What does seeing this kind of grief cause in your spirit? Weeping, wailing, gnashing of teeth, tearing of clothes, throwing things across the room, shaking your fist at heaven. Have you ever been in this place? A loss, so profound you wonder if you will survive and quite frankly you do not want too; causing your world to shift off its axis. A time in life when everything stops for you; you watch as the world turns in slow motion, and all your previous coping mechanisms are not adequate. You become lost.
This is the place we find Jacob, son of Isaac and Rebekah. Jacob also known as Israel, the father of twelve sons living in a land known as Canaan. He will have a nation named after him for he is a grandson of Abraham. Today, we see this faithful servant of God in excruciating pain. His heart is broken. He has been catapulted into a time out he did not see coming. He is told his child is dead. Genesis 37:34 gives us a graphic picture of this grief. For many days he grieved, he put on his mourning attire, nothing and no one could console him, tears coursed down his face, and he is surrounded by a family who quite frankly could care less about his pain, because if they had they would not have done what they did. (Genesis 37:18-33)
The child who he believes has died is not his first born or his baby but the child named Joseph is his FAVORITE son. The son of Rachel, the love of his life and of his old age. The child he showed favoritism toward by providing special gifts. The son who was brilliant: he could interpret dreams. The child who made him look good. The child who was marginalized by the rest of his siblings. These brothers bullied, envied, and hated Joseph. Can you say dysfunctional family?
Joseph was the idol in Jacob’s heart. The definition of an idol is anything, anyone who takes first place in our heart. Idols lead to sin. Idols cause us to worship something, someone other than the LORD God of Heaven. Family. People we love. Those we are willing to die for. Our world revolves around these individuals. They are the reason we get up every morning. This is the most dangerous idol for you cannot tear it down and discard it. You MUST replace it! This is the hardest idol to recognize for they are a blessing from God to your heart. These idols become idols oh so innocently. We don’t set them up on pedestals on purpose. We focus on them because it is necessary. The enemy is slick! He disguises his plan to have us take the LORD off the throne of our heart through an illness, family dynamics, desire for fellowship, or comfort during another loss. Slowly, subtly our main focus is not the Father, but the one the Father created. Our IDOL: a gift given by the Giver is now consuming us.
In his book, gods at war, Kyle Idleman writes about how to discern if we have fallen into idolatry by taking a “spiritual arteriogram.” (Wish I had read this book YEARS ago!) He writes a series of questions we need to answer:
What disappoints you?
What do you complain about the most?
Where do you make financial sacrifices?
What worries you?
Where is your sanctuary?
The answers to these five questions will pretty much reveal my/your idol (s).
If we apply these questions to Jacob and Joseph we find his unintentional idol. When I apply these questions to my own life my idol rises like a pyramid on the Egyptian desert. In fact, my family members could probably tell you what/who my idol is without the test questions! Joseph’s brothers knew who Jacob idolized. Sigh!
Kyle Idleman also writes, “ God’s greatest gifts are also his greatest tests. The more beautiful a thing is, the more capacity it has to become an idol. The more I fear losing it, the more likely I am to worship it.” (emphasis mine!)
So, how long was this time out for Jacob? It was TWENTY YEARS (7600 days)! (Genesis 37:34, 41:46. 47) A grief Jacob had determined he would never recover from (Genesis 37:34) . Robert A. Guelich wrote in The Sermon on the Mount, “mourning (Isaiah 61:2-3), is an inclusive grief that refers to the disenfranchised, contrite, and bereaved. It is an expression of the intense sense of loss, helplessness, and despair.”
But thanks be to God, our times of time out are limited. Matthew 5:4 tells us that they that mourn will be comforted. Romans, 8:18 reminds us, “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us,” and Romans 8:28 takes this one step further and reveals God’s ultimate purpose: “ And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. 29 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. 30 And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.” For the Father is “close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. (Psalm 34:18) Most importantly for those of us in this kind of time out, Lamentations 3:22-26 is a lifeline:
Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
23 They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
24 I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion;
therefore I will wait for him.”
25 The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him,
to the one who seeks him;
26 it is good to wait quietly
for the salvation of the Lord.
Peter Kreeft, in Back to Virtue, wrote a succinct summary of all this: “Every suffering can be blessed because it hollows out a place in us for God and His comfort, which is infinite joy.”
Jacob’s time out ended after twenty years when his son is restored to him. Genesis 45:27-28 says, “ the spirit of Jacob was revived.” God had accomplished much in twenty years. He had systematically orchestrated events and lives to insure His covenant promise to Abraham and preserve the nation of the Chosen One through whom all nations would be blessed.
Can we allow God the Father to rip our idols from our controlling hands so that we might experience MORE of His Presence? Can we surrender to the hollowing out of our idolatrous hearts so we can fully rejoice in the LORD?
I fully understand both Jacob’s sorrow and joy. I never want to place a loved one on the throne that is rightfully HIS ALONE ever again! It is not good for them or for me. It caused great pain. Exodus 20:3-5 must remain forever carved into the flesh of our heart.
Treading in His amazing grace,
Amazing Grace to the tune of House of the Rising Sun