My life with a 21-year-old man-child has its agonies and its ecstasies. Currently, he’s trying to figure life out for himself while being a student, an employee, and the owner of a used car without proper tag or title. He’s African American, and this is Georgia. He also recently lost his wallet. And yesterday, we had lunch on campus, and he wasn’t embarrassed.
Need I say more?
So this morning as I opened my Bible, sluggish from little sleep and overwrought with worry, this mama bird was looking for words that were settling and encouraging, ones that would help me survive this fifth fledging, taking flight and sometimes faltering.
I wasn’t disappointed.
Genesis 26:12-28:5 contrasts the stories of Isaac and Rebekah—an accepting papa vs a hovering mama—telling what happens after the lights come back up after the honeymoon is over.
As the sole inheritor of his father’s estate, Isaac has great wealth. And God’s given him even more prosperity in his own right, so much so that Abimelech, the king where he lives, feels threatened and asks him to move out, Ge 26:12-16.
Isaac doesn’t put up a fight. When he leaves, he directs his men to reopen the wells that his father had dug along the way, those the locals had closed for spite. And he does’t argue when they claim these newly opened wells for themselves, Ge 26:18-21.
He just keeps moving along until he re-opens one that goes uncontested, and he receives the news as direction, “Now God has given us plenty of space to spread out…” Ge 26:22.
God comes one night afterwards to confirm the covenant he made with Abraham. Isaac builds an altar and talks to him. And then, Isaac pitches his tent right there where he is, and he digs another well, Ge 26:25.
Isaac doesn’t scheme. He doesn’t hear the promise God spoke that night and think he needs to get busy and make it happen. The land God promises and the blessings to all nations through him don’t motivate him to throw his weight around, proving himself.
What he does do is dig a lot of wells. Why wells? He’s got so much livestock, their survival depends on it. Blessing the world might be in his future, but what’s on his plate for today is getting water to his animals. So Isaac puts down his tent stakes and digs into life right where he is.
Abimelech comes to see him again. He recognizes that God is with Isaac, and he wants a peace treaty with him to patch up his former, “get the heck outta town” message, Ge 26:26-29.
Isaac throws a big shindig and the next morning, exchanges oaths of peace with the king and his men. He hasn’t forgotten their last meeting, but he doesn’t hold it against them. He’s not interested in increasing his dominion. He’s got God’s sworn promise that one day this land will be his, and yet, he forgives. He chooses peace instead of lording over them, Ge 26:30-31.
Is it just coincidence that right here in the story, his servants give him the good news that the well he’d begun after his altar-talk has struck water? Ge 26:32.
God blesses Isaac for taking the low, humble road, leaving his story in God’s hands and busying himself with what’s right in front of him.
Next is the story of his firstborn son, Esau, and the blessing brother Jacob steals. Isaac doesn’t hold a grudge here, either. While Isaac wanted Esau to have his blessing, he doesn’t scold Jacob or shut him out for deceiving him, Ge 27.
He does quite the opposite. When Jacob flees because of Esau’s threatened revenge, Isaac blesses Jacob again and gives him instruction about where to find a good wife, Ge 28:1-5. Isaac accepts God’s choice of Jacob as the one who gets his blessing, trusting that God knows best, undeserving though Jacob is.
Rebekah, on the other hand, thinks she knows best. In earlier chapters, she says, “Life’s not worth living!” Rather than accepting her lot, she’s quick to despair. During pregnancy and with daughter-in-law issues, she’s undone to the point of not wanting to go on, Ge 25:22; 27:46 MSG.
And when Isaac is old and it’s time to give his blessing, her instruction to Jacob is faithless. She tells him to deceive his father to steal it. Even though God’s already promised that “the older will serve the younger,” just what she wants, she fails to believe what God’s said, and she intervenes, Ge 25:23; 27:5-13.
Isaac has learned to accept God’s plans and ways, even when they grieve him, but Rebekah has grown determined to have her way instead. Faith doesn’t stagnate; it either multiplies or dissipates.
Which way will I take when worries come to roost? The choices of my grown children tempt me to fear or push me into faith. I missed a lot of sleep this week worrying, believing I knew best how life oughta be, which was the perfect set up for what’s next.
Matthew 9:1-17 tells me this same “I know what’s best” was the Pharisees’ attitude. They were aghast that Jesus claimed to forgive sins in the paralytic. They’re scandalized again when they see Jesus partying at Matthew’s house, a low-life tax collector with his misfit friends. “What kind of teacher is he?” the Pharisees ask Jesus’ men, Mt 9:1-11.
John the Baptist’s followers ask Jesus the same thing, basically, why aren’t you a goody-goody like us? “Why don’t your disciples fast like we and the Pharisees do?” Mt 9:14.
Jesus says because he’s come, it’s time to celebrate, not to hunker down and refuse the fun, not to be dutifully disciplined. At a wedding, you sample the cake and wine. You enjoy what’s available. You can deny yourself later. It’s the same with Jesus. Being with him was reason to party, not be an ascetic, Mt 9:15-17.
Jesus said his kingdom coming replaced the old one. His reign and rule were totally new. The old was obsolete—like old clothes and old bottles. And here’s the new, prophesied since ancient Hosea: Do real mercy. Don’t act like a goody-goody. Don’t be so sure of what you think, Mt 9:13; Ho 6:6.
Like Isaac, Jesus accepted the life God gave him, the low, humble road, “…not as I will, but as you will,” Mt 26:39. He trusted God with his story. If even he needed to trust, surely I must.
Jesus came to bring good news to those who need it, not to the ones who think they’re already good enough on their own, “It’s not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick…I haven’t come to call the righteous, but sinners,” Mt 9:12-13.
While Isaac would’ve welcomed Jesus, Rebekah might’ve walked off in a huff. I’d like to be the one who accepts what God does, but the truth is, I’m a Rebekah.
And the message that’s dearest to me isn’t “be like Isaac.” It’s this one: God gives sinners grace. God gave Rebekah what she wanted, even though she took matters into her own hands, even though she failed to trust what he’d already promised.
God doesn’t hold out until we get it right and then bless us. He blesses us while we are sinners, right there in our mess ups. “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us,” Ro 5:8.
God, it’s hard to believe that you’re really this good and that I don’t have to earn it. But it’s the best news, because I can never deserve you; I keep messing up. Help me to trust you as my fledging takes off on a wing and a prayer. And thank you for blessing me, even when I don’t.
The Bible passages for January 12 come from The One Year Bible, 2004 ed. I added the first few verses from Ge 28 to round out the story of Isaac and Jacob.