Genesis wants us to know that Isaac survived and he had children. One of them is Jacob. My friend Mike has helped me with a picture of Jacob. This grandchild of Abraham was a conniving, deceitful, momma’s boy. He was a secular, self-made man who believed God helps those who help themselves. Jacob believes in God but is not convinced that God has anything to do with his life.
He goes through the motions as if he has some control. He pretends he is writing his own story. But then one night he falls to sleep and God shows up. Jacob awakes literally and theologically and observes “God is in this place.” He calls this place Bethel. Jacob is no returning prodigal yet God comes to meet him. God is not a distant force; God is involved in this world.
It is worth noting that Jacob has this dream in the middle of nowhere with his head lying on a rock. Later, Moses finds a burning bush. The psalmist will sing “where can I go from his presence?” Disciples will encounter the unexpected presence of God on the road to Emmaus. Saul is met with the presence of the Lord on the road to Damascus. There is no such place as nowhere, it’s all Bethel. The place you least expect will be the place God will show. Earth is crammed with heaven and every bush a fire with God.
Jacob should have been on time out, instead he finds himself in the presence of God. No one is in the presence of God because we deserve it. Jacob is not a candidate for an important role. He has torn his family apart. Yet he is invited to rejoin the family and find his place in a larger story. God is doing something in the world and for the world and wants Jacob to be part of it. Jacob becomes part of God’s plan to bless the world.
Frederick Buechner gives an interesting first person account of blessing in his novel about Jacob, Son of Laughter. “My mother had more than once told me about the day when Abraham gave the blessing to Laughter. She said the camels had all made water at once. Flying birds had hung motionless in the air. Laughter’s face had given off light.” In response to his own blessing he deceitfully received from Isaac, Jacob says, “It was not I who ran off with my father’s blessing. It was my father’s blessing that ran off with me… The blessing will take me where it will take me. It is beautiful and it is appalling. It races through the barren hills to an end of its own.”
Before the Genesis story ends we find Jacob in Egypt. He is here to ask Pharaoh for bread. He hopes Pharaoh will be generous. And yet he is there blessing the Pharaoh. Pharaoh was the world power. He held the control. He made decisions that influenced the world. He has need of nothing. Jacob, on the other hand, has nothing. He certainly has nothing Pharaoh needs. Still he blesses Pharaoh.
The fact is, Jacob knows some things Pharaoh does not. He woke one morning after sleeping on a rock and things were never the same for him again. Jacob has been pulled into a narrative that is world changing. He has become part of a story Pharaoh is not aware of. Jacob knows that God is doing something in the world and for the world.
Ever since the days of his grandma and grandpa, Jacob knows God has been seeking ways to bless the nations. His grandfather, Abraham, once had the opportunity to bless Egypt. Instead, Abraham took the promise into his own hands. Jacob has no such designs, he has nothing. Nothing but this promise of blessing. This blessing, both beautiful and appalling, has taken Jacob to Egypt. And he blesses Pharaoh. Claus Westermann says it like this, “The shepherd from the steppe… performs the gesture of blessing on the powerful and divine one.” This is good news. Even Pharaohs and world powers are in need of this blessing.
Westermann reminds us blessing has been given to the patriarchs and is passed from fathers to the children. As Isaac received blessing from Abraham and Jacob received blessing from Isaac, so Jacob blesses his grandsons Ephraim and Manasseh. But Genesis wants to be sure we know blessing is not only for family succession. This is not only a clan religion. This blessing is for all people.