The Antimodel Reformed

Jacob, יַעֲקֹב, stands alone. The swindler who swindled, bested by a better swindler in Laban, לָבָן. He faces, it would seem, utter destruction at the hand of his brother Esau; the very one he swindled in the house of his father. He prays:

הַצִּילֵנִי נָא מִיַּד אָחִי, מִיַּד עֵשָׂו

“Deliver (save me, exodus) me, I earnestly pray Lord, from the hand of my brother, the hand of Esau” (Gen. 32:12, paraphrasing mine).

He is beseeching the God of his fathers (Gen. 32:10), to rescue him; but immediately he executes a plan to save his household (Gen. 32:12).

In Laban, Jacob finds not a role model, but an antimodel. Defining an antimodel is rather easy, not imitating an antimodel who has influenced your life or surroundings is quite another endeavor. Laban causes Jacob to look in the mirror of his own behavior as he stands utterly alone beside the stream of Jabbok (Gen. 32:23-25).

Jabbok is derived from the root בָּקַק/bāqaq, meaning to empty, void or spread out. Phonically it would remind you of the sound of a bottle being poured out. Jacob now stands beside a dry wadi, bereft of his family, even as dysfunctional as they could be, facing certain death.

In the moment of his greatest emptiness, the Lord who has stood heaven side above, in Genesis 28, now wrestles him in that empty place on the earth. All night they struggled, until the Man touches the Jacob’s hip socket, dislocating his hip, even then he would not let go.

Seemingly sensing the significance of the moment, Jacob answers the Man requesting to be let go, “I will not let you go, until you bless me” (Gen. 32:27).

The blessing Jacob had received so many years before was the result of a scheme that soured his life. This blessing would be the result of his desperate need, in emptiness, wounded, to fill the void his disposition had reaped.

Touched by God, Jacob limps to face his brother, utterly convinced of his own demise, but blessed of God. This blessing was not the result of theft, or deceit, but wrestling with God who overcame Jacob’s old nature by a touch that forever changed his walk.

Yes, his children would do unimaginable things breaking Jacob’s heart, but Jacob went from an antimodel to a godly role model for them, and those difficult children would have to wrestle with the consequences of their own deceit as they mirrored the father and uncle they knew in their youth; but even they, through another antimodel turned role model, Joseph, would learn how deep the touch of God’s grace is, when Joseph, welding absolute power of life and death over a nation, says to them:

“As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today” (Ex. 50:20).

I remember vividly morning breakfast in Vellore India in 2016. I was sitting with a man of God I had, and still do, looked up to in faith for many, many years, Dr Karl Coke. We had been having a heart to heart about life struggles and ministry. He looked me squarely in the eye and said, “I do not trust a man who does not limp.” Of course, he was referencing the experience of Jacob.

In order to become modelers of faith for our family, friends, and community, we all need to have that moment beside the Jabbok, empty/void, when God arrives, wrestles with us, then changes us, not only internally, but externally.

Maybe you feel like you are wrestling right now. Perhaps you wrestled, and things seem to be remaining the same. Hold on, and as you see the new day dawning, the blessing of His presence there, in that empty place, will become apparent. Don’t despair. Endure.

Messiah said, “But the one who endures to the end will be saved” (Matt. 24:13). Jacob prayed: deliver me, save me. And he was. He walked out the salvation of the Lord. His walk may not have looked like ours, and that really does not concern me. Why? We are fruit from that night. We are the infilling of the void Jacob faced. We are evidence of what was yet unseen to Jacob (Heb. 11:1), but known to the Man who wrestled, touched, and then ascended to heaven until the fullness of time had come.

If you are limping in life right now, drop the cane, and take hold of Yeshua/Jesus’ hand. He will walk with you, as He bears the weight of your circumstance, even as you limp along. In the limp, you are saying to all those watching, and they are watching: I know in Whom I have trusted!

“For this reason I also suffer these things; nevertheless I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep what I have committed to Him until that Day” (II Tim. 1:12).

Be well. Shalom.

Rest, a Betrothal

Beautifully, Shabbat in rabbinic tradition is sometimes pictured as a bride, or an approaching bride. The idea that we learn from this is that rest with the bridegroom is to be the condition of the bride – leading to the use of white tablecloths, and fine dinnerware on Shabbat.

In Exodus and Deuteronomy, two different words introduce the commandment regarding shabbat: remember and observe, respectively.

What does it mean to זָכוֹר, “remember” the Sabbath or to שָׁמוֹר, “guard” the Sabbath? What does it mean that “Sabbath was made for man (the betrothed), not man for the Sabbath?” Or, “the Son of Man is Lord (the Bridegroom), even of the Sabbath?”

Shabbat is a memorial of things accomplished/done in the past (remember), and a resting from what we are attempting to get done for the future (observe). It is, at heart, a recognition of Lordship, even headship.

It is a blessed day of “shabbating,” of resting. We might understand it in this way: Shabbat is the spiritual worship of God by the temporal rest of man – it is an act of worship through rest. It is the day our bodies worship by saying “ah!” and our heart and minds say “Hallelujah!”

Yet, there is more.

In Leviticus 23:3 we read, וּבַיּוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי שַׁבַּת שַׁבָּתוֹן מִקְרָא-קֹדֶשׁ, “and the seventh day is a Sabbath of rest, a holy gathering.” “Sabbath” and “rest” in this verse (שַׁבַּת שַׁבָּתוֹן) come from the same root שָׁבַת, meaning “to repose, desist, cease, rest, cessation or to sit down.” When we speak of Shabbat, we are really speaking of resting – specifically sitting/reclining. But what is it we are “rehearsing,” rendered “holy gathering” above?

The marriage feast of the Lamb.

Rest, then, becomes a sign – a betrothal sign (Matt. 11:28). It is a rehearsal of the Bride and the Bridegroom uniting as one. We now remember, anticipate, and set in right perspective the work He has set before us (Eph. 2:10). It is a living sign of the past redemption, and the future redemption, as a semi-eschatological redemptive rest – living out the now but not yet, as we await:

“And the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” And he said to me, “These are the true words of God” (Rev. 19:9).

How blessed we are now, and how blessed we indeed yet to be!

Shabbat Shalom.

Lessons from … Leah?

Often when the life of Jacob, his wives and children (Gen. 29:16-35) are studied, Leah is overlooked; perhaps for the same reason that she was overlooked by Jacob, he loved Rachel. So we focus on that love, not on the rejected one.

In Genesis 29, Jacob sees and immediately falls in love with Rachel when he meets her at the same well where Eliezer met Rebecca (Gen. 29:11-12); and after Jacob meets Laban, and it is decided that he will stay. Laban then inquires as to the expected wages, Jacob asks to work for Rachel.

He offers seven (7) years of labor, an extraordinary price, when the normal dowry would be perhaps a month of wages. If we read carefully, Laban never agrees, he just says “It’s better that I give her to you than I give her to another man.” Jacob interprets this as approval to the offer, and perhaps we would as well.

Of course, we all know that Jacob is swindled; and Leah is given in place of Rachel first, but note the language once again, “It’s not done so in our place – to give the younger before the firstborn.” The Torah notes (Gen. 29:30) that Jacob loves Rachel more than Leah, he hates her because he is disappointed in her.

In Genesis 29:17, Leah is described as having weak eyes, while Rachel is described as being beautiful in form and appearance. Rachel is pretty and sexually desirable, and Jacob longs for her. The commentators have struggled with the reference to Leah’s eyes being רַכּוֹת, meaning “weak or tender.” The rabbis comment that her eyes are either crossed, or they protruded. Today she might described as “homely,” as her eyes are referenced in comparison to Rachel’s beauty.

In fact, it is speculated by the rabbis that Laban believes the only way he will get someone to marry her is by tricking them. This he did to Jacob.

How would, and how did, this make Leah feel? How would you feel?

Genesis 29:31, “Now the Lord saw that Leah was unloved, so he opened her womb; but Rachel was unable to conceive.”

וַיַּרְא יְהוָה כִּי-שְׂנוּאָה לֵאָה, וַיִּפְתַּח אֶת-רַחְמָהּ

To paraphrase, “The Lord saw that Leah was hated, so he opened the doorway of mercy for her.” He opened her womb for children. The word translated “womb” in this verse is not בֶּטֶן/ beṭen, meaning belly or womb, but רחם/reḥem, from the root mercy.” פתח/peṯaḥ, meaning door, open wide, doorway. By the birth of her children, the Lord opened the door of mercy for this unloved woman; but there is deeper healing happening.

She begins to have sons:

1. Reuben – “see a son.” “The Lord has seen that I am hated; and now my husband will love me.” Leah references both the Lord and Jacob.

2. Shimon – “hearing.” The Lord has heard that I am hated.” She mentions only the Lord.

3. Levi – “attached/joined to.” “Now this time my husband will join himself to me…” No mention of the Lord, only Jacob.

4. Judah – “celebrate/praise.” “This time I praise the Lord.” Judah signifies raising or lifting the hands in praise. “This time…” Leah has a heart adjustment.

At the beginning Leah uses the name of the Lord, יהוה, the covenant name of grace and mercy, not the generic Elohim (God), to influence Jacob to love her. Why? Leah believed Jacob to be her savior, just as Jacob believed Rachel was his savior.

We learn two important lessons:

1. If we fix our eyes on the who or what we believe is the source of our acceptance in life, bitterness will be a lingering reality.

2. If you fix our heart on Rachel, whatever form that might take, you will always wake up with a Leah, in disappointment.

Leah was overlooked, but in the end she praised the Lord, why?

Perhaps she knew, just as Jacob would reveal prophetically in Genesis 48 as he blesses his sons, that the King would come through her – and that that King would be the true Bridegroom. She experienced in her own life, all that He would be and ultimately heal.

The parallels: Leah wasn’t beautiful, in fact she was homely. Leah was unwanted. Leah was overlooked. Leah was unloved. Leah was rejected.

Yeshua/Jesus wasn’t beautiful or desirable (Isa. 53:2/Jn. 1:10). He was unwanted (Isa.53:3/Jn. 1:11). He was overlooked (Isa. 53:3/Lk. 4:22). He was unloved (Isa. 53:4/Lk. 23:21). He was rejected (Isa. 53:3/Lk. 22:55-62).

He became weak, ugly, unwanted, unloved, rejected, lonely and ultimately died in order to bear these burdens that we all feel and experience.

He bore these in order that those receiving Him will experience the relationship of praise that Leah ultimately experienced when she stopped allowing idolatry to steal her life, and we learn that our acceptance by Him is not based on our merit, but on faith working in righteousness that exchanged our filthy garments for His beautiful robe of righteousness.

Nothing for Jacob, Rachel, Leah or us will ever satisfy, but the Lord. That illusive “it” will never come. The one true love that will fill all our needs is not a man or a woman or career, but the Lord.

This family was a mess, but the Lord still planned and purposed for the Messiah to come from that mess. Sure Leah wasn’t as beautiful as Rachel, but in the eyes of the Lord, Who showed her mercy and love, she was perfect when she began to praise Him.

In the end, Leah was more loved, more accepted, more blessed than she could have ever imagined, even with the weakness of her natural eyes, she beheld the real beauty of her Savior, and she praised Him.

Be well. Shalom.