I’ve challenged myself this year to read the Bible cover-to-cover; the last time I did this was 22 years ago, before marriage, family, a very consuming career plus simultaneous grad school, and before the middle-aged lag in energy. Then I read all 66 books in 3 months. Now I’m trying to get in just five chapters a day, but including some more in-depth study and journaling along with it, so I’m actually digesting and processing what I read.
I know, commendable. I’m a few days behind, don’t admire me too much.
Anyway, sometimes things jump out at me out of nowhere and I spend more time than I plan chewing on them…hence being behind (along with being far too busy – true confession, sometimes I just forget). Just such a verse waved at me last night, Genesis 31:21 – “So he [Jacob] fled with all that he had; and he rose up, and passed over the river, and set his face toward the mount Gilead.”
The first thing that happened was, as a lifelong singer of the sacred, an African-American spiritual popped into my head, the only one that could in response to this verse:
There is a balm in Gilead
That makes the wounded whole;
There is a balm in Gilead
To heal the sin-sick soul.
You sang along, didn’t you? Deny it all you want; you did.
Then I had to ask myself, What’s so important about Gilead? Why did he go there? Handy-dandy, trustworthy Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance defines Gilead (pronounced ghil-awd’, by the way) as “a rocky place”. Here’s a photo of modern Gilead:
Looks a lot like the mountains in Eastern Washington and Oregon where I live; not very pretty AT ALL. Sage, tumbleweed, scrub brush, rocks everywhere. Yet this is where Jacob went when all hell broke loose for him. After leaving his uncle Laban’s home (and uncle was a bit miffed because Jacob had prospered so greatly while working for him; the employee surpassed the employer), Laban followed him in hot pursuit, and there, in the middle of this yucky place, God met him and told him to lay off. It was in the middle of this rocky wasteland that Jacob and Laban made their now famous covenant with each other, “The LORD watch between me and thee, when we are absent one from another” (31:49).
In that same place, Jacob was faced with meeting Esau, the brother from whom he’d stolen his birthright and patriarchal blessing. In this deserted and uncomfortable terrain, Jacob wrestled with “a man”…but then named the place Penuel, which means “God’s face”. Whoever Jacob wrestled with left him a changed man, a changed name, and a changed attitude. The next day, Jacob and Esau met after more than two decades and, surprisingly, the past was all water under the bridge.
Yucksville was the site of God’s protection, deliverance, and blessing.
Makes me think about the hard times, the rocky places, the steep cliffs and prickly bushes in my own life. How often am I too busy commenting (because I don’t complain, per say…nope, not me) on the surroundings and the difficulty of the situation that I don’t see my Father so very carefully maneuvering and manipulating things to serve His – and my – best interest. I’m so longing to get out of Gilead and into the Promised Land (whatever that is in the moment) that I don’t experience the balm – the comfort, the healing, the blessing – that is part of the rocky place.
Needless to say, I’m still behind in my Bible reading goal; at this rate, I’ll finish next January. But hanging out in a rocky place isn’t so bad, even if my timeline is thrown off. Maybe I won’t try to book on out of here quite so fast this time.