The Lure of the Famliar
While Israel lived in that land, Reuben went and lay with Bilhah his father’s concubine; and Israel heard of it.
Now the sons of Jacob were twelve. The sons of Leah: Reuben (Jacob’s firstborn), Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, and Zebulun. The sons of Rachel: Joseph and Benjamin. The sons of Bilhah, Rachel’s maid: Dan and Naphtali. The sons of Zilpah, Leah’s maid: Gad and Asher. These were the sons of Jacob who were born to him in Paddan-aram.
The Death of Isaac
Jacob came to his father Isaac at Mamre, or Kiriath-arba (that is, Hebron), where Abraham and Isaac had resided as aliens. Now the days of Isaac were one hundred eighty years. And Isaac breathed his last; he died and was gathered to his people, old and full of days; and his sons Esau and Jacob buried him.
Paul and Silas in Beroea
That very night the believers sent Paul and Silas off to Beroea; and when they arrived, they went to the Jewish synagogue. These Jews were more receptive than those in Thessalonica, for they welcomed the message very eagerly and examined the scriptures every day to see whether these things were so. Many of them therefore believed, including not a few Greek women and men of high standing. But when the Jews of Thessalonica learned that the word of God had been proclaimed by Paul in Beroea as well, they came there too, to stir up and incite the crowds. Then the believers immediately sent Paul away to the coast, but Silas and Timothy remained behind. Those who conducted Paul brought him as far as Athens; and after receiving instructions to have Silas and Timothy join him as soon as possible, they left him.
Sometimes life gets so crazy, complicated, and frustrating, that we start to earnestly yearn for the the simpler times of our youth. A time before taxes and insurance. A time before marriages and re-marriages. A time before obstinate, disobedient, self-centered children (and for the life of us, we cannot figure out where they learned to act that way).
Like the Hebrew people, we long for the simplicity of the life of a slave in Egypt.
Israel (the person) was having one of those days. Probably one of those years. His son Reuben, whose mother was the neglected Leah, had been caught sleeping with Israel’s concubine Bilhah, one of the younger women Israel had taken in. Bypassing the morality of having concubines for a moment – just look at the picture above. Israel’s home family, between himself, four women, and four sets of children, was messy. Rachel, his beloved wife had just died and he was left juggling a family that he had acquired through a father-in-law’s deception and the jealous rivalry of two sisters, each trying to have more children than the other. Now, the neglected family members were stepping over each other and using one another as if Israel himself were not even there, perhaps because he, in his grief and in his disappointment with the way his life had worked out, had neglected them for a long time as well. It was a mess and it was beyond anything he knew to do to fix it.
Then his father died.
While this was probably another kind of sadness, it was also an opportunity to leave the mess behind and return to a simpler time. He returned home with his twin brother Esau, whom he had recently reconnected, and there they both buried their father together.
He took off his title of Israel – the one who has strived with God, and was able to just be Jacob again. It was probably a blessing to return to that simpler time.
However Jacob, the name that means heel-snatcher or deceiver, was no longer deceiving anyone but himself. God had not called him to be Jacob. He had been renamed Israel. He was a new creation and had a new life to live, and it was something that required more than it took to just be Jacob. The old had died, and with this burial, he would never be known as Jacob again. From here on out, he would forever be Israel, the father of the 12 tribes of God’s chosen people… and it was time to get back to doing just that.
This was the gospel message the Paul brought to all the nations to whom he preached. The old is gone and you are a new creation. Yet there is always a temptation to go back to the familiar. When the Jews from Jerusalem started following Paul, they appealed to that temptation in these new Christians, and the Jews in particular, trying to get them to give up grace and go back to a life where you get what you deserve, and in so believing, you can better yourself by works above the others around you. It was a life where you could get ahead and know you were ahead by looking down at others around you as opposed to this new life of grace where you are already ahead and you lift others up around you.
We may come from a completely different kind of upbringing than either the Jews or ancient Gentiles, but we all have a kind of simpler time in life we feel tempted to return to when faced with the chaos and complexity of the present. It’s a trap.
God did not call us to flip-flop back and forth between new life and our former way of living. As Jesus taught, the one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is not fit for the kingdom. New life in Christ is not compatible with former ways of living, no matter how much we may miss them at times.
While going back just every now and then may not seem dangerous or detrimental to us, it holds us back. We may not feel we lose much, and perhaps we are not falling far from God. However, we are not the only ones with a stake in our choices. It may be the rest of the world missing out on the blessing we could be if we fully embraced following God, no matter how far He leads us from our former home.
What is your temptation of the familiar?
What does the difference between your life then and now reveal about who God is calling you to be?