The Mercy of Not Arriving

Jacob wants to go back home

We see that right away in Genesis 30:25 — the first verse of our text for Sunday’s sermon. Jacob wants to take his family and go back to his “own home and country” in the land of Canaan. 

Remember back in Chapter 28 Jacob had left the land of Canaan and traveled to this area called Haran to find a wife, and by Chapter 30 he has done that — and then some

Jacob has ended up with two wives and 11 sons, and for 20 years he has labored for Laban in difficult circumstances. Jacob, of course, has his own family problems, as Pastor David mentioned a couple weeks back, but then on top of that, Laban has been a terrible boss. He is not the kind of man you would want to work for. Laban is greedy, and he has oppressed Jacob for two decades. Although the text doesn’t say it directly in verse 25, I think we should infer that Jacob wanting to go home is partly connected to Laban’s mistreatment of him. 

Homesick and Tired

Now there’s more going on here, but I think that at the most basic level Jacob is just sick and tired of not being home. Twenty years have gone by, and he still feels out of place. The treaty with Laban in Chapter 31 just furthers this point. We learn a little more there just how different Laban is from Jacob: he gives the location of their covenant a different name; he speaks a different language; he worships a false god (see Genesis 31:47–54). That’s the world Jacob has been living in — the world of exile, for twenty years. Is that the life he wants for his growing sons? Is he raising tribes to impact the world or more plebes for Laban’s fields? 

Jacob is homesick.

Never All Right at Home

This is noteworthy because it reminds us of a theme we see all throughout the Bible after Genesis 3. It’s that the people of God are not at home — and they’re never at home with all things right. In fact, even in the highest point of Israel’s history — in the reign of King David — we can hardly turn the page before the cracks began to form. David’s triumphs in the ancient world and his reign in Jerusalem mark the glory days of Israel. He was the greatest Israelite in the greatest generation — and things fall apart for him before he turns 50. 

The twin realities of out-of-place-ness and never-quite-right-here-ness have tainted the lives of God’s promise-bearers ever since the first promise was made. This is a basic truth in the Christian story: we are the people of God as a people in exile.

And a lot of times … well, we just want to be home. 

That Old Caution

I doubt any of you remember the text I preached back on December 14, 2014, the first public worship gathering of our burgeoning plant-to-be. Our first “real church service” was a month later, but at the end of 2014, after months of praying and planning, we were eager to worship together, and so we held a little “preview service,” as they’ve been called in the planting world. We met in the cafeteria of Minnehaha Academy, which doesn’t exist anymore. We walked through our liturgy; we tried out this new exhortation thing; we sang together; and then I preached Psalm 137, a prayerful lament from Babylonian exile:. 

If I forget you, O Jerusalem,
let my right hand forget its skill!
Let my tongue stick to the roof of my mouth,
if I do not remember you,
if I do not set Jerusalem
above my highest joy!
— verses 5–6

For several others and myself, this whole church plant thing had been a pipe-dream going back at least five years. I had sensed a call to pastoral ministry since I was a freshman in college. Is this really happening? Are we really about to try this? It had all the feels of arrival. Finally. 

But I knew Psalm 137, and the Holy Spirit reminded me that indeed arrival was coming, but it’s not yet, not this. The temptation seemed clear to me then: if things go well for us we might confuse effectiveness with having “made it.” So, in 2014, I cautioned and encouraged us:

As God blesses us, and we pray he does, there is going to be this subtle thing that happens where we will think that we have finally made it. We’re going to feel like we have accomplished something — that this is the dream. But no, it’s not. Because our ultimate goal is not a new church plant; it’s a new Jerusalem. And we’re not done until we’re there.

This New Mercy

Back then it seemed like the best way to long for the new Jerusalem was to get the dream right — don’t confuse our little dreams of here and now with the ultimate dream of a new creation. 

That still applies.

But there’s also homesickness. There’s this out-of-place-ness, this never-quite-right-here-ness. And until we see Jesus’s face, this is what we should expect in this world, in one form or another. And it’s mercy. It’s new mercy in a new way, but it’s the same mercy of not arriving, not yet.