When we sat over cups of tea outside on a beautiful morning, I listened intently to Linda’s roller coaster ride of forgiveness. Linda’s story began with her father – a first generation Christian who escaped a childhood of abuse when he embraced the gospel of Christ. He went into fulltime ministry on a Navajo Indian reservation in Arizona. Linda looked up to her father as the man who taught her about the Lord and gained the trust of the Navaho people through many years of faithful service.
Linda later married her pastor husband and raised her own children to know and love God. Imagine her shock when after her parents retired in California, lawsuits for inappropriate contact with a child were brought against her father in both Arizona and California. She didn’t know what to believe. When her father admitted to the truth of some of the allegations, she felt angry, hurt, and deceived. Her father’s sin left so many repercussions in its wake. She now faced many decisions about what she would say, do, and think in the months and years of heartache ahead. A situation she had no control over now would test her character and rock her family relationships.
Judah and his family found themselves also struggling when the harsh famine years threatened the well being of his family. We find Joseph’s father Jacob a shell of the man who had once tricked his twin brother into the birthright and blessing, wrestled with God while dreaming about angels going up and down a ladder, and deeply loving a woman named Rachel but ending up with Leah in the morning. He has succeeded and failed in trusting the God of his father Isaac and grandfather Abraham. In Genesis 43:1-14, Jacob is withholding. He won’t give up his favorite son Benjamin because of the fear of losing him like he had lost Joseph two decades earlier. Can you think of something you are holding onto in fear when God is asking you to release it(or them) to Him? (Think of people, finances, feelings, or positions….Especially if you are in a season of famine.)
Let’s see how withholding worked out for Jacob in hopes that it might inspire us to make a move in our own obedience. Jacob held out as long as he could. Withholding has us focused only on what we might lose rather than all we have to gain. Even with the possibility of food, Simeon’s freedom, and more blessing that Jacob could ever imagine, he doesn’t want to take a risk. He can’t see past his possibility of loss. I can identify with Jacob when I’m holding on in fear instead of moving ahead in faith. I see him:
1. Holding onto unrealistic expectations. “Jacob casually requests his sons to return to Egypt to get a little more corn as if Egypt is a tad down the road, a place where one can make a quick trip to purchase odds and ends.” (539 Hamilton) He has possibly convinced himself that he can send his other sons but still withhold Benjamin. Jacob has concocted a dream world where maybe he could get the benefits of obedience without the sacrifices. When we withhold, we minimize. Jacob knows good and well that they can’t go without Benjamin, but it’s too painful to consider. Judah offers his life to protect Benjamin, but Jacob doesn’t want to hear it. Sometimes, every possibility someone brings up when I’m feeling stuck, I will shoot down. I would often rather cling to unrealistic expectations. Can you think of any unrealistic expectations you might have right now? Ask God if He might want you to have a conversation with coworkers, friends, or even your spouse about any unrealistic expectations you might have put on them. This is a big step in moving beyond our fear. Judah confronted Jacob about his unrealistic expectations. This led him to another pitfall of walking by fear instead of faith.
2. Blaming. Jacob blames his sons for mentioning they had a brother to the Egyptian administrator (Joseph) when the famine in his life gets overwhelming. He has the choice to obey and release Benjamin or maintain his inaction. Both have consequences. Can you think of anyone or anything you have been blaming lately when you have felt overwhelmed?
You are not alone. We all have this tendency, but let’s not stay here in blaming mode. Let’s recognize it next time we hear whispers of blame in our thoughts and words. Famines come in our lives and they are overwhelming. However, we can overcome our default towards blame and shift our focus to taking personal responsibility and trusting God instead. Let’s move on to one more characteristic of leading in fear that we need to be careful to avoid.
3. Paralyzed by grief. Sometimes life’s great famines can be paralyzing. I can’t imagine how Linda must have felt when she put the phone down after hearing the allegations against her father. We can get weak in the knees when relational tension threatens to tear our family apart. Loss left Jacob afraid and stuck. The lack in his life blinded him momentarily from trusting in God. “His feelings of grief and despair had almost extinguished his faith.” (Wiersbe 130) The struggle for survival often brings to the surface a deep wrestling with faith. In his old age, Jacob knows the risks involved in releasing Benjamin. It’s scary. He doesn’t want any thrills – just safety.
As a woman, I find safety climbing higher on my priority list than risk as I get older. I want the path of least relational strife. I love the picture God gives us of Jacob. He actually didn’t come to trust God until he was forced. It makes me think of a verse I’m memorizing in Psalm 40 this week. The Psalmist writes, “Now that you have made me listen, I finally understand.” (40:6)
Sometimes, God puts up with our withholding only for a season and then puts us in a situation where we have to move. It is a mixture of true human emotions and faith that God will take care of us. Our fear and faith collide until one wins out. The need for bread, the fear of what could happen to his grandchildren, and the greater fear of death finally leads Jacob to faith. I love what one commentator says about him in this passage, “It is difficult to know where faith leaves off and cynical resignation sets in.” (Bruggeman 339)
Can you relate to cynical resignation? I can. Jacob could let everyone starve in his state of stuck-ness or he could choose to trust God. He had only those two options. Ultimately, he chose to believe even in his fear. Likewise, we often must, “Do it Afraid.” Jacob then calls out to God using the name God Almighty which is El Shaddai in the Hebrew. It means – the All Sufficient One. This is the name God revealed to Jacob right after he changed his name to Israel. “Then God said, “I am El-Shaddai—‘God Almighty.’ Be fruitful and multiply. You will become a great nation, even many nations. Kings will be among your descendants!” (Genesis 35:11) Earlier in Jacob’s life, God had revealed Himself to him as the All Sufficient One. In Jacob’s grief, he had lost sight of God’s promise. We too can easily forget God’s great promises to be all that we need. Jacob finally lays aside his unrealistic expectations, blame, and paralyzing grief and embraces the All Sufficient One. He is out of other options. He can either choose bitterness and death, or trust God. Really we have the same choice. We can grow through grief and prepare to follow God or keep a tight fist holding onto what God has called us to release.
I pray we will learn to open our palms and entrust ourselves fully to the All Sufficient One today. He had good stuff ahead for Jacob, and He wants to show up huge in our lives too. Today, lets trust Him even if we have to do it afraid…