BTW issue no. 7, 23-29 Feb 2004

bird imageThinking Points

by Mickey Chiang

Well, well, it’s Jacob!

When we hear the name “Jacob son of Isaac”, what comes to mind?  A mother’s boy, “a quiet man, staying among the tents” [Genesis 25:27], and cooking lentil stew [Gen 25:29]?  Wasn’t it unusual for a man to be cooking when there were women around to do it?  And wasn’t he rather cowardly for fleeing from his twin brother Esau after stealing their father’s special blessing meant for Esau?  Don’t we see Jacob as a weak and rather cowardly, callow, fellow?

When Esau plotted revenge, Jacob fled to Paddan Aram.  Where was that? My Bible atlas reveals it was in north-west Mesopotamia.  Hmmm. So Jacob walked, or more probably rode, some 1400 kilometres, alone, from Beersheba to Paddan Aram?  Weren’t bands of bandits, raiding marauders, and warring armies fairly common in those days?  Say, don’t tell me Jacob was tough enough to take care of himself on such a long, arduous and dangerous trip?

On arrival at Paddan Aram, Jacob saw three flocks of sheep lying down near a well.  “Lying”?  Doesn’t that mean that they had been there for a long time?  Why weren’t they watered and sent back to pasture?  Genesis 29:2 & 3 explain that, “The stone over the mouth of the well was large. When all the flocks were gathered there, the shepherds would roll the stone away from the well’s mouth and water the sheep.”   Does that mean that it took a number of shepherds to move the large stone? 

Now three groups of shepherds had gathered with their flocks.  And then this stranger from a faraway land, Jacob, comes and tells them: “Look, the sun is still high; it is not time for the flocks to be gathered.”  Is that not like saying, “Hey, stupid, why are you gathered here?  It’s not yet time!  Don’t you know how to herd sheep?” 

As if that is not enough, our boy wonder gives them an order: “Water the sheep and take them back to pasture!”  [Gen 29:7].  Why did Jacob act in such a high and mighty way?  Perhaps the answer is in the previous verse?  “The shepherds had just told Jacob they knew his uncle Laban “and here comes his daughter Rachel with the sheep.”  Could it be that the sight of Rachel made Jacob want to show off in front of her? 

“When Jacob saw Rachel….he went over to the stone [Note: the large stone], rolled the stone away and watered his uncle’s sheep” [Gen 29:10].  Hey, weren’t the other shepherds ahead of Rachel in the queue?  So why didn’t they protest or give this upstart stranger a beating?  Was it because after they had seen him single-handedly move the large stone, they did not want to tangle with this super-tough guy?  Super-tough guy?  Isn’t this the Jacob whom we all thought was a weak, cowardly fellow?

Why was Jacob showing off in front of Rachel?  To find the answer, we will have to fast forward to Gen 29:19 which says: “Rachel was lovely in form, and beautiful”.  Is this the age-old story of boy meeting beautiful girl and falling head over heels in love?  Let’s see.

“Then Jacob kissed Rachel, lifted his voice, and wept”.  The NIV says he wept aloud.  Was his kiss a chaste, 'cousinly' kiss? Not likely.  To kiss a beautiful woman, then shout [what else except for joy?] and weep [if not with happiness, then what?], we can only conclude that it was a romantic kiss.

Was Jacob such a romantic man?  Well, his uncle Laban asked him a month later, “Just because you are a relative of mine, should you work for me for nothing?  Tell me what your wages should be.”  The Bible says, “Jacob was in love with Rachel, [Aha!] and said, ‘I’ll work for you for seven years in return for your younger daughter Rachel’.”  Was this not bravado, a grand gesture to impress Rachel with how much he loved her? 

For was the wedding dowry for a shepherdess seven years of a man’s work? And was there a need for Jacob to make such an offer?  His father Isaac was a very wealthy man.  [“The man (Isaac) ….became very wealthy” – Gen 26:13.]  When Isaac asked Jacob to go to Paddan Aram and to get a bride, would Isaac not have given Jacob enough silver for the journey and a dowry for a bride?  Did Jacob deliberately prolong his stay in Paddan Aram also in order to avoid returning home and facing the wrath of Esau?

Well, well, so Jacob was a strong man, a tough fellow, a romantic man madly in love and given to extravagant gestures?  Could this be a more complex man than we had thought?

CHAPEL NOTES

Chapel service on 18 Feb was led by Dr Tan Lai Yong. Dr Tan is from Bethesda Frankel, studied at BGST in 1990-93 and is now teaching in a Medical College in East Asia. He spoke from Psalm 84.

The Psalmist says that the dwelling place of the LORD is beautiful.  Even the sparrow will find its home and the swallow will build her nest.  I read this and wondered about the hidden risks of a bird dwelling so near to the altar.  What if some pilgrim comes along, forgets or is too poor to buy the doves for sacrifice and conveniently catches me and there my life is on the chopping block.  This is Romans 12:1 in real life.  To dwell in the house of the LORD, knowing that His purpose is better than our own fears.

As someone who is involved in training rural healthcare workers, I am often on the road.  Like any other traveler or tourist, when I reach a new place, I wonder where I will sleep that night.  Sometimes it will be a well furnished hotel.  At times, I lodge in a wooden bed wondering if the bedbugs are hungry.  But no matter where we stay, we must not stray from the conviction that the Psalmist holds – that it is good to dwell in the LORD.  

Yet the LORD will not allow us to stay put and hold ourselves in holy huddles.  He sets us out on pilgrimage.  He wants us to be in the world where we can be His witnesses.  Psalms 84:5 say: Blessed are those whose strength is in you, who have set their hearts on pilgrimage.

These days, we often hear about reaching the unreached in the 10/40 window.  The unreached of this region comprises some of the poorest people in our world today.  Infant mortality, malnutrition and famine sweep through these places. The Brown-Driver-Briggs explains the word “Baca” as term that is related to the crying sound of hungry camels whose mother camel has little milk and the cries that come out of this despairing situation.   If we allow the LORD to lead us out of our comfort zones, we may come alongside very sad situations of suffering and tears.  But, He is the one who will bring comfort, sometimes through us, sometimes through the “autumn rains” that He brings.

Our churches are to set our hearts on pilgrimage, to go through these valleys and bring acts of love and healing in our witness.  The Lord will add his autumn rains.

But the Psalmist makes it clear that while we are on pilgrimage, reaching out, serving, running projects, 2 important features must stand out:

a) Our hearts must be focused on prayer.  The pilgrim constantly cries out to God (v8).

b) Our hearts must remain humble.   The focus is never on us or our projects or our achievements.  The focus is on the Christ the anointed one, our shield and defender (v9).

Eternal fruit is hatched and nurtured through prayer.   We need to serve as good stewards of our time and resources but we should not imagine that God only looks at our numbers and successes.  In pilgrimage, both the individual and the church should echo the words of John the Baptist that He must increase and I must decrease.

Finally we are not in a race to see who does the most.   God sends us out but He also calls us to dwell in His Word, to rest in Him and to be silent before Him.  The Psalmist says that he rather be a doorkeeper in the house of the LORD than dwell in the tents of the wicked.   There are many job descriptions in the Old Testament concerning the temple.  There are singers, musicians, gatekeepers etc.  But this word “door-keeper” is not mentioned.

Perhaps the Psalmist is saying that I am willing even to be a nondescript nobody yet be as thrilled just to be in the house of the LORD.  The truth is that there is no such person as a “nobody” in God’s house.    We should ask ourselves humbly if we need or hang on to high sounding job descriptions.  A pilgrim should be remembered by his journey and not his title.

Psalm 84 is a reminder of the twin needs to dwell in the LORD ( v 1-4 and again 9-12) and also to be on the move as servants-pilgrims (5-8).   When I used to work as a prison medical officer, I used to have a sandwich lunch in the BGST library as it was right in the middle of my drive from Queenstown Prison and Sembawang Drug Rehabilitation Centre.   I thank the Lord that this was a place where I could read, reflect and dwell on Him before rushing off to the clinics along the way.  God allowed me the time with BGST as a divine gift to be to help me regain my perspective while working with very needy and toughen prisoners.   I pray that each person who passes through BGST will enjoy the same comfort and challenge of dwelling and pilgrimage.

Chapel Speaker this week (25 Feb) was Dr Quek Swee Hwa.

NEWS BITS

Courses Commencing in Term 2.  

  • Developing a Missions-Involved Church (starting 25 Mar, Thu), by Dr John Lim.

  • Who is Jesus? (starting 26 Mar, Fri), by Dr Aquila Lee.

  • Doing God’s Business (starting 7 Apr, Wed), Facilitators: Rev Ng Seng Chuan/Mr Paul Yap.

  • Ancient Cities-A Study of City Life in the Ancient Hebrew & Graeco-Roman Cities (starting 10 Apr, Sat), by Dr Michael Pucci/Dr Quek Swee Hwa.

  • Youth Development & Ministry Formation (starting 13 Apr, Tue), by Dr Ng Peh Cheng.

  • Counselling Skills: Dealing with Stress (starting 14 Apr, Wed), by Mr Yam Keng Mun.

  • Counselling Skills: Dealing with Crisis Situations (dates will be announced later), by Mr Yam Keng Mun.

  • Old Testament Ethics (15 Apr, Thu), by Dr Philip Satterthwaite.

Intensive Course:

  • Understanding the Book of Job by Dr Philip Satterthwaite. This course will be held on 13 & 27 Mar, 2.30 - 9.30 pm.

For more details, kindly contact us at tel. 63538071 or email: bgst@pacific.net.sg.

Building Fund 14 - 24 Feb 2004

A BLESSED 
BIRTHDAY TO ...

Mr Ivan Liew  23/2

Mr Edwin Chak  24/2

Mrs Jessie Tan  27/2

Mr Henry Yeong  28/2

Ms Christine Ng  28/2

Mr Ravi Shankar  28/2

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