Jacob’s Fear, America’s Lesson?
29 When they came to their father Jacob in the land of Canaan, they told him all that had happened to them. They said, 30 “The man who is lord over the land spoke harshly to us and treated us as though we were spying on the land. 31 But we said to him, ‘We are honest men; we are not spies. 32 We were twelve brothers, sons of one father. One is no more, and the youngest is now with our father in Canaan.’
33 “Then the man who is lord over the land said to us, ‘This is how I will know whether you are honest men: Leave one of your brothers here with me, and take food for your starving households and go. 34 But bring your youngest brother to me so I will know that you are not spies but honest men. Then I will give your brother back to you, and you can trade[a] in the land.’”
35 As they were emptying their sacks, there in each man’s sack was his pouch of silver! When they and their father saw the money pouches, they were frightened.36 Their father Jacob said to them, “You have deprived me of my children. Joseph is no more and Simeon is no more, and now you want to take Benjamin.Everything is against me!”
37 Then Reuben said to his father, “You may put both of my sons to death if I do not bring him back to you. Entrust him to my care, and I will bring him back.”
38 But Jacob said, “My son will not go down there with you; his brother is deadand he is the only one left. If harm comes to him on the journey you are taking, you will bring my gray head down to the grave in sorrow.”
In the 42nd Chapter of Genesis, we encounter a Jacob who is very much afraid that tragedy will befall him again. In fact, he has become so afraid that he is willing to make decisions that will negatively affect him and his entire family. They are literally starving and Jacob refuses to send his son Benjamin to Egypt with his brothers. His sons tell Jacob that the man they met was very clear in his demands that if they wanted to buy more food, he hadto meet their other brother. Sadly, at least for a time, Jacob remains firm in his decision based on fear.
This episode of Jacob’s life always intrigued me because so much of the success in Jacob’s life was based on his courage to do things most people wouldn’t do. He fought with older brother Esau and his uncle Laban. Jacob even fought with God. He had a personal encounter with God. Despite having his name changed to Israel by God, Jacob is terribly afraid that tragedy might happen to him again.
As I look at the current social and political climate in the United States, I am concerned that as a nation we have become like this Jacob: a people making bad decisions based on fear that tragedy will befall us again. I was living in New York City on September 11, 2001 and watched the second plane hit the Twin Towers from the 9th floor of Woodhull Medical Center in Brooklyn. Later that day, I personally treated several dust covered people. My medical doctor status allowed me early access to Ground Zero. I could even smell the burning buildings from my downtown Brooklyn apartment for weeks. Indeed those were tense and scary days.
However, I feel that instead of bravely moving on, America keeps finding ways to cowardly hold on. I have watched with embarrassment and sadness as America has intentionally changed from “the land of the free and the home of the brave” to the “land of the caged and the home of the scared.” Truly, the horrible day now known as 9/11 has been used to willingly excuse unnecessary xenophobia, unreasonable gun laws, invasion of privacy policies, and suppression of civil liberties. Instead of banding together, we have let fear turn us against each other. Instead of moving forward towards the future, we are seeking to reclaim our very much flawed past. Instead of solidifying our leadership in the world, we are seeking to become isolated and insular.
I think that, like Jacob in Genesis 42, America is at a very crucial turning point. Although Jacob had endured some real tragedy, his fear was over exaggerated in relation to his actual circumstances. Further, if Jacob would have followed his fears, he would have missed out on seeing tremendous blessings. Jacob had to overcome his fear to learn that his son Joseph was still alive. Jacob had to overcome his fear to see his family overcome the famine and live in safety in Egypt. I firmly believe that God has blessings and safety reserved for the United States of America. However, the question remains: Can we, as individuals and as a country, do the necessary work of overcoming our fears? Can we truly believe that God has a better future for us just beyond our fears?
Imagine an America that focused more on rebuilding its middle class than it did worrying over another 9/11 occurring. Imagine what Americans could do if we talked more about unity, education, and infrastructure than terrorism, political affiliation, or even religion.
America’s future starts now. I, for one, have no interest in an American future built on fear. How about you?