Flight

Day 14

Flight 

“Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life.

No one comes to the Father except through me”

John 14:6

Found in  Genesis 28:11-22 and Genesis 32:22-28

Flight follows fight, because if you lie, manipulate, defraud and steal and you’re just going to end up running. Running away from all you love in search of a life that you just burnt. Do this to your own family, well you can’t run far enough. You can’t outrun that burn. It will haunt you. For years. 

Jacob runs in the direction of his mother’s family ‘in order to find a wife’ (Genesis 28:2) in order to escape Esau’s vengeance. But Jacob was about to learn one important thing: You may be able to run away from problems, flee your responsibilities or outrun a threat.  But you can’t outrun God.

God found Jacob, in the place he was least expecting to be found.

“When he reached a certain place, he stopped for the night because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones there, he put it under his head and lay down to sleep. He had a dream in which he saw a stairway resting on the earth, with its top reaching to heaven, and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it.” Genesis 28:11-12

YHWH Jesus God

‘A stairway resting on the earth, with its top reaching to heaven’, heaven and earth connected, like they were in the beginning, the place where humans and God dwelt together as He had done in the genesis of all things and planned for us from before all time began. As He will do forever in times to come (Revelation 21:3). It was always the plan, this closeness of God. Him drawing close, to be with us. 

“There above it stood the Lord…” Genesis 28:13a

This little phrase “There above it stood the Lord,” could equally be translated as ‘there beside him’ stood the Lord. Because that’s where YHWH was. Close. As close as He intended to stay with this problematic family.

“There above it stood the Lord, and he said: ‘I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac….” Genesis 28:13a

God ‘name drops’ and introduces Himself to Jacob by His relationship with Jacob’s family- His friendship with Abraham and Isaac, this broken family who had found their restoration in calling on God’s name and walking closely with Him. 

However this bad apple had fallen far from the family tree. Jacob was not so much walking with God as he is running away without Him. God draws close and introduces Himself to this deceiving, recalcitrant fugitive, not because Jacob is flawless and faithful, but because God is. Faithful to this family, faithful to His promise to Abraham and Isaac. Faithful to His own commitment to bless all people through this people.

“I will give you and your descendants the land on which you are lying. Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east, to the north and to the south. All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring.” Genesis 28:13b-14

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God had given his word to Abraham and Isaac and He will, one way or another find a way to fulfil it. Not because their descendants (or any human being) deserves to receive it, but because His heart is always faithful. Covenant faithfulness.

“I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” Genesis 28:15

This God who created the earth beneath Jacob’s feet, the rock on which his head rests and the canopy of stars swirling over his head, broke into Jacob’s brokenness, breaking his sleep, to make it personal, “I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you”. 

Jacob didn’t earn this. Didn’t deserve this. This love was not what he was reaching for, fighting for. He was fighting for his own significance and self interest, and destroying his life in the process. He was fleeing for his life, and fled right into the grace of God. Jacob deserves nothing but God unreservedly promises him everything.

Let that sit in your heart for just a moment, let it ring like a bell in the silent stillness of your soul. 

“He has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time.”

(2 Timothy 1:9)

Not because of anything we have done. Grace doesn’t wait for us to grow up and earn it. It plants itself like a seed in our hearts, a seed woven into the sinews of our souls before our time begins, before all time began, and it whispers into our brokenness this lingering ancient song, a song half remembered but almost forgotten. A song first breathed over us in a garden long ago.

The whole story of history is God finding ways to be faithful to faithless human beings. Because faithfulness is who He is. Deep, unwavering commitment, an ocean of steadfast love. God’s covenant faithfulness means that the God of all the spinning universe ties Himself to the fate of faulty human beings and binds Himself to the broken beating hearts of humankind. While we humans, most times, are blind and deaf and numb, unaware of His presence with us.

When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he thought, ‘Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it.’” Genesis 28:16

God doesn’t need a temple, church building or cathedral. He can make Himself at home on a rock on a hillside, the gateway of Heaven breaking into earth, the presence of His grace with us when we don’t deserve it. He is all around us. Yet we are so often blind to His presence.  We live in a seeing is believing world, a world where material things materialise our reality. But every now and then the corner of that reality is torn back and we glimpse a different reality, a larger reality, a dawning awareness, and we begin to see that we haven’t  been seeing clearly all along. 

“He was afraid and said, ‘How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven.Early the next morning Jacob took the stone he had placed under his head and set it up as a pillar and poured oil on top of it. He called that place Bethel, though the city used to be called Luz.” Genesis 28:17-19

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But sight isn’t always a cure for blindness. Though Jacob is awed by his vision, he is still blinded by his own self reliant ambition.

Then Jacob made a vow, saying, ‘If God will be with me and will watch over me on this journey I am taking and will give me food to eat and clothes to wear so that I return safely to my father’s household, then the Lord will be my God and this stone that I have set up as a pillar will be God’s house, and of all that you give me I will give you a tenth.” Genesis 28:20-22

And the two threads of a life weave this way and that battling for the heart that beats within. Jacob has just seen YHWH in a dream and heard His voice speaking to him (a way God often appears to people who don’t yet know Him personally). The King of this whole whirling Universe has reached out to Jacob (this grasping, grabbing, deceiving, fleeing Jacob) and promised to bless him and protect him (the other meaning of Jacob’s name). 

God wears His heart on His sleeve and reaches out to Jacob generously and openly. There are no good behaviour clauses in God’s promises to Jacob, no expectations or strings attached. Just the generous loving heart of God drawing near. 

But the cold light of morning reveals Jacob’s cold heart toward God. The two threads of a life weave this way and that, battling for the heart that beats within.

Jacob’s response, though awed at first, isn’t humble worship or thanksgiving to God, but calculating self interest. Using 10 personal pronouns in just one sentence, Jacob re-interprets God’s words wrapping them around his ambitions and fears, making them all about him. He downscales God’s promises, ignoring the “Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth” and “All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring” and focuses only on his own personal gain. It’s all about him. And this vow Jacob makes to God resembles a calculating arms-length legal contract, a way of controlling the situation rather than a trusting partnership and friendship. ‘If’ God comes through ‘then’ I will trust him…and let him have a tenth share in the spoils.

“There is nothing contractual about the relationship God wants to have with Jacob, but there is everything contractual about the relationship Jacob wants to have with God. Jacob is always the calculator.” John Goldingay1

Sight isn’t always a cure for blindness. A life time of script-line selfish ambition and calculating self-reliance, well it’s just going to take some time. 

Jacob continues running.  He runs to his mother’s family ‘in order to find a wife’ (28:2). He runs to where Rebekah had been found by God for Isaac years before. But Jacob’s circumstances are very different. Abraham had sent a servant so that Isaac didn’t leave the promised land, Jacob arrives as a fugitive, fleeing the promised land. Rather than arriving with wealth, dignity and integrity to procure a wife as Abraham’s servant had done for Isaac, Jacob arrives penniless and has to work for his bride price. He only had himself, and only himself to blame. 

And the deception he sowed becomes the deception he reaps as he is tricked by Laban into marrying Leah instead of Rachel (the sister he loved). Jacob works for fourteen years to earn both his wives and then another six to earn livestock as well. Deception can become a harsh slave master. 

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And the script-line cords wrapped around Jacob’s heart repeat themselves again and again, as he loves his wives as he was loved: Inequitably. Script-lines forge a fault line in the heart of his home, shaped like the faults in his very own heart. An absence of justice and equity in affection become the presence of jealousy and unchecked rivalry between his wives.

‘… and his love for Rachel was greater than his love for Leah.’ Genesis 29:30

‘Then Rachel said, ‘I have had a great struggle with my sister, and I have won…’ Genesis 30:8

And Jacob’s injustice re-lives and repeats, re-creating the scar-lines cording around his family’s calling, strangling their relationships, estranging his wives and sowing resentment among his sons. Script lines of covetousness and competition weave themselves in among God’s life-giving song-lines. And these two women, and then their sons, all learn their lines by heart, habituating them, breathing them in through their lungs, drawing them into their veins, running them straight to their hearts; hearts beating in time to these lines laid out, weaving the future with the threads of the past. Break, breathe, repeat. 

The footprints of history are deep, trailing lines in the dusty earth, script-lines, lines to live repeatedly without thinking by.

But this God is a stubborn God, stubborn in the direction of kindness, stubborn in the direction of justice and stubborn in the direction of righteousness. He weaves His love between the lines, holding this broken family together preventing their unraveling. He re-weaves their story with threads of grace, working for their good and the fulfilment of His purposes (Romans 8:28).

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“When the Lord saw that Leah was not loved, he enabled her to conceive, but Rachel remained childless. Leah became pregnant and gave birth to a son. She named him Reuben, for she said, ‘It is because the Lord has seen my misery. Surely my husband will love me now.

She conceived again, and when she gave birth to a son she said, ‘Because the Lord heard that I am not loved, he gave me this one too.’ So she named him Simeon…”. Genesis 29: 31-33

“Then God remembered Rachel; he listened to her and enabled her to conceive. She became pregnant and gave birth to a son and said, “God has taken away my disgrace.” She named him Joseph…” Genesis 30:22-24

God sees and hears the pain we live in, in the womb of this unravelling world, and He weaves His grace around us to restore us to ourselves. This God sees. This God hears. And this God weaves His love and grace in amongst our grief.

Jacobs wives wrestle as he wrestled, and his sons will wrestle as they did, as Jacob in his self reliant blindness, blindly repeats his parents mistakes, line by line…

‘Now Israel loved Joseph more than any of his other sons, because he had been born to him in his old age; and he made an ornate robe for him. When his brothers saw that their father loved him more than any of them, they hated him and could not speak a kind word to him.’ Genesis 37:3-4

…until his sons eventually sell out to jealousy and hate, and sell their brother into slavery,  breaking their father Jacob’s already broken heart. The nation of Israel will suffer 400 years of slavery in Egypt, being first sold there by these scourging script lines of rivalry. The fate their forefathers chose for the brother they hated, became the fate of all their children’s children. A fate that would have ended their small nation, but for the grace of God.

And this is the family called to bless the whole world? Writhing in jealousy, selfishness and hate?

These are the frail, faulty, broken, breaking people to whom God chose to build a bridge, a stairway stretching from Heaven to earth. Not because they deserved it but because He purposed it. Not because they earned it, but because He gave it. Gave Himself to them, binding His heart to theirs with His word. The word He had given to Abraham,

“I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you for the generations to come, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you.” Genesis 17:7-9

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God committed Himself to walk with them, partner with them, bless them and care for them, threading together the tapestry of all the thousand ways He loved them, providing patterns of redemption woven with strands of light, a tapestry woven in gold and goodness, grace and givenness. Not because of anything they had done, but because of His own purpose and grace. This grace given to them. To us. From before the beginning of time. 

We, all of us, have had Jacob days and Jacob ways; ways of self reliant wandering, and selfish ambition; ways of breaking ourselves and breaking each other; ways of wandering lost and fleeing responsibility.

Jacob didn’t find God. God found Jacob. Because God is always searching us out, building bridges between our lives and His. He is always a loving Father in search of His wandering children, forging pathways, stairways and ladders between our lives and His life-giving grace.

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So much so that years later, after Jacob’s journey into grace, God Himself comes. He grafts Himself into Jacob’s broken breaking family line, taking on skin and bone and flesh as one of them. He arrives into the chaos of human existence not down a stairway from heaven, but to be the stairway to Heaven: the bridge between Heaven and earth; the path between God and humankind.

Our way back home to YHWH.

“Jesus said, “You believe because I told you I saw you under the fig tree. You will see greater things than that.” He then added, “Very truly I tell you, you will see ‘heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on’ the Son of Man.” John 1:51

“Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” John 14:6

Grace doesn’t wait for us to grow up and earn it. It builds itself like a bridge to our hearts, a path woven in the sinews of our souls, before our time begins, before all time began, and it whispers into our brokenness the way back home to God. A path half remembered but almost forgotten. 

A path He established before the beginning of time. 

“He has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time.”

(2 Timothy 1:9)

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Journey Further

“Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life.

No one comes to the Father except through me” John 14:6

Grace doesn’t wait for us to grow up and earn it.  Grace is a person who became the path, the way, the stairway between heaven and earth. Between God and wherever we are at.  He comes, making the way for us to find Him, for Him to find us.

How would you describe the path you are on?

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References, Notes and Credits

1 John Goldingay, ‘Genesis for Everyone’ Part 2, page 91, Westminster John Knox Press, 2010

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