Morning Reading - Genesis 31-32
I must admit that I fell a few days behind in my reading, so this morning I took some extra time to catch up. As I was reading through the story of Jacob, I noticed the phrase "steadfast love" appeared several times in the text. I have mentioned before that one of the prominant themes of the Old Testament is that of God's "steadfast love," which is expressed by the Hebrew word hesed. The steadfast love of God is what sustains the covenant relationship between God and the people of Israel. As one commentator notes, hesed is the defining characteristic of God in the Old Testament. Remember that in the Old Testament, other nations worshipped various gods other than the God of Israel. What primarily distinguished the God of Israel from these other gods was the characterisic of hesed - God's steadfast love and kindness. We will see this characteristic of God emphasized in the New Testament as well, particular in the Johannine literature (the gospel and letters of John), in which God is defined as "love" (see 1 John 4:8).
In today's reading from Genesis 32, Jacob fears for his life, because he receives word that Esau is coming to meet him. The last encounter between Jacob and Esau was after their father Isaac blessed Jacob instead of Esau. In the wake of this event, Esau was furious and threatened to kill his brother. When Jacob received word that Esau is coming, he prayed to God for deliverance. Jacob recognized that even though he had made mistakes and hurt those around him by his actions, God remained faithful and demonstrated his "steadfast love" to Jacob.
Once again, what we discover is that God is present and working out his purposes in the midst of a very human story. The story of Jacob and Esau (and their families) is characterized by human failure and broken relationships, and yet God's hesed remains; his steadfast love for his people never ceases. Jacob wrestles with God, which represents his ongoing spiritual struggle as one called by God. Jacob is forever changed by this encounter with God. No longer is God simply the God is his father, Isaac, and grandfather, Abraham, but now God is the God of Jacob. This new intimacy with God results in a name change, "you shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel." As we will see, this new name will represent a new phase in Jacob's life as he continues to walk according to God's steadfast and unconditional love.