I get somewhat intrigued by what we would normally consider “obscure” comments in the Bible. I’m of the inerrant/infallible school of theology, not that I don’t have plenty of questions for the other side of eternity. Nevertheless, that doesn’t stop me from trusting the Author for what’s in the Book, even if some of its contents keeps me scratching my forehead.
So here’s one of those parts to the story of the patriarch Jacob and his burgeoning family that I find interesting:
“Soon after this, Rebekah’s old nurse, Deborah, died. She was buried beneath the oak tree in the valley below Bethel. Ever since, the tree has been called Allon-bacuth (which means ‘oak of weeping’).”
I was curious why God put a little honorarium to this practically unknown servant in His eternal record. (I love how God does that so many times in the Bible.) This Deborah was someone that Jacob had grown up with all of his life, since she was his mother’s “nursemaid” from before he was born. Then the similitude makes sense when I read the next part:
“Now that Jacob had returned from Paddan-aram, God appeared to him again at Bethel. God blessed him, saying, ‘Your name is Jacob, but you will not be called Jacob any longer. From now on your name will be Israel.’ So God renamed him Israel.”
Jacob’s return from Paddan-aram (ie, “not the Promised Land”) marked the passing of the old life and the beginning of the new. He was sent away from Canaan to find a wife from among his family’s people, but his return got delayed because of another’s deceptive plot, not to mention some of his own bad decisions. (He wasn’t exactly sold out on God at this point of his young impetuous life, as noted in his comment to God after the stairway to heaven dream, i.e., “You will be my God if….”)
So in this example, it seems like God is saying that the old life had to die so that the new life could begin. Sounds suspiciously like something Paul remarks on the the New Testament:
“This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!”
It’s fairly informative that the place where “auntie” Deborah was buried was a place of weeping. Transition is hard, many times. Painful. It can be gut-wrenchingly scary to say bid an old way of doing, thinking, feeling farewell. Diedrich Bonhoeffer put it decisively when he penned, “When God calls a man, He bids him come and die.”
And it wasn’t until Jacob returned to where he was supposed to be that God set him back on the program and changed his name to Israel. As long as we return to the place God has for us (the preachers call it “repentance”), His sovereign plan will not be derailed through us.
It’s part of the package known as amazing grace.
Gensis 35: 8-10; 1 Corinthians 5:17 Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright© 1996, 2004, 2007, 2013 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.