Summary: This Old Testament lesson shows us a man who learned how not to worry while not denying the realities of life and using common sense. Isn't this what Jesus was teaching in his Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 6:24-34?
“Here's a little song I wrote You might want to sing it note for note Don't worry, be happy. In every life we have some trouble But when you worry you make it double Don't worry, be happy” You might recognize those lyrics from the song released in 1988, “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.” According to this song, why shouldn’t you worry? Because it just makes things worst. As popular as this song is, I don’t think this song is going to make it into the new hymnal. Yet, I think that this is the way that many people portray Christian’s or maybe even the Bible’s teaching on worry. Don’t worry. It will all work out. Is it true that Jesus tells us not to worry? Yes. We heard it repeatedly in our gospel lesson from Matthew 6. But our not worrying does not come from a fatalistic view of life that says, “Whatever will be, will be. So why worry about it?” or a denial of the very difficult and dangerous things in life. So what DOES the Bible teach us about worry? How does a Christian address worry without being fatalistic, reckless, or denying reality? Let’s look to Jacob, a man who knew worry well and learned from God how to address it.
In Genesis 32 we meet two elderly brothers who hadn’t seen each other for over 20 years. Esau and Jacob were twins who from little on were very different from each other. Jacob was more of a homebody while Esau was more of the adventurous, outdoor type. Jacob was a bit of a shady character. He was very good at manipulating situations to his own advantage. Instead of depending on the Lord and his plans, he relied upon his own devious ways and cleverness to get what he wanted. For example, when Esau came home hungry from hunting, Jacob agreed to sell him a bowl of stew in exchange for Esau’s birthright. A few years later, Jacob tricked his nearly blind father into giving him the blessing that belonged to his brother Esau. That was when Esau decided that he had enough of his brother’s devious ways. Esau made it clear that he was going to kill Jacob the first chance he got once his parents were dead and gone.
Jacob’s parents saw Esau’s hatred and decided it would be good for Jacob to go away for awhile to let Esau calm down. So Jaco left home with literally the staff in his hand and the shirt on his back and travelled around 350 miles to a place called Paddan Aram, where he stayed with distant relatives that he had never met.
Over the next 20 years the Lord taught Jacob patience and trust as Jacob met his match when it came manipulation. Jacob’s Uncle Laban repeatedly tricked Jacob time after time. Still, the Lord blessed Jacob. During those 20 years Jacob married, had children, and became an extremely wealthy man. Finally, the time came for Jacob to go back home. In Genesis 31:3 the Lord says to Jacob, “Go back to the land of your fathers and to your relatives, and I will be with you” (Genesis 31:3). How do you think Jacob felt when he heard that command? Probably a mixture of emotions. Glad to get away from shady Uncle Laban. Excited to see his parents. But NOT so excited to see his brother Esau who had made it clear that he wanted Jacob dead. But did you notice what accompanied the Lord’s command? God promised, “I will be with you.”
So, Jacob set out for home – 350 miles. That was a lot of time for Jacob to think as he slowly made his way back home with everyone and everything that God had given to him. You can only imagine how often in his mind he played through the possible scenarios of how his homecoming was going to go. Esau comes to hug him followed by a sharp pain the back from the dagger that Esau plunges into Jacob’s back. Or maybe Esau ambushes Jacob and destroys everything that Jacob had worked so hard for. Uncertainty is so often the cause of our worry.
I think that we’ve all been there. The worry that comes from uncertainty. What if this happens or what if that happens? The Lord has not told us every detail that is going to take place in our life, but that does not mean that the Lord does not know every detail. The Psalmist wrote, “You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue you, LORD, know it completely” (Psalm 139:3,4). While we might like convince ourselves, “If only I had known…” But what? If you had known, what? What would you have done? The truth is probably more times than not, that if we had known we would have worried even more. And that worry would have robbed us of enjoying the good things that God does gives us to enjoy for however long that may be.