace.” Amen! May God grant us powerful testimony of His Grace when beloved saints in our midst depart and go to be with the Lord – so much Grace as to draw even the long-estranged one closer than ever before to salvation.
Thursday: read Genesis 35:29-36:8. It is sad to see that mere material possessions, and the abundance of earthly wealth which quickly fades away, drive a wedge between Jacob and Esau in Gen. 36:6-8. Their unity at the grave of their father (Gen. 35:29) does not last long. Just as Abram and Lot parted ways because the land could not support their vast herds and wealth in Gen. 13:5-13 – much to Lot’s harm in the end – so Esau’s departure from Jacob spells his final refusal to find refuge with the God of his brother. He chooses what Bill Harrell calls ‘cold cash’ instead of warm fellowship in the Covenant of God’s Grace.
Meditate and Pray: Esau should have recognized his brother’s claim to the land of Promise and then sought in some way to maintain a reliance on his brother’s God, allowing Jacob to lead the way to a different life of fellowship with the Lord. Instead, as was prophesied by his father Isaac, Esau became “restless…throwing the yoke of his brother off from his neck” (Gen. 27:40).
Prayer: Lord, do not allow us to wander away from the fellowship of God’s people into the lonely life of pursuing the cold cash of this world. Do not let us rely on our own strength and resources. Do not let us ever be so rich as to forget you. Amen.
Friday: read Genesis 36:31-43 & 37:1-4. We end with the graveyard of Esau’s family in Genesis 36 followed by a hopeful glimpse at what lies ahead for Jacob’s in Gen. 37. Often cemeteries are so vast, like Esau’s family tree, that we can only catch a glimpse of the largest monuments. What do we see, then, at first glance in Gen. 36? Well, in terms of worldly prosperity, and security, Esau’s family surpasses Jacob’s in terms of enjoying the ‘good things’ of this life. While Jacob’s family endures 400 years in slavery in Egypt, followed by several hundred years of struggle to gain a foothold in the land of Canaan – all without a king to lead them (Gen. 36:31) – Esau’s offspring build kingdoms in Gen. 36:31-39 with no mention of conflict or struggle. To make the contrast even more pointed: Esau’s family consists of numerous unified tribes in Gen. 36:40-43 while Jacob’s sons appear willing to tear apart the unity of their future 12 tribes in their hatred of Joseph (Gen. 37:1-4). Is there any hope?
The word translated ‘account’ or ‘generations’ in Gen. 37:2 gives us hope. It is from the root to ‘give birth,’ and signifies ‘beginnings.’ When God did a new thing in creation (Gen. 2:4), Moses speaks of the ‘generations (same word) of the heavens and the earth.’ Likewise, though Esau’s ‘graveyard’ is quiet and peaceful in Gen. 36, God’s real work of creating and redeeming Jacob’s family begins anew in the midst of the conflict in the ‘account’ of Gen. 37:2. Which would we rather have? The good things of this life, piled on with complacent satisfaction only to end with tombstones, or the conflict of God’s creative work resulting in the end in glory and redemption? Surely it is much better to endure the trials now and receive the good things later.
Meditate and Pray: Thank God that, no matter how difficult your life might be right now – perhaps with real family conflicts and even hatreds – you can commit your family to Him. He is an expert at bringing good out of the worst of family squabbles. As we will see in the end, Joseph himself will declare to his strife-causing brothers: “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good…” (Gen. 50:20). Let us thank God for the Bible’s approach to evil, as John Piper puts it:
“The heart of the Bible is not an explanation of where evil came from, but a demonstration of how God enters into it and turns it for the very opposite – everlasting righteousness and joy.” Hallelujah! Lord, please make the ‘account’ of our families of faith to end with your righteousness and our joy! Amen.