Monday, March 15, 2010

God Provides Jacob Safe Passage Home -- Genesis 35:5

As they journeyed, there was a great terror upon the cities which were around them, and they did not pursue the sons of Jacob.

God tells Jacob to take his family home to Bethel and symbolically ‘back to God’. As Jacob obeys and travels on his way, he has to travel near some cities. By now, all of them had likely heard of what the Israelites had done to the Shechemites. And any one of them could have easily attacked the Israelites in retaliation or out of fear that they may be next to be wiped out by them. The Israelites were fewer in number and a possible surprise attack from one or more of these cities could have been devastating to Jacob’s family. We also have no ready evidence (that is, evidence found within this text) as to whether or not these cities were normally the warring type. Possibly they commonly attacked those traveling by, looting them, or taking them into captivity.

But they did not. In fact, they were struck with a great fear of the Israelites as they passed by or near their lands. They did not pursue them in any way and were glad to see their backs.

As I write this, I am in the middle of reading Athol Dickson’s The Gospel According to Moses: What my Jewish friends taught me about Jesus, Brazos Press, Grand Rapids, 2003. In it, Dickson explains one key Jewish approach to learning as being the encouraging of Torah students to ask God some really difficult questions. He shows us how God actually welcomes and desires that we do so because of His complete love for us. It is a book well worth reading for many reasons. It has changed my view on how to deal with some of man’s most searching questions, especially those dealing with the many paradoxes we find riddled throughout Scripture (e.g. up to this point in Scripture, the paradox of fertility – He commands Adam and Eve to be fruitful and multiply, yet He chooses three barren women through which to bring about His covenant with Abraham to fruition, namely Sarah, Rebekah, and Rachel; the paradox of obedience – God hated Cain’s murder of Abel but told Abraham to kill his son as a sacrifice; the paradox of the promise – He tells Abraham He will give him the land of Canaan but Abraham had to pay gold for a burial spot therein for his wife Sarah and later the Israelites paid for the land with their lives; and so on).

Well, with that kind of thinking in mind, let me ask a difficult question, in my faith, for as Athol Dickson suggests, it does indeed take “more faith to ask than it does to fear the asking”. Here’s my question: Is it possible that one of the reasons God allowed (I am pretty sure He did not ordain) Jacob’s sons to murder the Shechemites was in order that Jacob’s family might have ‘safe passage’ as they headed ‘home’? And if so, how could God do that?

I do not know the answers to those questions. But I do not feel any less ‘faithful’ or ‘believing’ because I asked them. I also believe that it is possible that God may answer them later in His word or as I delve deeper into what He has already said. But it is also possible that He may not answer them now or later, because He wants me, as Dickson also postulates, to learn something else by my continuing to ask them repeatedly, or perhaps in a different manner. Suffice it to say, God knows my questions and He has the answers.

In the meantime, from our text here, I can rejoice that God does indeed arrange circumstances to protect us. Sometimes that happens without us knowing it, but when we are made aware of it, it behooves us to give Him the praise and the glory. Has God arranged circumstances to protect you lately?

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