Skip to content
Jan 20 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

January 19, 2020


Then their father Israel said to them, “If it must be so, then do this: take some of the choice fruits of the land in your bags, and carry a present down to the man, a little balm and a little honey, gum, myrrh, pistachio nuts, and almonds. Take double the money with you. Carry back with you the money that was returned in the mouth of your sacks. Perhaps it was an oversight. Genesis 43:11-12

Intro: I’ve dropped us into a random paragraph in a biography

The bit of dialogue I read doesn’t mean anything right now,
– but it will after I bring you up to speed
• the subject of biography is Jacob, son of Isaac, son of Abraham
• his story unfolds as one long and complex road trip
◦ it will eventually bring him before Egyptian Pharaoh
◦ when Jacob was asked his age, he characterizes his life as a journey
The days of my sojourning are 130 years. Few and evil have been the days of the years of my life, and they have not attained to the days of the years of the life of my fathers in the days of their sojourning (Ge. 47:9)
– what drove his journey forward
• is that he was repeatedly running from one person or another

Meeting God in twilight places

When modern anthropologists began studying human cultures,
– they noticed every culture celebrated significant transitions
• birth, death, marriage – seasons of planting and harvest
• these celebrations are referred to as “rites of passage”
◦ phase one: separation (from community or simply one’s old life)
◦ phase two: a transition
◦ phase three: incorporation (re-integration into community or new
– rites of passage mark a transition in both time and space
• in time, Jewish culture celebrates the transition to adulthood
bar mitzvah or bat mitzvah
• in space, special rituals are performed when entering sacred space

The transition between separation and incorporation is often referred to as liminal space
– this is an in-between zone, like the threshold of a door
(“preliminary” is derived from Latin, and means “before the threshold”)
– a gate or doorway is neither inside nor outside, but between both
• a transitional space between two worlds
• Israel was taught to reverence liminal space and time
You shall write [God’s commandments] on the door posts of your house and on your gates (De. 6:9)
◦ in spaces:
Now this is what you shall offer on the altar: two lambs a year old day by day regularly. One lamb you shall offer in the morning, and the other lamb you shall offer at twilight
◦ in both time (morning and evening) and space (the tent of meeting)
It shall be a regular burnt offering throughout your generations at the entrance of the tent of meeting before the LORD, where I will meet with you, to speak to you there. There I will meet with the people of Israel, and it shall be sanctified by my glory (Ex. 29:38-43)
– God “sanctified” or “made sacred” these transitional zones
• we do not settle into liminal space, but move through it
• God chooses to meet us in thresholds
◦ and there he prepares us for whatever comes next

These are smooth transitions
– but every terrible thing that happens to us is also a transition
• for a time, we are in limbo
• and after we emerge from it, we have been changed

When I open my Bible, I pause to pray
– I see myself in transition
• between my normal thoughts and God’s sacred word
• I remind myself, this is where God meets me to speak to me

Jacob’s first rite-of-passage: his father’s blessing

Jacob swindled his brother Esau to get it – then he had to run for his life
– emphasis is placed on where Jacob spent first night
came to a certain place – took stone from the place – lay down in the place
• this was just a rest stop, but something big happened
◦ some preachers hype what they say with “Now watch this” when
making what they feel is an important point
◦ but because it’s overused, we become immune to it
• however, our storyteller does something like this in three clipped lines
◦ in Jacob’s dream with the word “behold” (or “look”)
Look, a ladder.
And look, angels.
And look, the LORD (Gen. 28:12-13)
– when Jacob woke up he said,
the LORD is in this place – how awesome is this place – and he called the name of that place Bethel (“the house of God,” Gen. 28:19)
• this was a transition through liminal space
◦ and included an encounter with God

Esau did not bother to chase Jacob, but what came next?

Jacob arrived safely in the home of his mother’s family
– there he met his mother’s brother, Uncle Laban
• their relationship could be described as two tricksters,
◦ each one trying to out maneuver the other
• Jacob ended up having to run from Laban too
◦ but in this instance, Laban did chase him down
– immediately following their confrontation,
Jacob had his next big encounter with God
Jacob went on his way, and the angels of God met him. And when Jacob saw them he said, “This is God’s camp!” So he called the name of that place Mahanaim (Ge. 32:1-2)
• this is another transition through liminal space
◦ and another encounter with God

Now Jacob was heading back into Esau’s territory

He had been gone twenty years and didn’t know how Esau would react
– so he sent servants on a reconnaissance mission
• they returned to inform him:
Esau was coming to meet him–with 400 men
• Jacob panicked and began preparing for their encounter
◦ he prays a beautiful prayer of humility and confession
– then there’s a sudden jump to a weird episode
• he’s at a border crossing – the Jabbok River
◦ and suddenly he is wrestling with a stranger, and this goes all night
◦ for some reason, the stranger has to be gone before sunrise
but Jacob holds on and won’t let go without a blessing
So Jacob called the name of the place Peniel, saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life has been delivered” (Ge. 32:30)
• this is another transition through liminal space
◦ and another encounter with God

Jacob is able to settle near the city of Shechem

At last it seems he will enjoy a life of peace and safety
– but then his daughter is raped by one of the locals,
• her brothers retaliate to defend the family’s honor, but go too far
• so Jacob is forced to take flight again
◦ this time his encounter with God is not as dramatic
◦ he is simply told to return to Bethel

When we catch up to Jacob in chapter 43, he’s settled in Canaan

But he has suffered greatly, because of a son he had spoiled then lost
– Joseph’s older brothers were jealous of him, and he exacerbated their antagonism
• they got rid of him and deceived their father Jacob about his fate
• a dozen years have passed
◦ and a famine has devastated that whole part of the world
◦ but Egypt had been storing up grain and was now selling it
– Jacob sent his sons to buy grain
• they had to haggle with a very powerful Egyptian ruler
(they didn’t recognize that it was their brother, Joseph)
◦ Joseph hid the money they paid for grain in their sacks
◦ to find that their money had been returned did not make them
happy, but terrified them — there was no reason for this
• Jacob’s reaction, All this has come against me
◦ when he’s forced to send his sons back for more grain,
◦ he gave them the instructions I read at beginning of this message
◦ regarding the returned money, he said, Perhaps it was an oversight

It wasn’t an oversight – Joseph returned the money intentionally
– he was taking care of them – saving them from starvation
• and preparing even better things for them
• Joseph realized God’s hand in all of this
◦ but Jacob only saw disaster looming before him
– when Jacob said, Perhaps it was an oversight he was trying to make sense of their situation
• God was with Jacob through whole life – at Bethel God told him,
Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go . . . . For I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you (Ge. 28:15)
• but Jacob wasn’t always aware of God watching out for him
◦ he was left to figure things out on his own – and often got it wrong
◦ yet in spite of his manipulations, God blessed him

Conclusion: My point is that life for Jacob was no easier than it is for us

His choices were no clearer
– even his encounters with God did not give him an advantage
in deciphering his circumstances
• that’s why the transitions forced on him were important
◦ even though each one posed a danger,
◦ they gave him opportunity to reconnect with God
• I think that’s why God called him back to Bethel

Jesus is the ultimate liminal space
– the ultimate place of encounter
between earth and heaven
between the eternal and this present moment
between God and humankind
You will see greater things than these. Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man (Jn. 1:51)
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come (2 Cor. 5:17)

If you cannot see where life is taking you, do not panic
You are not alone
Draw a deep breath – hold it
the pause between inhaling and exhaling
is your liminal space
where you can reconnect with God
If you find yourself in transition
whether or not it is something you want
try to recognize the sacredness of this moment
and continue on with God

Leave a comment