Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Daily Devotion for Lent 2018 - Day 24, Tuesday

Scripture Reading: Genesis 30 (NRSV)

Just like Abraham and Isaac before him, we begin to see Jacob prosper.  When we describe children as economic indicators, we may become somewhat uncomfortable but this was the reality of that period in human history.  As his wives and their maids begin to bear children, we are able to project how the descendants of Abraham might become as numerous as the stars.

Men and women took higher status from having large numbers of children grow to adulthood.  In this patriarchal culture, sons were more valued than daughters as we see Dinah mentioned as almost an afterthought in verse 21.  We see the distress of Rachel when her sister Leah had borne him four sons.  She implores her husband in the first verse, "Give me children, or I shall die!"  Jacob basically tells her, "I'm doing everything I can!"

Both Rachel and Leah take the example of Jacob's grandmother Sarah who sent in her handmaid Hagar to Abraham to act as a surrogate mother.
Running streams may have been
described as living water.  They are
certainly life giving for the thirsty.

We see the tension among the sisters as Rachel seeks the mandrakes that Leah's son Reuben harvests.  Mandrakes were thought in ancient times to cure sterility.  Some have looked at them as a kind of aphrodisiac as well.  The Song of Solomon mentions their fragrance in a romantic passage in 7:13.  Rachel seems to have control over where Jacob sleeps at night and bargains this with Leah who conceives three more times.  Finally, Rachel has a child of her own.  Her first-born, Joseph will be the featured son in the next generation.

Jacob also prospers when he collects his wages from Laban.  He bargains for the striped and speckled goats and for the black lambs.  Laban tries to cull these from his flock before Jacob has a chance to collect them.  Jacob uses a totally non-scientific way of increasing the numbers of offspring he is looking for and ends up building up his wealth regardless of Laban's interference.

As we see this story, one natural conclusion might be that God blesses those of the covenant.  A simplistic understanding of blessing might be physical or materialistic in nature.  The prophets began to move us to a more spiritual understanding of blessing and Jesus fulfills this work.  When he met a Samaritan woman at Jacob's well, he asks her for a drink.  Then he tells her that he could give her living water.

The exchange in John 4:11-14 continues:

The woman said to him, “Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water?  Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?”  Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.”

We can see that even in the time of Jesus that Jacob's prosperity is still providing for his descendants in this well of water.  Jesus, however, reminds us that physical wealth is fleeting.  It is spiritual wealth that transcends this life.  

While we might take pride in our families or our accomplishments at work as both are highlighted in today's chapter, we know that they both eventually come to an end.  This can be depressing if we don't allow our spiritual life to flourish as well.  In this, we may find that the living water quenches our thirst indeed.

Look upon us, O Lord,
and let all the darkness of our souls
vanish before the beams of thy brightness.
Fill us with holy love,
and open to us the treasures of thy wisdom.
All our desire is known unto thee,
therefore perfect what thou hast begun,
and what thy Spirit has awakened us to ask in prayer.
We seek thy face,
turn thy face unto us and show us thy glory.
Then shall our longing be satisfied,
and our peace shall be perfect.

Prayer by Augustine of Hippo, Early 5th Century

Photo from Rainbow Falls at Watkins Glen State Park.  Taken by the author, 2017

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