THE MINISTRY OF SUFFERING
Jacob journeyed to Bethel and built an altar to the Lord. There he must have reflected hard on the wild behaviour of his sons and Bethel would certainly remind him of his own sins and his meeting with the Lord for the first time. Jacob knew that he could do nothing to change the violence of his sons. He was undoubtedly distressed that they had brought disgrace upon him. But that was only the beginning of Jacob’s troubles and sorrow. God comforted him saying, “Your name is Jacob; no longer shall you be called Jacob, but Israel shall be your name. I am God Almighty: be fruitful and multiply; a nation and a company of nations shall come from you, and kings shall spring from you. The land that I gave to Abraham and Isaac I will give to you, and I will give the land to your offspring after you.” (Genesis 35: 10-12 NRSV)
It was a comfort to know that despite his sons violence, the promise God made to Abraham remained unchanged.
A sad event occurred whilst at Bethel. Rachel’s nurse, Deborah, died. She would be missed terribly by Rachel. Deborah was buried under an oak below Bethel. But a greater loss to Jacob was soon to sadden his heart. Before reaching Ephrath, Rachel had hard labour. She gave birth to a son, and she named Ben-oni. Rachel died shortly afterwards. Jacob renamed the child Benjamin. (Genesis 35:10-12 NRSV)
A MINISTRY OF SUFFERING
From the time Jacob entered the land of Canaan he had one sorrow after another. His life and become hard with pain and sadness. God had put on Jacob’s shoulders the ministry of suffering. That is perhaps difficult to grasp but without greater sorrow than he had yet undergone, Jacob and his sons would have starved to death and his sons would never have been humbled and repented of their sins. What God foresees is not what we foresee or understand. Jacob could not understand the events that were to follow, and thereby suffered greatly, yet he walked with God and did not depart from the Lord.
And the events that were to follow would not only bring salvation to Jacob and his sons but to the world. In the following articles we will see just how God determined events and that Jacob’s suffering was necessary for him to do so.
It was, in fact, through Joseph, that God would bring Jacob's sons to repentance and faith in his sovereignty over history, and over their lives. Joseph was at the centre of God's foresight and it was to Joseph that he revealed all that would take place in the future, how be it these events were veiled in dreams. This then, is the beginning of a new chapter in the lives of the children of Israel, and Joseph was at the centre of all that was unfolding. Jacob's sons had a great deal to learn in God's School of discipline and love that they may come to repentance and faith. But what took place went beyond their wilful lives to God's judgements and love for the whole world. Here, we will begin to see God at work in the world of rebellion, violence and sin.