Sometimes my 21st century steps merge with the generations that walked before me. In Europe, one can find those cobblestone streets, those walls of antiquity, those cathedrals of ancient faith and in those moments, I find myself listening for the voices that echo there.
One January morning, I began a new journey of discovery and found two different beginnings separated by centuries and spoken by distinct voices that crossed my path. Intriguingly, both of these books begin their unique story with the words: ‘In the beginning’. Listen.
The apostle John tells us: ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men. He came to that which was his own. He gave the right to become children of God. The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. (John 1)
The Genesis story tells us: ‘In the beginning God created. God said. God saw. God called. God made. God set. God blessed. (Genensis 1-3)
From the very beginning, God has made it clear that He is not only writing this story but he is actively and faithfully on this journey with us. It is difficult to read God’s story and not see that he is interested, involved, invested, and present in every aspect of our humanity.
There is a story later on in Genesis that I am desperately trying to hear. It is the story of a man named Jacob, his two wives, and the chaos that surrounds them. I know this chaos. We all do.
The majority of our story takes place amongst the eastern peoples of Paddan Aram but it begins in Beersheba when Isaac is old. Jacob tricks his father to gain his brother’s blessing. If you do not know the story, you can read it in the book of Genesis, chapters 26 through 31.
Imagine the people who heard this narrative as one generation passed to the next. The girl child huddled in the crook of her mother’s arm, the boy sitting cross-legged at his father’s knee, eyes growing heavy as he gazes into the fire and listens to the sing-song words. Somewhere, a part of his brain continues awake and it processes the thread of deception tucked into every turn of Jacob’s life. In fact, the name Jacob actually means ‘deceiver’. He stirs, readjusts his body and catches the whiff of a truth. Like a dog with a scent, his mind follows: What happens when we deceive? Who gets hurt? What are the ramifications?
Each character in this story wraps himself in a cloak of deception. They huddle into it, wear it, discover its warmth. Deceit. Deception. Deceivers. The theme winds and weaves itself throughout this story as if God took a huge, thick black marker and wrote it there.
We know this deceiver. We have met him lurking in the forests of our darkest hour. Sometimes he appears in the lighter moments of our lives, with an unexpected knock on the door of opportunity. We are deceived. We deceive another. We turn our heads so that we do not have to see a truth that requires action.
In the midst of Jacob, the deceiver’s story, right there between his his wives, and his children, and his flocks, I had to ask an honest question. ‘Why would God put this story in his Bible?” This soap opera of humans telling lies, hurting one another, cheating, bargaining, is a painful story and I can find no logic in its purpose for my journey.
The little boy turns and whispers to his father. He has heard the sing-song voice carried on the breeze – the beauty of God’s transformative, holy activity in our world. Jacob, Rachel, Leah – they are not perfect. They carry in them the same flawed DNA that made Eve susceptible to the lies of a serpant in a tree. In the midst of all of our deceptions, our deceit, our games, our lies, our chosen blindnesses- hear the steadfastness of God’s voice in this story, in a dream, in a place called Bethel, to a deceiver on the run.
The Lord said: “I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac. 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. 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.
The simple take away for us and for the generations that heard this story before us and for the generations that will hear this story after us: God is faithful. God keeps his promises.
In the night, when the wind’s voice echoes through our tent with a tempting song, I want to grab onto this truth and hold it until the morning comes. I am with you and watch over you. I will bring you. I will not leave you. I have promised you. Like the cobblestone streets of Europe, God’s promises endure. Listen.