There is a very interesting bit of business mentioned here about how God wants his people to live with their eyes fixed upon his promise. Isaac, after following his wife’s advice, decides to bless Jacob and send him on his way. Again, I do not believe it was God honoring for Jacob to deceive his father, but as we’ve said all along God uses our failures to bring about his purposes in our lives. Here is Isaac’s blessing to Jacob…
“May God Almighty bless you and make you fruitful and increase your numbers until you become a community of peoples. May he give you and your descendants the blessing given to Abraham, so that you may take possession of the land where you now reside as a foreigner, the land God gave to Abraham.”
– Genesis 28:3-4
Did you catch that? His hope for Jacob’s future is that he would come to take possession of the land as a foreigner. You see, Abraham didn’t grow up in the land. He moved their and took possession, as a gift from God. God, through providence and provision, gave the land to him. Isaac again settled in the land as a foreigner. However, Jacob grew up there. In that sense, he would be the heir to it. He would receive it through his birthright.
The problem is that the promised land would become the symbol for the ultimate riches that God will deliver to all his sons and daughters. The promised land, was indeed received through “promise” and not property rights. Jacob would become one of the 3 partriarchs most often mentioned when referring to the God who would make good on his promise. The “God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob” had promised and delivered the land to both Abraham and Isaac, but if Jacob was to be the standard-bearer for the God who fulfills his promises, he too needed to have his own experience of this.
God uses this time in Jacob’s life in a mighty way, and we can learn a lot about how we ought to live from it. True, we can learn that God delivers on his promises and in fact wants us to live a life where we actually experience what it means to live by faith. For Jacob, God has him abandon the land that would be rightfully his so that he will recognize God’s provision when he reclaims the land. This experience will grow Jacob’s faith immeasurably.
However, there’s a second component to Jacob’s exile that is more fully understand in its New Testament application: that of living in the land as a foreigner. Hebrews summarizes the entire generational story in a few short sentences…
By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.
– Hebrews 11:8-10
God promised the land to Abraham and his seed. However, they recognized that for a time, many generations in fact, they would prosper but not truly possess the land. They were in a period of waiting and relying on God, constantly looking forward and having faith that he would deliver them. During that time they lived in tents or tabernacles which is really to say that they lived in temporary shelters, awaiting a time when their permanent residency would be fulfilled.
This is how we are to live today. We are to be constantly recognizing that our current place in this world is temporary. In fact our bodies, like tents, are temporary. Paul actually refers to our bodies as “tents” and expresses the same sentiment of temporary living…
For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands.
– 2 Corinthians 5:1
We look forward to a day when God will deliver us and clothe us in perfection. We will inherit the true spiritual home that was promised to the descendants of Abraham. Until that day, we are strangers living in a foreign land, and we must live as though we don’t belong to it. Our challenge is to not conform to the pattern of this world, but live lives worthy of the calling. Peter expressed it this way…
Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.
– 1 Peter 2:11-12
Living “called out” lives, different from the world around us, glorifies God. It signals to both the world and to each other (in the church) that another kingdom exists, the kingdom of heaven. The kingdom of heaven is at hand, and the proof of that is found in the foreigners, the sojourners who live in this world, but are not of this world.