Making an Impact

We live in a world dominated by catch phrases and sound bites; ask anyone who either works in this kind of environment where every breath is focussed on ‘outcome related variables’, or ‘objective focussed service trajectories’, or even if you study on one of the many courses that are more concerned with learning the jargon than actually knowing facts, and they’ll tell you how superficial and vague we’ve become as a society. One such phrase is the ‘Impact Statement’. Having written a few of these over the years I might even concede that they have a place. The essence is simple: events, actions and situations have a bearing on what happens and sets in motion things that inevitably follow on from that first event. We have such an ‘impact statement’ in the Torah today. In Gen 25:23 we read that ‘2 nations are in you…’ and in Mal 1:2-3 we read that ‘Jacob I have loved and Esau I have hated’. The ‘impact’ of all this was to be felt for generations. What seemed to be a local event, a simple, if challenging birth, turns into a providential sovereign moment in time upon which history has balanced and continues to balance.

Was this an accident of birth? Did God not know what conflict this would bring, unable to prevent twins from being conceived? Wouldn’t it have been easier to just avoid this altogether? I’m sure that Rivkah was not fully aware of the enormity of the event about to happen, even though she enquired of the Lord in her anxiety. An otherwise unremarkable event of two births triggered a struggle that is still felt today, but God has His purposes in this. In all things God is sovereign and can be trusted, everything is in the direct control and sovereignty of God. This theme is of course Rav Shaul’s major drash on the births in his letter to the Jewish community in Rome (Romans chapters 8+9). What we question as the ‘right’ course of action from the Lord in our own lives, turns out to be justified many years later sometimes, and when we think we can see what ‘should’ be done or is right can often only later be seen as wrong. God chooses and elects (even if we disagree or question that), and He plans our lives and of those around us according to His will alone. Unlike some commentators down the ages, we do not accept that God’s choice of us, Israel, was based on some undefined innate quality of goodness or worth, we know that we were chosen for one thing alone: to bring Him all the glory! In fact at times the Torah too is at pains to make this clear, we were not chosen because we are more likeable but because He chooses.

Consider the two sons and the impact that would be felt through them: God loved Jacob, and he was His choice over Esau; from Esau came the Edomites and from Jacob the 12 tribes of Israel. The Edomites even intermarried with the Ishmaelites too, and in Gen 25:16 we read about the 12 tribes Ishmael gave birth to, a direct replacement and parallel to the work of God, rivals in the flesh, the early ‘fathers’ of the Arab tribes we have today. Not for nothing do these ‘replacement tribes’ aspire to control the Land given to the children of promise, the battle between Jacob and Esau continues relentlessly to our very day. But it was from Jacob that God designed and chose to bring Himself the glory, the line through which His eternal plans for salvation would come.

Impact. God’s choices and plans which He carries out in and through us have an impact that goes far beyond us and even our own generation. The problem is that we often feel at ease with a statement that shows that God’s actions have trans-generational impact, but we rarely see that anything we do can have the same impact. Yet the choices we make reach down the ages too, as scary as that may be for us. Consider Esau. The natural leader type, dominant and a hunter, or predator. According to the flesh, and ways of this world, he was the one to look to. But his choices betrayed his complete lack of any view beyond the absolute here and now. Eternity was certainly not in his heart. Esau would have felt very much at home in our modern day and age, everything immediate, everything focussed relentlessly on meeting his personal needs and ensuring his total wellness. For sure he had the birthright as first born, and to him belonged inheritance and priesthood, but these were long term things, things it would take years to fully realise in his life. He wanted something now, something real, tangible something to be touched or tasted, quantifiable in his daily me-first ego matrix. So in a reckless act of spiritual abandonment he throws away what God had for him. He was far more concerned about his own material needs, food, whatever was of immediate concern; that had priority. In fact he is said to have despised his birthright, even going onto marry and take wives from the Canaanites/Hittites around him (despite being forbidden by his father to do so), he liked what he saw so he took it. No future perspective, no long term view, no patience with himself and the plans of God in his life. He didn’t see the future God had promised or what would happen, he saw with merely human eyes, no faith, vision or spiritual response. We however must have a different hallmark about us, looking to the future to what may yet happen generationally, aware of the wider spiritual impact of our actions, the real hallmark of godly and faith-filled people.

And if we compare briefly the life actions of another patriarch, Isaac in this portion, we can see the evidence of the eternal perspective. In Gen 26 we read of the famine in the Land. Isaac wanted to do what this world would have seen as logical and obvious, get out to where there was food, namely in Egypt. But God said he was to stay! So he did, the result was a hundredfold blessing according to the Torah. Despite the obvious hardship that would entail, in the human sense of it, it was more important to see this through. Isaac is the only Patriarch to never leave the Land, God blessed him with water and produce beyond imagination because he trusted God for it and STAYED when it seemed odd to do so. His actions were hallmarked by faith and trusting in the long term promises of God. Despite his own feelings that somehow the Land must be more fruitful (surely God had got it wrong?), he nevertheless trusted in the word he had received from God and as delivered to him by his father Abraham. Because Isaac was a man with eternal perspectives and trust and confidence in God’s word and command, he did what he knew to be right, despite what the ‘evidence on the ground’ seemed to say.

Isaac went on to build on the wells dug by Abraham, and laid them up for posterity and future generations. This is genuine faith in the covenantal promises of God. Compare Masada and the countless names of the righteous down the generations who never saw the promise realised but didn’t tire of its fulfilment. Like those gone before we also build for the future because we know the future. The restoration and renewal of Judaism we have been called to in Messianic Judaism is equally a long term calling and perspective. Yes we may go through ups and downs, the occasional spasm of contortion, seemingly forever fighting just for our right to exist as a Judaism. But one thing we have is the confidence of God in what we do, this is HIS work not ours, and HE will see it through, even if we never see it with our own eyes. Sure we would all like to have huge congregations with a vibrant and dynamic Jewish community life stretching across the UK and the globe, challenging other Jewish forms and theologies. Who wouldn’t? But whether we see this or not in our own day is not an issue, our confidence does not rest on what we see or on what immediate need we have right now to be fulfilled. No, we build with the confidence of the long term view. Each and every action, every step of obedience we take as God speaks and directs us, impacts far beyond ourselves, maybe even for generations to come. In faith and trusting you stand not trusting your eyes, faithfully opening the wells for the day to come when the water will be needed to quench the spiritual thirst of all those who WILL come rushing to the well. For good or evil (as we see with Esau and Jacob), actions impact far beyond ourselves. But underneath it all is the sovereign choice and acts of God who knows all, the beginning from the end.

Ever wonder why you’re here? I mean not here as in this country, I mean generically here, why you exist. In the letter to the Jewish community in Rome, Rom 9:20-23, we are described as clay in God’s hands. You may think that you are merely that lump of clay, misshapen and somewhat clumsy, of little use to anyone, trying to be a pot but seemingly full of holes. You need to start seeing with the eternal perspective, see yourself as the chosen vessel of honour He has destined you to be, a vessel that will in time give Him the glory as He puts you to good use in His house. You are here because He willed it to be so, He has called you and chosen you to bear good fruit and be a vessel of honour. ‘You I have loved’ says the Lord, and the Esaus of this world I have hated. You become that vessel as you set your eyes on the future, what is yet to be and confidently work towards that, not seeing today with all its shortcomings. In conclusion I want to mention the testimony of one man whose own story spoke so much to me many years ago. He recalled how one year before he began to minister he was due to speak and preach in a place and nobody turned up. He didn’t go home, but stayed, feeling that he should preach to an empty hall. The same happened the next night. Eventually the work took off but the lesson he learnt was real. God made it clear to him at that stage that this was a work unto Him alone. Even if nobody was there, he preached unto the Lord who did want to hear. Our acts may seem foolish or even insignificant, but they are in faith unto Him who sees the eternal picture, and so He gets all the glory not us.

You are a beautiful pot in the hands of the master potter. Work for the long term view and do not ever be put off or frustrated, seeking the immediate and now satisfaction. He knows what He is doing.

Parashat Toldot