Thursday, 13 January 2011

The Big Bountiful God

Genesis 31: God's goodness to Jacob, births envy in the hearts of Laban and his sons, (they conveniently forget all their mistreatment of him). And he decides it is it time to return home. Rachel and Leah are in agreement with him as they have seen their father turn against them since he married them off to Jacob. Moreover, Laban has squandered the money that Jacob paid him for them, which Laban should have guarded on his daughters' behalf should they have ever needed it (v15).

As they flee, Rachel steals the household idols. This is interpreted by most as evidence of her compromised heart before God, but Jordan thinks otherwise, and I like his logic.

He says that she took them to ridicule her father and his worship of them. The true God had guarded Jacob up to this point, and even though this true God graciously appears to Laban in a dream, he still wants his little idols. They are impotent and can do nothing, in fact he has to go grovelling around in a tent to find them. They are more like helpless babies than gods. So when Rachel says she is having her period ("way of women") she is utterly humiliating these idols of her father, (just like Gideon did), figuratively using them as a primitive sanitary towel!! The Israelites would no doubt roar with laughter as they recounted this story to each other.

What's the lesson then? Love people, but don't give any respect to their false gods. In fact, more than that, ridicule them. False gods are fair game. It may not be p.c. to do so, but it is the sign of a heart that knows it is no longer bound to pay homage to them. If we're honest, sometimes the reason we don't ridicule them is because we are bound up in the same idolatry / fear of them as everyone else. He who laughs at and ridicules the gods of money, sex, power, false religions, clearly is not looking to them for any kind of wisdom, favour, affirmation or salvation.

Jacob, filled with righteous indignation then tells his uncle how it is. We now see another facet Laban's oppressive treatment of his son-in-law. Each time an animal was lost, even when it was no fault of Jacob's he had to bear the loss.

Note that even though Laban was clearly in the wrong, he still lies and tries to pin the blame on Jacob. (Remind you of anyone?) These are not his daughters nor his flocks, they are Jacob's fairly and squarely. Had it not been for God appearing to him in a dream, who knows what he would have done...

So they both set up a "heap of witness." Stones don't naturally arrange themselves in piles, it is public evidence of an agreement between two parties. Again, Laban makes a final accusation at Jacob, "If you ever harm my daughters..."  Yet it was him who left them with nothing. He is totally self-deceived.

Before parting ways, Jacob leads a worship service (offers sacrifice), to the bountiful God who has made him bountifully wealthy - fairly and squarely. Laban has no gods (worthy) to invoke.

Psalm 13: No matter how bad it gets on the outside, the Psalmist never looses sight of God's bountiful grace to him.

In Matt 5 Jesus says that his Father is supremely bountiful, showering his gracious rain on the good and bad alike without finding fault. His people are to be the same. Imitating the Father's bountiful perfection here is not about following rules so much as reflecting the heart of the Father, who loves his enemies.

In Acts 8 the gospel is spreading and the Holy Spirit is now being poured out in Samaria, fulfulling Jesus' prophecy of Acts 1:8. But there are caveats to this grace. God doesn't just give himself to anyone. Simon sees this power the apostles have as something to be bought and manipulated for the sake of one's own gain - he is soundly rebuked for his folly. Many want the power of the Spirit, but not the Spirit himself - they will pay dearly for that presumption.

God is the bountiful rewarder of the humble hearts who seek his heart, not his stuff.  Are you in search of his heart or his stuff?


John Marcham said...

Mmmm very interesting. But if we ridicule others(and maybe our) gods, we are ridiculing those who worship them as well. It is all very making ourselves look ridiculous but I am not sure what impact this would have if it was a muslim, hindu etc and ridiculed their gods.Not a good start of we want to transform lives. It also assumes some knowledge of others gods. I need to think more about this as seems a complex issue, or am I making too much of it?

Richard Walker said...

It's certainly true that our motives must always be tested in these things and there is no room for triumphalism on the part of the Christian.

But to leave people with any impression that the gods they serve are somehow equal to the true God is not only misleading to them, it is demeaning to our God.

Patient love, wisdom and grace is needed in great measure!