TODAY’S READING: Genesis 35–38
Because we humans have short memories, God takes pains to remind us over and over that His eye is singularly focused on blessing all nations. Patriarchs tend to be hardheaded, so God repeatedly tells Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob what the main thing is, and through them God reminds us to keep the main thing the main thing. God returns Jacob to Bethel (Gen. 35:15), the place where Jacob first received the plan to bless all nations, the house of God, the gate of heaven, and there God sings the same song over him:
“Your name is Jacob; your name shall not be called Jacob anymore, but Israel shall be your name.” So He called His name Israel. Also God said to him: ‘I am God Almighty. Be fruitful and multiply; a nation and a company of nations shall proceed from you, and kings shall come from your body” (vv. 10–11).
Jacob was blessed (and had his name changed) to remind him and all his descendants that Israel was blessed so that all nations would be blessed. We should not be able to read about Old Testament Israel, or the modern-day nation state, without Jacob’s story pounding in our heart. It’s not about our limps. It’s not about our resources. It’s not about our parent’s favorites. It’s not about our families. It’s not about us. It’s about the promises of God to redeem for Himself men and women from every nation. It’s about our princely privilege in singing this song with our King.
In Genesis 36, Esau and friends spread out as chiefs and kings, and Jacob and sons began to quarrel. Joseph unwisely shared his princely vision with his less-than-enthusiastic older brothers, and we have a multi-national summit. Pre-Islamic Ishmaelites (from Saudi Arabia, 37:28) returning from Gilead (northern Jordan, 37:25) purchased a slave from some pre-Jews and gave him a free lift to Egypt, which at that time a Semitic people known as the Hyksos likely ruled. It might seem chaotic, but those who know how the story ends know that God always has the glorious saving of lives in mind.
In one final, shocking incident before this act ends and we all traipse down to visit the super power of the day, Tamar entered the story. God included this X-rated tale because He wanted us to remember that a Canaanite prostitute is in the genealogy of Jesus (Matt. 1:3) and that the gospel story is ever centered on the inclusion of all peoples. Judah was visiting his Adullamite friend and fell for the Caananite daughter of a man called Shua. Three sons followed, as did two deaths, the last one because Onan wickedly wanted pleasure without responsibility. God considers it wicked when His representatives enjoy the pleasures of the nations without taking up the responsibility of the nations. If we love Ethiopian food, but do nothing to reach the Oromo; if we love to travel to exotic places, but never bear witness to frontier peoples; if we tap our foot to Swahili music, but ignore the Muslims of the Swahili coast; or most alarmingly, if we live a nice cozy international life, but never become fluent in local language or embedded with local culture and friends, then we are probably just as wicked as Onan.