The world is going through a crisis that will change us. We’re not sure things will ever again be normal as we have known it. Yet, like Jacob in the Old Testament, we know God will be with us in our changing situation.
Jacob’s story begins with Isaac (Abraham’s son) and Rebekah. In Genesis 24, Abraham wanted his son Isaac to have a wife from Abraham’s homeland, so he sent his servant Eliezer to find a wife for Isaac. Eliezer prayed and asked God to help him find the right young woman for Isaac. Rebekah returned with Eliezer to marry Isaac. Rebekah gave birth to twins, Esau and Jacob. Because Esau was born first, he should have received the birthright from their father, including a special blessing and an extra portion of inheritance. But Jacob, with Rebekah’s help, was able to trick their father into giving it to him instead.
Genesis 28 tells the story of a dream Jacob had. In this story, Jacob, having just stolen Esau’s birthright, escapes Esau’s wrath by traveling to his Uncle Laban’s (Rebekah’s brother’s) place. The first night on his travels, he looks for a good place to sleep. He finds a flat rock on which to lay his head and goes to sleep. During the night, he dreams. From the rock on which his head rests, a ladder rises up to heaven. Angels are going up and down the ladder and God is standing beside Jacob.
God promises that “the land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring . . . and all the families of the earth shall be blessed in you and in your offspring. . . . I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you” (Gen. 28:13-15).
When Jacob wakes up, he realizes this place, this rock, is the entrance to a portal leading straight to God in heaven. This is the place from which God sends the angels out with their messages. He takes the rock, places it upright, and names the spot “Beth-el,” or House of God.
In response to God’s promise that Jacob is still part of the promise made to his grandfather, Abraham, Jacob also makes a promise:
“If God will be with me, and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat and clothing to wear, so that I come again to my father’s house in peace, then the LORD shall be my God, and this stone, which I have set up for a pillar, shall be God’s house; and of all that you give me I will surely give one-tenth to you” (Gen. 28:20-22).
Can you hear Jacob’s fear? What is there that resonates with what we are experiencing during the COVID-19 health crisis? Like many people today, Jacob is worried about having food to eat and clothing to wear, the necessities of life. He is worried about the new normal he will experience at his uncle’s place. He wants to be able to go back to his father’s house in peace, to how things used to be.
Jacob tries to bargain with God. If God will provide for him, he will make a physical recognition of God for all to see, a House of God. He doesn’t ask for wealth from which to give a tenth. He’s promising to give a tenth of whatever he receives.
Jacob doesn’t mention gratitude, but I think that is what his promised actions express. I have found that during some of the most challenging times of my life it has been helpful to focus on the things for which I was grateful.
During this time, as we are finding safe ways to live until we can contain COVID-19, we can express our gratitude to those around us. There are so many people who have and continue to risk their lives, not only in health care but also in keeping the necessities of life available to all of us. We can keep a gratitude journal to help us focus on what we have rather than what we may lose. And to the extent that we are able to do so, we can connect with those around us and help each other.
Karen Ediger, of North Newton, Kan., is a member of Bethel College Mennonite Church. She is married to Glen. She is retired and volunteers at the Mennonite Library and Archives at Bethel College and serves as secretary on the board of Springs Forth! Faith Formation Inc.