The Bible in a Year – 17 January

If this is your first viewing, please see my Introduction before reading this.

17 January. Genesis chapters 48-50

One of the last episodes in Jacob’s life is the blessing of two of his grandsons, Ephraim and Manasseh. This seems to be a recognised ritual, Joseph leading the elder son to be blessed with Jacob’s right hand and the younger with his left. Many cultures still honour the eldest son of a family as the most important among his siblings in some way, and we still speak of a “right hand man” as being the closest aide or most important officer to someone in power.


But Jacob will have none of it.  Sometimes grandparents can see the character of their grandchildren better than the parents themselves.  He knows – by observation or divine revelation or a combination of both – that the descendants of the younger son, Ephraim, will be the more important in the future to God’s purposes.  And so he crosses his hands over so that Ephraim gets the “right hand” blessing.


The very last episode in the account of the Patriarchs is Joseph’s reconciliation with his brothers after their father’s death.  Sometimes the death of a parent can split a family, but it can also be an occasion for healing of old wounds.

The Bible in a Year – 12 January

If this is your first viewing, please see my Introduction before reading this.


12 January. Genesis chapters 35 to 36

Do you have a special place when it comes to your journey of faith? For me it will always be Scargill House, where I spent three happy years living with other Christians and offering hospitality to our guests, and met my wife. The chapel there is a focus of prayer and worship, and God gave me a vision there which encouraged me greatly in living for him. Bethel (“house of God”) was a special place for Jacob. He had first encountered God there when he had the dream of angels on a ladder to heaven; now after being reconciled with his brother, they go their separate ways again (for the land was not large enough for two big nomadic tribes) and Jacob returns to Bethel where God appears again to confirm his promises.  After this, apart from the death of Jacob’s favourite wife and father, the saga will turn to the next generation and the story of Joseph.

The Bible in a Year – 11 January

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11 January. Genesis chapters 32 to 34

Jacob’s night-time wrestling match with a man who he believes to be an appearance of God is a curious story.  Although angels often appear in human form (yes, today as well as in Bible times), they normally have no physical contact with people, and are to be distinguished from an actual bodily incarnation of God himself. This is probably the closest we see to that in the whole of the Old Testament, as it was only with Jesus that anyone could “see God and live” – Jacob’s encounter took place in the utter darkness of a wilderness night when the Lord’s face could not be seen.


The incident is a turning point in his life, not only for the unique encounter with God, but for the limp with which it left him (my wife currently has a problem with her hip, so I can see how painful and limiting it would have been), God’s blessing with a new name (Israel, by which name God’s people would henceforth be known) and in the way that it preceded the reconciliation with his brother. There is a spiritual truth here that before we can fulfil God’s purposes for us, we have to recognise ways in which we have been struggling against God (“kicking against the goads” as St Paul puts it), and accept both his blessing and the limitations that living out our calling may have on our human freedom.

The Bible in a Year – 10 January

If this is your first viewing, please see my Introduction before reading this.

10 January. Genesis chapters 30-31


These chapters, and the previous one, tell the story of Jacob and his two sibling wives.  Some of the themes we have seen earlier in the book are repeated here: having children by a servant (the ancient equivalent of surrogacy I suppose) when one’s wife cannot conceive; and deception, whether by Laban in giving Jacob the “wrong” bride or his daughter Rachel in stealing her father’s idols.  But I will pick up on two incidental details:


At the start of chapter 30, there is a scene worthy of a TV soap, as tensions caused by Rachel’s childlessness come to a head. “Give me children or I shall die!” she moans; “Am I in the place of God?” her frustrated husband replies.  The ‘solution’ of having sons by his other wife and both their maids could only lead to further relationship difficulties, and at the end of the story, Rachel does finally bear a son, Joseph, who goes on to become the greatest of the brothers. How often do we have to be reminded that seeing God’s intentions fulfilled usually involves a large degree of patience?


When Laban and Jacob agree to go their separate ways, they set up what they call the “heap of witness”.  But they give it different names, which the NRSV footnote helpfully explain is because Laban uses Aramaic, and Jacob Hebrew.  Although he has worked for Laban twenty years and taken his daughters as wives (and so has surely learnt the language) he reverts to his mother tongue when it comes to naming the place. Language has such strong resonances for us, and placenames are rich in meaning.


The Bible in a Year – 9 January

If this is your first viewing, please see my Introduction before reading this.

9 January. Genesis chapters 28-29

Jacob’s Ladder is one of those well known Bible stories, perhaps because it is so easily illustrated.  Or perhaps (for Sunday school teachers) because unlike most of the rest of Genesis it does not involve sex or violence.  But note – Jacob is sleeping out in the open with a hard rock for a pillow.  I had always pictured this as in some remote desert.  But he is actually staying in the “city” of Luz (the word is perhaps used in a relative sense, but a town at least).  So he has chosen to spend the night outdoors, maybe because it was a hot summer night, or maybe because he knew that solitude and contemplation of the vastness of the night sky are helpful to prayer.  And God meets him in a special way.  It reminds me to look for more opportunities to be truly alone with God.


I will write more about Jacob and his wives as the story unfolds tomorrow.