Jacob and the Famine*

When we approach the climax of Joseph’s story in Genesis 45, we often focus on the reunion between Joseph and his brothers. Yet, I realised that we can learn much from Jacob’s experience also.

Jacob favoured Joseph, the elder son of his favoured wife. All that fancy coat and tolerating of fancy dreams led to nothing because he prematurely lost Joseph, his favoured son, to the claws and jaws of wild beasts (his own understanding of what happened).

Then the great famine happened, and he is forced to part with all his other sons who had trooped down to procure food. In order to retain some sort of control, he asks Benjamin to remain behind. By this time, Benjamin is not some toddler requiring parental guidance. If seven bountiful and seven lean years have passed, Benjamin must at least be a teenager if not a young adult. In other words, Jacob wanted Benjamin as insurance for himself, not exactly because he wanted to ensure Benjamin’s safety.

As the drama continued, Jacob is forced to give up his insurance to be an insurance for sustenance. Do you want your son or do you want to live? In doing so, Jacob gave up everything. He no longer had the pastoral empire he had so cleverly built up under his uncle Laban’s nose, he lost his favourite wife, his favourite son, all his other sons and now even his next-to-favourite son.

Having had his hand forced into a posture of surrender, after losing everything, he gains back all he lost and more. He not only got what he wanted (food), his fears turned out to be unfounded (his sons were unharmed) and his extinguished hope is rekindled into an explosion of joyful reunion as he realises that Joseph is still alive!

Jacob spent a lifetime wrestling for control over his life – wresting payment from his deceitful uncle, wringing his hands over a tragedy he was unable to do anything about, withholding his last security from a transaction he desperately needed to be successful. When he finally surrendered (perhaps out of self-preservation, but remember how lowly he became), he could enjoy rest in the company of his family in royal patronage. That last bit, he certainly could never have imagined in all of his ambitious plans from youth.

It is no wonder that at the end of Jacob’s life, as his family settled in Egypt as shepherds, he acknowledged that he is merely a sheep who needed God, one “who has been my shepherd, all my life to this day” (Genesis 48:15).

*praise God for letting me see explore this side of what is otherwise a familiar story, amazingly through reading a children’s Bible to Andrew. as someone who wrestles with God over control of life, this will always be a reminder to trust in God always and not lean on my own understanding.

Lessons from being parents (7)

What is a lift? Why don’t we take the stairs instead? – Gratitude

While explaining things to Andrew, or simply describing them, we have realised many things we take for granted or at least do not stop and thank God enough. Airconditioning, safety, food, having a roof over our heads, a bed to sleep in, loving family members – we can easily come up with a long list if we sit down long enough but maybe we aren’t immediately conscious and grateful for them enough.

Lessons from being parents (6)

For his own good

God sometimes allows us to experience painful or inexplicable moments or periods of time. The Bible and people around us, to our frustration, may tell us it is for our own good – somewhere there in Romans or Genesis. Surely we know better? Similarly, we have had to stop Andrew from stuffing his mouth with non-edible objects and crawling to the ends of the earth (bed) to much protests and howling, but isn’t it for his own good? In the first place, tummy time was tortuous for him, and so was propping him up to learn how to sit, and now he is happy to be in those positions. Pretty similar to training regularly for 2.4km runs…..oh.

Lessons from being parents (5)

God is love, God is slow to anger

I never knew I would have so much affection for my son. And that love enables me to make sacrifices that I would otherwise not make.

At the same time, having a son can be so trying. He can be squirmy, uncooperative and worst of all, he can be all of that and we would not know why. As a result I can be quite irritable and impatient, but each time I get frustrated I am reminded of God’s patience and glacial tendency towards anger.


Lessons from being parents (4)

God’s gift – will we be okay if He takes His gift away?

Perhaps one of the hardest lessons we will have to learn is to not only be grateful for God giving us Andrew, but to also acknowledge that Andrew is His gift. Perhaps human custom causes us to frown upon the concept that a gift can be taken back by the giver, but if we know that Andrew is a miracle made only possible by God, then can we really protest if things turn out differently from what we want/expect? (Ok I guess we can protest, although it is a bigger challenge to submit to God’s will and recognising His ways as not only superior to ours but also good for us). I thought I would be okay (theoretically, theologically) if God took Andrew back in any circumstance, but then we had a minor accident which could have easily been major that made me pray Oh Lord, please do not test me this way. 

Lessons from being parents (3)

We can’t control much – humility

Pretty sure this is an ubiquitous lesson for all parents – parents don’t have much control at all. When exactly will our child fall asleep? Can he please poo before we leave home? Will he ever learn to be patient? Who taught him how to growl? Will he get a fever from the vaccination jabs? Raising a child requires much prayer, acknowledging that God is ultimately in charge. Not that we don’t have much responsibility, but that we can’t expect everything to be manicured and bonsai-ed according to what we want. Getting exactly what we want might not be the best either!

Lessons from being parents (2)

Who is God? Explaining to son, explaining to ourselves

Joyce and I try to talk to Andrew normally, explaining things as we go, even if he certainly wouldn’t be understanding what we say for awhile. And the challenge of breaking things down in simpler terms crops up often. Even with the aid of a superb children’s Bible (http://www.amazon.com/The-Lion-First-Bible-Alexander/dp/0745961037), it is hard to explain the difference between God and Jesus! So I find myself asking myself, how much do I really understand, in order to be able to explain? But it’s been a great time trying to articulate things we take for granted, such as why we need to wash hands or why patience is a virtue (stop screaming, I’m not done with changing your diaper yet!) I think it also heightens my identity as a teacher/history-lover, as I frequently ask myself ‘why?’ as I think of how I am to explain something like why we have to go to church on Sundays.