Friday, October 02, 2009

Jacob’s Faith Promise -- Genesis 28:18-22


So Jacob rose early in the morning, and took the stone that he had put under his head and set it up as a pillar and poured oil on its top. He called the name of that place Bethel; however, previously the name of the city had been Luz. Then Jacob made a vow, saying, "If God will be with me and will keep me on this journey that I take, and will give me food to eat and garments to wear, and I return to my father's house in safety, then the LORD will be my God. This stone, which I have set up as a pillar, will be God's house, and of all that You give me I will surely give a tenth to You."

The last few days I have, for one reason or another, been awaking early in the morning – earlier than I usually do. Once I get my bearings, I open my laptop and pursue my devotional time, working on my study of scripture, section by section. The result is not just the words that you are reading today, but also more importantly, a way for me to reconnect with God each day. I seek the ‘gem’ that He has for me in His Word, apply it to my own life, and then seek His wisdom, guidance, and protection for my own activities that day, as well as those of my family and others for whom I pray. This regular, and hopefully daily, occurrence helps me to continue on the faith path and minimizes my faltering steps. This all usually takes place in my home office and over time, I have come to see that room as a place where some important spiritual and life-changing decisions have been made in my life. It is one place that I hold dear to my heart.

We read in this section of scripture that Jacob also rose early in the morning and reconnected again with the God He had met and heard during the night. He took the stone that he had used as a pillow and set it up, perhaps on its end, held in place by smaller stones or rocks. Because of what had happened during the night, Jacob wants to set up a memorial or a marker at that place and he does it with this stone. He pours oil on it to anoint the place and gives it a new name. It used to be called Luz or ‘almond-tree’ but he now names it Bethel, or the ‘house of God’. There at Bethel, Jacob made a vow.

Before we look closer at his vow, I want to raise a question that may come to the minds of some readers. Where did Jacob get the oil to anoint that rock? You will remember that Jacob left his home rather quickly without all the fanfare that had accompanied his father and his grandfather’s servant when they set out from home on their journeys recorded earlier in Genesis. There is no record that Jacob took very much with him at all. He had wanted to get away from Esau as quickly as possible. It is possible that his mother Rebekah had prepared a traveling food package for him. If so, olive oil would have been part of that, either as part of the olives he may have had, or separately, so that he could have dipped his bread (also part of his staples) in it. It is also possible, that he got it from others on his journey or as he needed it, in order to anoint that marker he was establishing. Such marking ceremonies were common in those days and continue to this day around the world in one form or another, but especially in the Middle East. People in the area would have identified with what Jacob wanted to do and may easily have supplied him with what he needed to do so.

Let us return to Jacob’s vow. I am not sure about vows that begin with conditions on God. Clearly my current understanding of who God is and who I am in comparison leaves no room whatsoever for me to make my relationship with God dependent on something that Go must do for me. In no way can I make any demands on God. However, for someone who does not have that understanding of the relationship between Creator and man, such an expectation or approach to faith, is indeed common. Certainly, Jacob took this approach in the text we have before us.

Jacob’s requirement of God was five-fold in nature. God had to: be with him; protect him; provide food; provide clothing; and a safe return home. These are the things that man normally expects from God: his presence, protection, and provision of one’s material needs. In return, Jacob would make the Lord his God and give Him a tenth of all that God blessed him with. Just as much is entailed in God’s providing all that man requests of Him, much is involved in a man (or woman) making the Lord his (or her) God. The entire Bible is a handbook as to what it means exactly to make the Lord our God. It is interesting to note though that realizing who God is involves both the need to worship Him at specific places that we establish as Bethels or “houses of God” and that we recognize Him as the giver of all that we have.

This passage is the first mention in scripture of what we now call the ‘tithe’ or giving back to God one-tenth of what He has allowed us to have. Jacob appears to be the originator of the concept. If we are to follow scripture as a roadmap in our own life, by copying what the patriarchs of the faith did, then we see that part of making God our Lord is giving back to Him a tenth of what He gives us. At this point, how exactly we do that is left up to us. We need to figure out just how God is to “receive” this tenth from us. Who or what is the “recipient” for God of our tithes? Is it the local church? Is it the poor? Is it missions? Is it being hospitable to strangers? Many Christians struggle with these very questions even today. But one option that is not available to us is not to return to God at least one tenth of what we have been given.

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