|I Will Give a Tenth to Thee|
As we continue our study of stewardship in the book of Genesis, we will take a look at Jacob, grandson of Abraham. Since Jacob was quite a character and scoundrel, I will provide a brief background. Jacob and Esau were twin boys born to Isaac and Rebekah. At the time of their birth, Esau was born first, but Jacob was grasping his heal. Jacob’s name literally means “he supplants” or “he takes by the heal” (Genesis 25:24f). Names were often chosen at the time of a person’s birth to represent something of a person’s character as displayed by events surrounding his birth. According to Ancient Near Eastern customs, the firstborn male would receive a double portion of the inheritance. In this case, since their were two sons, the assets would be divided into three portions and the oldest, Esau would receive two portions and Jacob would receive one.
In Genesis, we are told that Esau returned from hunting and asked Jacob for some of the stew he had made. Jacob said, “First sell me your birthright.” Esau, depising his birthright, swore to Jacob, and gave up his birthright for a bowl of stew (Genesis 25:29f). Later in their lives, Isaac their father was getting old and his eyes were dim. As was the custom, he wanted to bestow his blessing upon his eldest son before his death. This story is quite interesting and is found in Genesis 27. Needless to say, Jacob tricked his father into thinking he was Esau and he stole his father’s blessing, intended for Esau. Esau was furious and planned to kill Jacob upon their father’s death.
Fearing his brother, Jacob was directed by his mother to go to her brother’s house approximately 600 miles away until Esau calmed down. As Jacob journeyed, he came to a place called Luz. Perhaps, out of despair, he did not want to be sociable; arriving after the city gates were shut, Jacob ended up sleeping in the open and used a stone for a pillow. The theft of his brother’s birthright resulted in his fleeing from his own family, fear of fraticide, sleeping in the open with a stone for a pillow. Jacob’s way of doing things obviously needed to change, as he lost all that was dear to him.
Let us take a look at how the Lord reveals himself to the runaway in Genesis 28:10-22: “Jacob left Beer-sheba, and went toward Haran. And he came to a certain place, and stayed there that night, because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place to sleep. And he dreamed that there was a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven; and behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it! And behold, the Lord stood above it and said, ‘I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you and to your descendants; and your descendants shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and by you and your descendants shall all the families of the earth bless themselves. Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done that of which I have spoken to you.’ Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, ‘Surely the Lord is in this place; and I did not know it.’ And he was afraid, and said, ‘How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.’ So Jacob rose early in the morning, and he took the stone which he had put under his head and set it up for a pillar and poured oil on the top of it. He called the name of that place Bethel; but the name of the city was Luz at the first. Then Jacob made a vow saying, ‘If God will be with me, and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat and clothing to wear, so that I come again to my father’s house in peace, then the Lord shall be my God, and this stone, which I have set up for a pillar, shall be God’s house; and of all that Thou givest me I will give the tenth to Thee.’”
Jacob’s encounter with God resulted in a change of heart and a new way of thinking. Instead of attempting to gain blessings by stealth, he would put his trust in the Lord. Jacob’s craftiness and manipulation were only a source of grief, causing him to lose all that was precious to him. As we read above, Jacob made a simple vow, that “if the Lord would provide bread, clothing and bless him to return to his father’s house in peace, he would give a tenth to the Lord.” Even though the Lord had promised to be with him, give him land and a multitude of descendants, Jacob only asked for the necessities of life and promised the Lord would be his God, the place where he slept would be God’s house and he would give a tenth to the Lord.
While there is certainly much more to say about Jacob, we see he was beginning to discern a difference between his needs and his wants. Additionally, rather than making his own way, he would look to the Lord as the source of all his needs. This recurring theme—of God being the source of all blessings—is written quite large and repeated quite often in Holy Scripture. Jacob was not worthy of God’s blessings. He was a scoundrel in flight from his brother. Yet the Lord is the One Who searches out the scoundrels who have made of mess of their lives and transforms them.
As Jacob was unworthy of God’s many blessings, so are we. As we pray each time before receiving the Holy Gifts, “I believe, O Lord and I confess, that Thou art truly the Christ, the Son of the Living God, Who came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief.” How can we each be chief or first among sinners? Because we each know that His Grace is sufficient to keep us, yet we continue to nurture our passions, continue to sin even though we sense the presence of the Holy Spirit attempting to restrain us from our sinful behavior. Nevertheless, no matter how many times we fall, He is there to lift us up again and restore us to communion with Him.
The Lord not only provides us with our daily bread and clothing, but He has given us eternal life together with Him. As we look at Jocob’s vow, he asked the Lord to provide the necessities and allow him to return to his earthly home in peace, promising the Lord that He would be his God, Luz (Bethel, literally “house of God”) would be the Lord’s house and he would give the Lord a tenth. Jacob only asked to be able to return to his earthly home in peace, yet we are promised freedom from slavery to Satan, our sins and eternal Life. Let us at least do as much as Jacob did and show our gratitude to the Lord for His many blessings, known and unknown.
Archbishop Mark of Eastern PA (OCA)