Fellowship at Cross Creek
When Loved Ones Die…
Intro… Anybody ever lost someone or been around the events memorializing the life and passing of a dear loved one…a grandparent, aunt, uncle, perhaps even a parent or sibling? A friend? How did the family remember their lost loved one? How did you feel about the process? Were you comfortable or uncomfortable with it? Was it difficult? Did you cry? Did your grief and tears eventually subside? Why and how? How should love ones be remembered? Do you like the way tradition or adults attempt to remember the life and passing of others? Tell me what you think. How would you do it?
There are two passing-aways contained in this passage. One due to childbirth, which, until recently, for much of the world was an all-too common occurrence, and for many Third World nations, it still is. What we take for granted–a mother surviving childbirth–was never a given, and certainly not in the ancient world. In fact, had my wife, Rhonda, lived in earlier times, there is a good chance that she would not be alive today, having not survived her ectopic pregnancy. So not only would I have lost my wife, but by extrapolation, our next daughter would not have been born, I would have had to raise my infant son on my own and my life would have no doubt taken a much different trek. But with the advent of modern medicine, it is a new ball game. Not near the women that once died in childbirth die anymore. Thank God!
On the other hand, perhaps, my very first concrete memory is of my father preparing me and my younger brother to be sensitive to my mom for when she would come home from the hospital WITHOUT our newborn brother, David. After only a few days of life and while still in the hospital, David had suddenly and unexpectedly died. Thus my introduction to both birth and death…intimately tied together.
About seven years later, I remember a difficult Christmas when my parents were running back and forth between our rural home town and the city of Little Rock, which was an hour and a half away from where my father practiced medicine as a doctor. My newest younger brother was about to die of dehydration in the hospital. This time death did not coming knocking. And in fact, I was told that as an infant I came close to dying for very similar reasons.
I also remember my great-grandmother dying shortly after seeing my youngest brother as a newborn. Everyone said that she was waiting to see my little brother before she passed on. That was at Christmas time.
Since then, many loved ones and friends have passed on, and quite often, I have had the painful blessing of being in their presence as they passed. In fact, I observed the difficult passing away of one of our church family’s children just over a year ago. Sometimes I still have symbolic dreams of his passing. And in fact, right now, a close Spiritual mother is as close to death as one can possibly be. While I have had the honor to be in her presence several times now, I would NOT be surprised if I received a phone call informing me of her passing even as I compose this introduction.
Death, as strange as it seems, is a very real and apparently a necessary part of life. In fact, according to Gen. 3, death is a severe mercy. Without it, we would all live forever in a never-ending bodily decay. Death grants us rest from this unending torture.
On the other hand, tragically some die way too early and perhaps even harshly. This passage reminds us all of the devastating and painful consequences we must all endure because of Adam and Eve’s fateful choice in paradise so long ago. And though death, for the moment, will extract its painful losses, those we’ve loved and who have loved us will not be forgotten (for example… Rachel’s pillar), which also reminds us that just as our LORD came to suffer death’s sting on our behalf, he was also resurrected to give us an eternal hope. Thus we need NOT fear death or the death of those we have loved, for they only sleep. At the last trumpet, their earthly molecules will somehow be regathered and rejoined to their spirits and together, we will all be rejoined in the presence and within the praises of the ONE who has conquered death (Heb. 2:14ff; 1 Thess. 4:13ff; 1 Cor. 15:1ff). Amen!
The Bible’s very first word is the Hebrew word Bərēšīṯ, which means “in [the] beginning.” “Genesis” is actually the Greek word for “beginnings” or “origins,” and thus the origin for both the Latin and English transliteration: Genesis.
So what’s our goal? Just to explore. Like an archaeologist exploring ancient ruins, we are going back to the Scripture’s beginnings to do a little Spiritual digging and poking around to see what was God doing before God’s Son was Spiritually conceived in his mother Mary’s womb? What were the world, people and life like from the very beginning?
Summary of Recent Explorations…
• The Creation: The Creator Creates His Creation and its Caretakers (Adam and Eve). Gen. 1-2.
• The Fall: But a Crafty Adversary Emerges, Infecting the Creator’s Caretakers with a Virulent Strain of Deceptive Evil (non-beneficial actions). Gen. 3-4.
• The Flood: The story of the righteous Servant and a devastating Flood. In order to Save his Creation from a self-destructive and merciless evil, the Creator Must radically purge or cleanse his Creation Gen. 5-7.
• Creation’s New Beginning…Gen. 8-11.
• Creation’s New Caretaker: The Creator Raises up, Chooses and Greatly Blesses a righteous and trusting Caretaker named Abraham. Gen. 12-25.
• The Torch of the Creator’s Trusting Caretaking Now Passes to Succeeding Generations (Abraham’s son Isaac and then Isaac’s younger son Jacob)…Gen. 25:1ff.
• Abraham’s son Isaac is blessed with twin sons; as prophesied when the twins where in their mother’s womb, the older, Esau, is about to serve the younger, Jacob. Gen. 25:19ff.
• Despite harsh times and stiff opposition, God sustains his servant Isaac within both his and his father’s Promised Lands…Gen. 26:1ff.
• Aided by his mother, the younger Jacob deceives his elderly, blind father Isaac into giving Jacob his blessing instead of his older brother Esau. Gen. 27:1ff.
• God reveals to a fleeing Jacob in a dream as he leaves the Covenant’s Promise Land that indeed God intends to make good on his father’s blessing. Jacob will return to this land, and his many descendants, as well as, the entire earth will be blessed by their presence in this land. Gen. 28:1ff.
• In the land of his mother’s people, Jacob is blessed and grows a very large family of eleven sons and one daughter. Gen. 29:1ff.
• Having blessed Jacob with a large family, God prepares Jacob to return to his promised homeland by blessing him with massive herds of sheep, goats and other livestock. Gen. 30:25ff.
• As he returns home, Jacob enters into a peace treaty with his father-in-law Laban. Gen. 31:22ff.
• After wrestling with God all night and surviving, as his blessing, Jacob receives a new name from God, Israel…one who strives with God. Gen. 32:1ff.
• The two brothers, Jacob and Esau, have a very emotional and satisfying reunion. Gen. 33:1ff.
• Jacob’s sons exact their revenge when their sister, Dinah, is first raped and then asked for in marriage by village chief’s son. Gen. 34:1ff
• God commands Jacob to return to the place they first met years ago so that Jacob can build an altar of worship to God there and God can then reconfirm his original Covenant promises to Jacob. Gen. 35:16ff.
Pray; read three times (perhaps just twice) and ask questions…
Gen. 35:16 Then they journeyed from Bethel; and when there was still some distance to go to Ephrath, Rachel began to give birth and she suffered severe labor.
Why did they leave Bethel? No command from God? Freedom to move on once they had built their altar there? Is Ephrath Bethlehem? So in essence, since Bethlehem is near Jerusalem, we are also very near Jerusalem? And perhaps Moriah where Abraham went to sacrifice Isaac? And why nothing about Rachel’s pregnancy until now? This is only her second pregnancy, with her first being Joseph? How old is she?
17 When she was in severe labor the midwife said to her, “Do not fear, for now you have another son.”
18 It came about as her soul was departing (for she died), that she named him Ben-oni; but his father called him Benjamin.
What does Benoni as well as Benjamin mean? And why does Jacob call him something different than the name his mother had given him?
19 So Rachel died and was buried on the way to Ephrath (that is, Bethlehem).
20 Jacob set up a pillar over her grave; that is the pillar of Rachel’s grave to this day.
Jacob had just set up a pillar of stones at Bethel, now he sets up a pillar of stones to mark his beloved Rachel’s grave. And to this day…would that be during the time of the Exodus, as much as 500 years later? Amazing. And at Bethlehem…anywhere near where Jesus was born?
21 Then Israel journeyed on and pitched his tent beyond the tower of Eder.
Interesting, the text refers to him as Jacob in v. 20 and Israel in v. 21.
22 It came about while Israel was dwelling in that land, that Reuben went and lay with Bilhah his father’s concubine, and Israel heard of it.
(Not good! Two of his half-brothers’ mother. Doesn’t concubine mean lesser wife? Would not Reuben’s actions be considered pagan and vile, perhaps even enough for his father to take his own son’s life?)
Now there were twelve sons of Jacob—
23 the sons of Leah: Reuben, Jacob’s firstborn, then Simeon and Levi and Judah and Issachar and Zebulun;
24 the sons of Rachel: Joseph and Benjamin;
25 and the sons of Bilhah, Rachel’s maid: Dan and Naphtali;
26 and the sons of Zilpah, Leah’s maid: Gad and Asher. These are the sons of Jacob who were born to him in Paddan-aram.
27 Jacob came to his father Isaac at Mamre of Kiriath-arba (that is, Hebron), where Abraham and Isaac had sojourned.
28 Now the days of Isaac were one hundred and eighty years.
29 Isaac breathed his last and died and was gathered to his people, an old man of ripe age; and his sons Esau and Jacob buried him.
So the text very simply states in just the space of a few verses that Jacob buries both his beloved wife Rachel and his father Isaac. Now it is just Jacob, his three remaining wives, 12 sons, a daughter and all of their children. Jacob has now become the surviving patriarch of the family Israel.
• After building an altar to God and naming it Bethel (House of God), Jacob journeys to Bethlehem where his beloved Rachel dies giving birth to Jacob’s now youngest son, Benjamin (which means Son of My Right Hand. There Rachel is buried with a pillar of stones marks her burial location.
• Jacob moves his family and flock beyond the tower of Eder when he hears that his oldest son has slept with one of his father’s two lesser wives and the mother of two of his half-brothers (not surprisingly, we are not told that Jacob does anything about such a grievous action.)
• Jacob’s 12 sons are listed by their four birth mothers.
• Jacob goes to Hebron to visit his father who dies at the age of 180 and is buried by his two sons, Esau and Jacob (since Isaac was 60 when Jacob was born, according to Gen. 25:26, this would make Jacob 120 when he buries his father.)
Summary: Jacob has one more son, while losing that son’s mother in childbirth and then buries his father.
Why did God include this event in his record or what would we not know–about God, life, myself, others, etc.–if this story were not in the Bible?
• Despite God’s blessing, this is still a fallen, sinful world. People die; mother’s die in childbirth; those we love deeply die; parents get old and die; children disappoint us; that sons can engage in incredibly vile behavior, and yet life must and does go on.
• Despite Reuben’s later displays of courageous leadership (Gen. 37, 42) according to his father’s dying prophesy, because of his heinous behavior as described here, the Messianic/Savior line will not/did not come from the tribe of Reuben (Gen. 48:4). I mean what a trade off…a direct heir to world’s ultimate salvation from sin for a momentary (Esau-like) impetuous romp in the hay with your stepmother? So instead of Christendom talking about the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, we might have been talking about the Lion of the Tribe of Reuben. Coincidently, it appears that sons numbers two and three, after Reuben, Simeon and Levi, also lost that privileged distinction because of their impulsive deceptive, violent revenge for Shechem’s rape of their sister Dinah (Gen. 34:1ff). Finally, the honor goes to son number four, Judah. And Judah will have his own issues, but apparently, not enough to lose the distinction of the Messianic line.
49:1 Then Jacob summoned his sons and said, “Assemble yourselves that I may tell you what will befall you in the days to come.
2 “Gather together and hear, O sons of Jacob;
And listen to Israel your father.
3 “Reuben, you are my firstborn;
My might and the beginning of my strength,
Preeminent in dignity and preeminent in power.
4 “Uncontrolled as water, you shall not have preeminence,
Because you went up to your father’s bed;
Then you defiled it—he went up to my couch.
5 “Simeon and Levi are brothers;
Their swords are implements of violence.
6 “Let my soul not enter into their council;
Let not my glory be united with their assembly;
Because in their anger they slew men,
And in their self-will they lamed oxen.
7 “Cursed be their anger, for it is fierce;
And their wrath, for it is cruel.
I will disperse them in Jacob,
And scatter them in Israel.
8 “Judah, your brothers shall praise you;
Your hand shall be on the neck of your enemies;
Your father’s sons shall bow down to you.
9 “Judah is a lion’s whelp;
From the prey, my son, you have gone up.
He couches, he lies down as a lion,
And as a lion, who dares rouse him up?
10 “The scepter shall not depart from Judah,
Nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet,
Until Shiloh comes,
And to him shall be the obedience of the peoples.
11 “He ties his foal to the vine,
And his donkey’s colt to the choice vine;
He washes his garments in wine,
And his robes in the blood of grapes.
12 “His eyes are dull from wine,
And his teeth white from milk.
Thus apparently, even within God’s divine stewardship, youthful…and perhaps not even youthful in age, but youthful in immaturity…actions can have major long-term repercussions and consequences. Beware of the impulse of Esau…
• It will be from the tribe of Benjamin that God will provide Israel her first king, Saul (1 Sam. 9:1ff); Within Benjamin’s borders will a series of tragic events that will almost wipe out the entire tribe of state of Benjamin (Judges 19-21), and Benjamin will be the only tribe that aligns itself with Judah when the 12 tribes of Israel divide into two separate nations (1 Kings 12; Ezra 1; Nehemiah 11; Obadiah 1). Israel will not survive. Attached to Judah, Benjamin will survive.
How does what happen here relate to you?
What about your kids?
Biggest Struggles (Imagine these or several–put yourself in their shoes–walk through a day with them at school, at home. What might they encounter?)
Now how does what happen here possibly relate/ (Remember this is only to give you a feel or an introductory hook or a reinforcing took; in there looking, they may come up with something entirely different.)
Remember to have fun, sense the Spirit’s leading and develop a love for these kids.
As always, thanks!
Scripture quotations taken from the New American Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968,1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation Used by permission.” (www.Lockman.org).