Thursday, October 2, 2008 – Genesis 29:1-14 Hiatus
This is a part of the story of patriarchs which gets little attention – yet I think it is so important.After conniving with his mother to wrestle his brother Esau’s birthright claims as his own, Jacob journeys to Haran to live with his uncle’s family. On the way he experiences a journey which takes him away from all he knows – toward a God he thinks he knows but discovers he does not. This journey is a leaving behind of all that identifies him – birthplace, parents, brother – and it is a passage to a place of hiatus – where he lives a life that unfolds as he moves through it. It is a crossing from a place he thinks he knows but does not . . . to a place he thinks he does not know . . . but knows quite well. At the well in Haran is where he meets himself after having fully met his God.
Jacobs sets off into the unknown and has a very real encounter with God in Bethel; he sets up a marker stone to commemorate the special event. It is here he learns that God is truly with him, will remain with him, and will fulfill the promises which Jacob had tried to take from his brother, Esau. What Jacob, with his mother’s help, had tried to take by force, God will grant him as his spiritual birthright. Jacob will be the father of sons whose tribes will inherit the Promised Land. This is the paradox of the Jacob story, and I believe it is the tears we see in today’s citation giving witness to Jacob’s realization that he has been promised something, has tried to take it by virtue of his own force and plan, and has failed to fully attain on his own. He thinks he has lost his birthright forever . . . and it is in Bethel and Haran that he experiences God as his constant companion. It is as he steps into his hiatus that he understands – without knowing when or how – that in the end God will fulfill the promise he gave so long ago. We see Jacob settle into his hiatus.
This is not a sabbatical Jacob is taking. There is no rest, no withdrawal from life to re-assess. He has, instead, entered into a period of difficult work, a time of arduous labor, of intrigue, of doubt . . . a time of separation from what he has been promised . . . a time of waiting while working . . . a time of knowing that God abides . . . a hiatus.
Jacob does not merely maintain momentum, he does not just keep apace with life. He engages, he progresses, he improves. He puts his head down, his shoulder against the wheel of life and impels himself forward – separate and separated from his roots – driving toward his future. And he is always accompanied by God. He realizes this at his entrance into Haran and he carries this with him throughout his life. Later in his story, Jacob reunites with the brother he has cheated, is separated from a son he loves, is again reunited with this son. Jacob lives a life of continual separations and yearnings. Jacob can do this because he has before himself a vision of what God promises. He does not have the entire map. He does not know the many turning the path will take. The important thing here is that Jacob has wrestled with God and knows God’s strength, God’s endurance, God’s patience. He knows God’s love and constancy. And this is what sustains him. This is what Jacob himself has taken on. This is what preserves him through the horrible periods of his life. Jacob has learned to live in hiatus. Jacob moves forward in faith without a roadmap. Jacob acts in hope, and he loves in God.
We all must live in hiatus at one time or another. There will be some disappointment which will break the well-laid plans we have in mind. It is at this point that we wrestle with God to come to the realization that the promises whispered to us will be fulfilled. Hiatus teaches us how to move in God’s time, in God’s way, in God’s plan, in God’s love. We must welcome our own hiatus.
Hiatus is a gift from God . . . leading us to God. When we separate ourselves from our own agenda and place ourselves in the hands of the God who knows and loves us so well . . . the promises made begin to unfold exponentially in our lives. The covenant entered into is fulfilled many fold.
Do we doubt this? We only need read the story of Jacob to know that this is so.