The Potter’s Bench

The Potter's Bench, © 2015, Lynn Abbott Studios. Used with permission.

The Potter’s Bench, © 2015, Lynn Abbott Studios. Used with permission.

© 2015, Lynn Abbott

As sure as the geese fly south in early autumn, the vibrant avalanche begins.  For my rural post box, Autumn can only mean one thing:  a bumper crop of mail order catalogs.

In the wake of social media and email, handwritten letters have become an endangered species.  Nevertheless,  my post box remains full.

Sometimes, my mailbox resembles an English country garden… a variety of catalogs flourish there… including many volunteers.

One particular “blossom” recently caught my attention with its mousey brown paper sleeve.  The cover delivered the following message:  “You’re a tough nut to crack!”

I laughed. Clearly,  my failure to order had not gone unnoticed.

Although I have long admired items in that particular catalog, its beautiful pages do not advertise necessities.

Even so, I hope to order something in time.  But that’s exactly what it will be… in time.

Evidently, the marketing executives have grown a little impatient.

Someone needs to tell their advertising gurus that all seeds need time to sprout.

The harvest does not spring up overnight.

Nuts must find their way to good soil. The deep earth, then, softens the protective shells. Ever so slowly, the seed’s life awakens.

Most green thumbs understand that gardening requires patience.

About five years ago, I planted a beautiful, fledgling hydrangea.  I considered its location carefully,  insuring partial sun throughout the day.

I nurtured that hydrangea… Determined that my hydrangea should produce magnificent blossoms, I researched proper soil combinations.

And yes, the plant has thrived.  The leaves grow broad and deep green.  My hydrangea forms a bushy, verdant anchor for that corner of my garden.

And yet, it did not bloom.  Not a blossom.

Until this year.

To be perfectly honest, I almost pulled the plant out of the garden.  I nearly gave up on it.

I definitely think that my friends, those impatient advertising executives, would have been unwilling to wait five years…

Such a prolonged interval would have likely produced the message, “This may be your last catalog”… or growing season.

But every devoted gardener knows that seeds require time.  And tree nuts are difficult to crack.

We all know a few tough nuts.  Perhaps, like me,  you are a slow bloomer.  Or maybe, you plant seeds and pray for loved ones.

Then, you know what it is to wait…

And wait.

Endlessly, it seems.

It’s easy to become discouraged when the hydrangea doesn’t bloom.

IThe Potter's Bench, © 2015, Lynn Abbott Studios. Used with permission.Fortunately, Abba patiently tends His garden.  Jacob could testify to that.

At first glance, I read little to commend Jacob.  Based on Scripture’s description of Isaac and Rebekah’s twin boys, I suspect that people nicknamed them: “Esau and his twin.”

Esau certainly possessed the more worldly attractive traits.   As first-born, he had every cultural advantage; he gained both the family inheritance as well as the birthright.

The advantages of the inheritance are obvious. But the birthright also held extraordinary significance; the one given the birthright lead the entire family.

Esau would serve as the “godfather,” as it were, of the entire clan.   In addition,  Biblical scholars tell us that the birthright designated him as the spiritual leader for the family.

In a Jewish life, that meant that Esau acted as family priest.  Today, he would pastor the extended family in his care.  These were Esau’s “Great Expectations.”

Ultimately, fame would also come because, after all, the birthright named Messiah’s genealogical line.  Thus, holding the birthright guaranteed a mention in “Who’s Who in the Line of Messiah.”

With all this going for him, Esau appeared to have it made. His corner of the garden filled with showy success.

In addition, Esau became an accomplished outdoorsman.  Today, he would have been the child who won all the sports’ trophies, or the teen who captained the football team.

Most of all, his hunting skills jettisoned him to the front of the pack.  And Isaac was extremely proud.

In contrast, from a purely human perspective, Jacob had little to recommend him. Although they were biological twins, no two boys could be more dissimilar than Esau and Jacob.

And there was no love lost between them.  Genesis tells us that the two struggled with one another even in Rebekah’s womb.

That’s right. Their sibling rivalry began before birth.  Apparently, their prenatal activity greatly worried Rebekah because she even asked God about it.

Very likely, her anxiety had increased when her female family and friends could offer no satisfactory explanation for the babies’ unusually active behavior.  The competitive rough-housing began unusually early…

And indeed, God responded to her questions with a discomfiting prophecy: “Two nations are in your womb; And two peoples shall be separated from your body; And one people shall be stronger than the other; And the older shall serve the younger,” (Genesis 25:23).

The Potter's Bench, © 2015, Lynn Abbott Studios. Used with permission.So it was. At birth, Jacob grasped Esau’s heel. With this move, Jacob seemed to say, “You may be firstborn, but I’m nipping at your heels.”

For this reason, Isaac and Rebekah named him Jacob which means “usurper.”

Given the prophecy and the nature of Jacob’s birth, it’s a wonder that Rebekah worried about her second son at all.  Yet, worry she did.

Of course, she had worldly reason for her anxiety.  Unlike Esau, Jacob did not excel as a hunter.   The great outdoors did not call Jacob’s name.

Nor was Jacob a stellar athlete.  He was unremarkable by “Mr. Universe” standards.  The neighbors probably didn’t praise Jacob the way they did Esau.

Scripture actually describes Jacob as a “peaceful man, living in tents.”  From this, I gather that Jacob was more the intellectual type.

He certainly lived by his wits.  Growing up in today’s culture, he’d likely be the technology guru, and the ace student.  But sports?  Not his thing.

Thus, it is easy to understand why Esau became his papa’s favorite; he was the epitome of strength and independence. A man’s man.

I imagine that Mama Rebekah feared Jacob would be left behind by his older twin.  Thus, she took special pains to level the playing field for Jake.

Perhaps, she feared he would never bloom.  Everything seemed to be coming up roses for Esau.  But what would become of her favorite, second son?

Her concerns, of course, were unnecessary. Even if God had not promised Jacob ultimate success, the younger boy  exhibited scrappy determination.

After all, while his mother would have certainly acquainted him with God’s prophecy, Jacob didn’t take any chances.

Jacob schemed.   He may have lacked athleticism, but he certainly understood strategy.

Recognizing that Esau valued physical accomplishments more than intellectual or spiritual gains, Jacob ran a powerful play.

On one particular occasion, Esau staggered in after a day out in the fields.  Perhaps, it had not been a good day for hunting.  Whatever the case, Esau was both tired and hungry.

Jacob had anticipated that.  And so he had prepared a tasty stew.  It simmered over the fire pit.  Esau took one whiff of that, and decided to take the easy route.

“Please let me have a swallow of that,” he begged.  And for good measure, he played to his twin’s sympathetic nature and complained of being both tired and hungry.

But Jacob seized the opportunity and said, “First, sell me your birthright.”

Touchdown.

The Potter's Bench, © 2015, Lynn Abbott Studios. Used with permission. Taking matters into his own hands, Jake scored.  Had he been born in this century he probably would have quipped, “God helps those who help themselves.”

Yet, despite his questionable cunning, Jake does deserve some credit.  He obviously recognized the value of the birthright.

And he apparently desired to be named in Messiah’s line; he longed for spiritual wisdom and significance  despite his lack of understanding and faith.

Esau, in contrast, did not value spiritual things.  If he had, he definitely would never have considered selling the birthright for a bowl of stew.

To the world, Esau appeared “most likely to succeed;”  Jacob seemed a tough nut.

But Abba looked deeper.  God knew that despite his tough shell and misguided actions, Jacob longed for the spiritual.   And He never gave up on Jacob.

Of course,  few would have blamed the Gardener if He had discarded that scrappy bush.  After all, Jacob really knew how to push the limits.  He regularly pursued the right things in the wrong way.

And evidently, he wasn’t satisfied with just the birthright because he and Rebekah cooked up a scheme to snatch the patriarchal blessing from Esau as well.

Rebekah worked out the details: Jacob would pose as Esau. And since Isaac had lost his sight and a little of his shrewd sense, Rebekah felt sure of success.

Touch and go best describes the encounter.  Isaac suspected, and Jacob lied: “I am Esau your first-born,” (Genesis 27:19).

Like his grandfather Abraham, Jacob doubted God’s promise and attempted to manipulate his life circumstances.

Despite some rocky moments, the plan succeeded overall.

Until Esau returned, that is.  When Esau discovered that he had been robbed of his father’s blessing, he exploded.    And Rebekah watched her home crumble under the weight of sibling rivalry.

It wasn’t pretty.

Because Esau planned revenge, Rebekah and Isaac sent Jacob to live with relatives.

A tragic harvest seemed inevitable.  On his journey, however, Jacob personally encountered God.  You remember Jacob’s ladder?

Things were definitely looking up.  Through Jacob’s dream, God reiterated His promise.  But Jacob still had a lot of growing to do.

For this reason, Abba placed Jacob on the Potter’s Bench.  There, the Master Gardener The Potter's Bench, © 2015, Lynn Abbott Studios. Used with permission.had prepared the perfect blend of acidic and alkaline soil.

Without a doubt, Abba always knows how best to encourage blooms. Personally, I prefer to skip life’s acidic soil.  But the Master Gardner graciously rescues tough nuts with the proper potting.

And so, the tables turned; this time, Jacob became the victim of a “bait and swap” scheme.

In Genesis 31:41, Jacob recaps his relationship with his Uncle Laban: “These twenty years I have been in your house; I served you fourteen years for your two daughters, and six years for your flock, and you changed my wages ten times.”

Apparently, deceit was a family value.  Laban habitually manipulated the rules of the game.

That’s right. Jacob got as good or better than he had given.  Jake evidently needed to learn the hard way.

Rebekah probably worried about her son. She may have lost hope.

Or it may be. that like so many godly mothers, she persevered in prayer for her “tough nut.”

Whatever the case, twenty years passed and Jacob’s life still appeared to be stuck in a rut.

But, through it all, the Master Gardener patiently tended that dormant seed.  Jacob  quietly matured.

Thus, when God told him to return home, the once impatient deceiver obeyed.  That stubborn nut sprouted.

Undoubtedly, authentic faith and spiritual maturity take time.

Jacob transformed.  Instead of plotting, he prayed, “I am unworthy of all the loving-kindness and of all the faithfulness which Thou has shown to Thy servant…” (Genesis 32:10).

And in anticipation of a reunion with Esau, he cried, “Deliver me, I pray…” (Genesis 32:11).

Jacob no longer schemed. Instead, he depended on God.

Of course, Jacob was still Jacob.  At times, he struggled with doubt and  wrestled with God, (Genesis 32: 24-32).

The Potter's Bench, © 2015, Lynn Abbott Studios. Used with permission.Nevertheless, the Potter pruned the bush; the hydrangea finally bloomed.

In fact, God renamed Rebekah’s late bloomer, “Your name shall no longer be Jacob, but Israel…”

In full surrender to his Sovereign Shepherd, Jacob built an altar: “El-Elohe-Israel” or translated, “God, the God of Israel.”

Jacob finally received his spiritual birthright.

Abba brought the harvest home.

Yeah.  It takes time.

In His grace,  Abba prepares the perfect soil.  He tenderly establishes our growth according to his beautiful plan (Psalm 139:16).

Abba knows best.

Jacob gives me hope.

“You’re a tough nut to crack,” they said.

That may be…

But my heavenly Father thinks I’m worth the wait.

“Faithful is He who calls you, and He also will bring it to pass,” ~1 Thessalonians 5:24