Walking With A Limp


I’ve walked with a limp from time to time. I injured a tendon when I was in Guatemala years ago, and walked with crutches. Before that I sprained an ankle playing basketball, and could hardly walk the next day. And after my stroke I didn’t exactly limp. More like lurched and then staggered, tottered, weaved, always moving closer to walking without any noticeable difficulty.

On the other hand, Jacob limped, for life.

Jacob, Isaac’s son. Isaac’s youngest son who duped his older brother out of his birthright and deceived his father into giving him the blessing that didn’t belong to him. He didn’t limp back in those early years, and he didn’t limp when he made the trek to his mother’s home town to search for a wife.

Irony of ironies, after he worked for seven years to marry the women he wanted, his uncle deceived him into marrying her sister. The uncle then offered him the right girl, too, if he’d work seven more years for her. After he completed that service, his uncle squeezed six additional years of labor from him, changing his wages ten different times. In other words, the deceiver met his match.

But still he wasn’t limping.

The limp didn’t come until Jacob headed home after the twenty-year hiatus with his uncle. He’d gained a fortune, two wives, two concubines, eleven sons, but he could tell his uncle and cousins were not as friendly as they had been. And what’s more, God told him to go. Not directly. He had a dream in which God said, leave. So he headed back home.

As he, his family, his servants, his livestock, got close to his destination, he had to solve one more problem: his angry brother had said he was going to kill him. Remember, the birthright issue, and the blessing issue.

But that was twenty years ago. Would his brother really carry a grudge that long? Jacob apparently thought he would. He did what he could to protect his family and his stuff, and he basically sent his apology to his brother in the form of a substantial gift. The night before he was to encounter his brother, he was alone.

Until an angel confronted him. Or as some scholars think, he encountered the pre-incarnate Christ. I have to admit, I have been confused about this event for many, many years. The angel, or Christ, didn’t sit down and have a nice talk with Jacob. He engaged him physically—got into a wrestling match with him.

Apparently they struggled together through the night, and Jacob was winning! How can that be? I haven’t understood how God could strive with a human and not win. Well, Jacob’s apparent victory was short lived. With one touch the angel/Christ threw his hip joint out of place and disabled him, so that he walked with a limp.

Still Jacob held onto his opponent, saying he wouldn’t let go until he received a blessing. Another odd thing. His father had blessed him twenty years earlier, and God had given him a blessing—the covenantal, Messianic blessing—when he left home. So why was he fighting for another blessing? Perhaps the blessing he wanted here was nothing more than that he would live, since his brother and 400 of his men were heading his way.

What’s interesting here is that the angel/Christ asked him his name. Years ago, when he stole his brother’s blessing, his father had asked him his name and he’d lied. He pretended to be his brother. But now, twenty years later, the same question—what’s your name?—and he answers truthfully. He’s Jacob.

But not for long. The angel/Christ told him he would now be Israel, he who strives with God.

It’s not a great name, I don’t think. It’s not like, father of nations, or beloved of the Lord, or any of the other cool names he could have been given.

And what’s the point? He wrestled God, and came out of it with a new name and a limp.

The limp, I think, is more important than I realized. One commentator pointed out that Jacob appeared to be winning in his fight against God, but with a simple touch, he was incapacitated, to the point that he limped, likely forever after.

That limp is a reminder who is really in charge. Too often we humans think we have God wrestled into a “manageable” Sovereign. But the truth is, all He has to do is bring one finger to bear on our lives, and we are at His mercy.

We really are at His mercy at all times, but we just don’t know it. We are deluded. We think we know, but we don’t know. We think we’re winning, but we aren’t because God is still working with us, renaming us, remaking our walk.

In the end, I have to ask, what does Jacob teach me here? Is striving with God a good thing? In one sense it is. Up to this point, Jacob’s encounters with God had been in dreams. Not so his grandfather Abraham. He had personal conversations, even an argument of sorts (though a really polite, respectful one), and that as part of a personal visit. So Jacob wrestling with the angel/Christ was a more intimate encounter with God, though a painful one, than any he’d had to date. I’d have to say, I’d take an intimate encounter with God any day.

Well, I have. I did. I do. As a believer I really do have the advantage Jesus said we’d have—the Holy Spirit with me and in me, reminding me of my new life in Christ.

My hope is, though, that I don’t wrestle with Him. Instead I want to be quick to say yes. That was Abraham. Quick to listen, quick to obey. And I don’t think he every limped.

Published in: on August 29, 2018 at 5:58 pm  Comments Off on Walking With A Limp  
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Jacob Was No Abraham


Abraham wasn’t perfect, but he was pretty amazing.

Leave your home, God said. Abraham’s response: Where to? Just go until I tell you to stop, God answered. So off Abraham went “as the Lord had spoken to him.”

When it was clear that his flocks and his nephew Lot’s couldn’t pasture together any longer, he unselfishly gave Lot the pick of the land.

Later he pleaded with God to be merciful to Sodom on behalf of Lot and his family. Six times he interceded for them.

Later, when God told him to circumcise every male in his household as a sign of the agreement they had together, he took care of it the very same day.

When Sarah wanted to send Hagar and Ishmael away, Abraham objected, but God told him to listen to Sarah. So “Abraham rose early in the morning,” packed them up, gave them provisions, and sent them on their way.

One boy gone, but then God told him to sacrifice the son of promise. “So Abraham rose early in the morning,” took wood, fire, and his son and set off. Three days later they came to the place where God directed him to go. (Good thing Abraham listened since that’s where the ram was that would become the substitute sacrifice).

Compare this to Jacob. He swindled his brother out of his birthright; lied to his dad and fooled him into thinking he was his twin in order to obtain his brother’s blessing; manipulated his uncle’s animals to procure the best for himself, and sneaked away without saying goodbye.

On top of that, as he returned home, he got word that his brother—who, rumors said, planned to kill him—was on his way to meet him . . . with four hundred men. So Jacob, brave man that he was, sent a gift, divided his people and property in two, with the hopes that at least half of them could get away, and put it all in front of him.

Interesting, though. He had an encounter with God and the next morning he changed things up, putting himself ahead of his family, then falling on his face before Esau.

He was learning.

But he made more mistakes, most notably favoring Joseph, his wife Rachel’s firstborn. To be fair, he learned about favoritism from his parents. His mother Rebekah favored him—which was why she came up with the idea for him to steal his brother’s blessing—and his father Isaac favored Esau. So Jacob was carrying on the family tradition. It’s just that it didn’t sit well with his ten older sons. They eventually kidnapped Joseph, sold him, and reported to Jacob that they found his bloody coat.

Believing Joseph to be dead, Jacob shifted his protection and possibly his favor to his youngest, Benjamin.

Fast forward some thirteen years, and famine forced Jacob to send his sons to Egypt to buy food—all except Benjamin. Unbeknown to the brothers, Joseph was the man they bought from, and he told them not to return unless their youngest brother was with them.

Time passed, food dwindled, the famine continued, and Jacob wouldn’t send Benjamin. Ruben tried to give his father assurances, to no avail. Judah tried and was turned down, but finally things grew desperate, and Jacob was forced to relent.

Here’s the big turning point of his life, I believe. He went from saying

“My son shall not go down with you; for his brother is dead, and he alone is left. If harm should befall him on the journey you are taking, then you will bring my gray hair down to Sheol in sorrow” (Gen 42:38)

to saying

“may God Almighty grant you compassion in the sight of the man, so that he will release to you your other brother and Benjamin. And as for me, if I am bereaved of my children, I am bereaved” (Gen 43:14)

It took him a long time to get there. In the meantime, God gave him the same promise He had given Abraham and Isaac—one not connected with the blessing he stole. He also protected him from his uncle and from his brother, appeared to him more than once in visions and dreams and perhaps even as the pre-incarnate Christ.

At last, he stopped grabbing and grasping and holding on. He opened his hand and relinquished his son. Only then did he receive Joseph back, alive and well.

Two patriarchs—one quick to obey, the other, oh, so slow. One willing to give up his sons, the other holding on as if he could care for them better than God could. In the end, God used them both, but I can’t help but think Abraham took the better road.

This post is an edited version of one that first appeared here in August 2012.

Published in: on August 25, 2016 at 6:46 pm  Comments Off on Jacob Was No Abraham  
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In The Blue Corner, Jacob, Son Of Isaac


305px-Figures_Jacob_Wrestles_AngelI’ve never really understood the wrestling match Jacob had with God on his way back to his homeland. He’d sent word to his twin brother, Esau, who he’d run from, that he was returning. His servant-messengers brought word that Esau was coming to meet him . . . with four hundred men.

First Jacob panicked. He scrambled around dividing everything and everyone into two groups. If Esau went after Group A, he figured, at least Group B would survive.

Then he prayed. It’s a beautiful prayer, and honestly I’d completely forgotten it. If you’d asked me if the Bible recorded any prayer by Jacob, I would have smirked. That deceiver? No-o-o. But I’d have been dead wrong. Here’s his prayer:

Jacob said, “O God of my father Abraham and God of my father Isaac, O LORD, who said to me, ‘Return to your country and to your relatives, and I will prosper you,’ I am unworthy of all the lovingkindness and of all the faithfulness which You have shown to Your servant; for with my staff only I crossed this Jordan, and now I have become two companies. Deliver me, I pray, from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau; for I fear him, that he will come and attack me and the mothers with the children. For You said, ‘I will surely prosper you and make your descendants as the sand of the sea, which is too great to be numbered.’”

It’s a great prayer. First he acknowledges who God is and what He’d told Jacob to do. Then he confesses his own standing before God—one who is unworthy, God’s servant, a recipient of His provision. Only then does he finally petition God for deliverance. He admits he’s afraid for himself and for his family, but ultimately he trusts in God’s word to him—the covenant which He’d passed on to Jacob twenty years earlier.

After he prayed, he didn’t “let go and let God,” though. I wonder if he should have. Probably not. Because next he sent herds and herds of his animals—we’re talking hundreds of goats and rams, cows and donkeys and camels—as gifts to his brother. My take is that this was Jacob’s way of saying he was sorry, and honestly, it was right for him to make restitution for the wrong he had done.

But that still doesn’t get us to the wrestling match. If Jacob and Esau had faced off against each other, I would have understood it more. But as it happened, Jacob sent everyone ahead of him, across the stream, and he stayed back.

Without prologue, Scripture says

Then Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him until daybreak.

What? A man? Why? Who? In the next verses, some of this becomes clear:

He [the man] said, “Your name shall no longer be Jacob, but Israel; for you have striven with God and with men and have prevailed.”

Then Jacob asked him and said, “Please tell me your name.”

But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And he blessed him there.

So Jacob named the place Peniel, for he said, “I have seen God face to face, yet my life has been preserved.” (vv 28-30)

The best answer for “who” would seem to be that the man was the pre-incarnate Christ. But where did He come from and why?

Was this match one to determine Jacob’s future, and he prevailed? But how could he prevail over God? There’s this other little incident tucked in here—his opponent “touched the socket of his thigh; so the socket of Jacob’s thigh was dislocated while he wrestled with him.” End of fight, except Jacob apparently had a vise-like grip on Him and wouldn’t let go until He blessed him.

That’s when he received his new name.

All this seems sort of to lead nowhere, except Jacob was changed. Now, he limped to the head of his clan and faced Esau himself, not hiding behind his wives and his children as it appeared he had intended to do.

And when he met Esau, he bowed before him, pledged himself as his servant, and insisted he accept the gifts he’d sent.

So what was that wrestling match all about? Was it an actual, physical confrontation? Was it symbolizing the spiritual battle going on in Jacob’s life? I’d think so, but then I’d expect God to prevail, not Jacob.

Mostly the Christian life is about surrender—denying ourselves and taking up our cross daily and following Jesus. It’s about giving God the control in our lives, not controlling Him so we can get what we want.

So is Jacob’s wrestling with God, which seemed to end with God’s blessing him—which He’d already done—a contradiction? Is it an illustration of how we are to wrestle in prayer with God—sort of holding Him hostage until He gives us what we want?

That doesn’t fit the circumstances—Jacob was asking for a blessing, but He’d already received it, so was he asking for assurance? Was he trying to find out if the blessing had been rescinded?

In addition, as one commentary points out, when God caused Jacob to go lame by merely touching his hip and dislocating it, He demonstrated that Jacob only appeared to be winning the match. At any point, God could use His omnipotence to reduce Jacob to a state of weakness.

In the end, Jacob the manipulator, the deceiver, could not manipulate God. When His opponent asked him his name, he answered truthfully that he was Jacob—as opposed to his answer to his blind father those twenty years ago when he asked, “Who are you, my son?” That time he lied, but now he admits who he is: Jacob, the usurper.

For some reason, the pre-incarnate God said Jacob had prevailed, but I’m not sure how. He left limping, in a humbled state, and we have no other recorded instant of him deceiving or manipulating others. (In fact, years later he bore the brunt of His sons’ deception). In so many ways, it seems as if God won, or at least had His own way, which He is wont to do.

But God Himself said, “Your name shall no longer be Jacob, but Israel; for you have striven with God and with men and have prevailed.”

The first meaning of the original word is “to be able, be able to gain or accomplish, be able to endure, be able to reach” (Strong’s Hebrew Lexicon). Of course the next is the more commonly understood meaning here: “to prevail, prevail over or against, overcome, be victor.”

In what way was Jacob a victor in his match against God? Only, as far as I can see, in that God declared him the victor.

In that he serves as a type of Christ, the true Victor, who died to win but also as a type of all believers who win only because God declares it.

Published in: on August 6, 2015 at 6:47 pm  Comments Off on In The Blue Corner, Jacob, Son Of Isaac  
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Love And The Unloved


Jacob012Today I read the story of Jacob and family again. After tricking his dad into giving him the blessing that rightfully belonged to his older brother, Jacob took off under the pretense of finding a wife among his parents’ relatives.

And find a wife he did. Well, actually four of them. The thing is, he fell in love with the first girl he laid eyes on. Genuinely fell in love, it would appear, because he worked for seven years in the expectation that he’d get to marry her.

But the deceiver was deceived. His beloved’s dad did a switch on the honeymoon, which was apparently also the wedding. Instead of bedding the woman he loved, Jacob awoke the next morning beside her sister.

He was just a little upset. He’d worked for Rachel, loved Rachel, and now he was married to Leah.

I’ve always sided with Jacob in this situation, maybe because I knew he was a “patriarch” and for the longest time I didn’t see them as normal human beings. I mean, God chose them, made them promises, so they were special. I looked at everything they did and wondered, why are some of the things they did wrong for us but right for them? Well, duh. Those things—like Jacob lying to his dad—were just as wrong for them as for us.

At any rate, I grew up having a soft spot in my heart for poor Jacob, saddled to squint-eyed Leah who he’d never wanted to marry. But to my shock and incredulity, God doesn’t seem to be the romantic I am. He saw how Leah was unloved and enabled her to conceive a child:

Now the LORD saw that Leah was unloved, and He opened her womb, but Rachel was barren. Leah conceived and bore a son and named him Reuben, for she said, “Because the LORD has seen my affliction; surely now my husband will love me.”

True to my bent, I’ve always felt sorry for Rachel. I mean, she had to stand by while the man who wanted to marry her, married her sister. Then that same sister gave birth to son after son after son after son.

The rivalry, the jealousy is palpable in this story and the machinations of each woman and the lengths they were willing to go to in order to best the other one are twisted. Just when it seems like Leah has come out on top, God enables Rachel to conceive a child and give birth to a son.

How interesting that He seems to come to the rescue of the underdog, the least favored, then the one most in need.

So un-American. We like people who are self-made, who pull themselves up by their bootstraps, who go after all the good things they deserve.

Yes, we also like the Special Olympics and stories of overcomers, but that’s because they are striving and reaching and battling against all odds. We cheer for them. But squint-eyed Leah was just not as attractive as Rachel, and not loved, a third wheel at the party. So why pull for her?

Then, when Leah became supermom, and Rachel was alone and childless, God reached down to her and surprised her with joy.

When there is no reason to lift someone out of their misery, God reaches to take their hand. He is so much more loving than we can ever imagine. So much kinder, more thoughtful and caring, so gracious and giving.

Worthy is our God to receive praise and honor, glory and blessing, now and forevermore.

Published in: on August 5, 2015 at 6:10 pm  Comments (2)  
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Sex And The Bible


Samson004I’m not sure where the idea has come from that Christians are prudish as opposed to moral. I don’t see the two meaning the same thing, and neither does the New Oxford American Dictionary. But what about the Bible? Is it prudish?

Not quite. No sooner does the writer of Genesis recount the creation of Adam and Eve but he reports, “And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed” (Gen. 2:25).

Some people unfamiliar with the Bible have the strange idea that the first sin had to do with sex. I think that myth is reflective of a sex-crazed society, because it has nothing to do with reality.

Sex was part of creation which God declared to be good. In addition, His first command, even before “From the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat,” was “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth.” Translated, that means, Have sex with your wife and have kids.

After Man sinned and God removed humans from the garden, sex remained as much a part of the historical record as any other human activity. In Genesis 4, for example, the Bible notes that Lamech took two wives—presumably the first to have bigamist relationships.

After the flood, when Noah and his family landed on dry land, the Bible notes that Ham, his youngest son, “saw the nakedness of his father” while Noah, drunk from wine, was passed out. Something happened, clearly, because when Ham’s brothers learned what he’d done, they “covered the nakedness of their father.” Noah awoke and “knew what his youngest son had done to him.”

Not a clear picture of what kinky thing happened in this family, but the event is not omitted either. Neither are the homosexual desires of the men in Sodom and Gomorrah who wanted to rape Lot and the two angels who had come to take him out of the city.

The Bible doesn’t shy away from revealing Sarah’s attempt to “help God out” with the son He’d promised Abraham by giving her husband Hagar, her servant, as a mistress, since she herself was beyond child-bearing years.

Then there’s Jacob and the trickery of Laban which put Leah in the wedding tent the night Jacob thought he was having sex with Rachel. A week later, after completing his sexual obligation to his first wife, he then married the woman he loved. But throughout the years, Jacob’s sex life is about as open as . . . oh, say, David’s.

First, though he loved Rachel, he continued to sleep with Leah, as evidenced by the four sons she birthed. Rachel, on the other hand, was barren, and demanded Jacob give her sons. He responded by saying, Am I God who has closed your womb? Notice, he didn’t say, OK, I’ll move back in with you. Apparently, Rachel’s barrenness was not due to a lack of sex between her and her husband.

Rachel’s jealousy led her to give Jacob her servant as a mistress. He didn’t object and had two sons by that woman. Leah didn’t want Rachel to get ahead of her, so she gave Jacob her servant as mistress. In the course of time she delivered two sons as well.

But Jacob still loved Rachel and apparently was now living with her exclusively. Except one day Rachel asked Leah to share the mandrakes one of her sons had found in the field. Leah ended up agreeing . . . if she could sleep with Jacob that night.

And Leah once more got pregnant. And again. And again.

But at some point Jacob went back to Rachel because God opened her womb, and she gave birth to a son named Joseph.

Joseph—this would be the boy whose jealous brothers sold him into slavery in Egypt where he fended off the advances of his master’s wife and landed in jail because of it. Let me be clear. This was not some mild flirtation. The Bible says Potiphar’s wife approached Joseph day after day and said, Lie with me.

Then there’s Joseph’s brother Judah, whose daughter-in-law tricked him into sleeping with her (he thought she was a prostitute—so much more upright!)—and had twins by him.

Should I go on to the gang rape and murder Judges records or the mass kidnapping of women the Israelite leaders engineered so the men of Benjamin would have wives. Then there are Samson’s exploits with various women and David’s adultery.

I’m sorry. If someone thinks Christians are prudish it’s because a) they don’t know what’s in the Bible; or b) they’re talking about professing Christians who don’t read the Bible and are formulating their attitudes about sex from some other place.

Because, yes, many of the examples I mentioned above are not what we’d call ideal examples of a sexual relationship. But that’s part of the point. The Bible doesn’t pull any punches about sex or any other topic. Jesus Himself had some clear instruction about lust, and He didn’t shy away from telling the Samaritan woman precisely what her marital status was (You’ve had five husbands, and the man you’re living with now isn’t your husband).

He didn’t camp on her sexual failings, however. He didn’t tell her to marry the man she was living with and then come back to see Him. But He also didn’t hesitate to tell the woman caught in the act of adultery that she should sin no more.

Prudish? The Bible is not prudish. People who read the Bible will see the good, the beautiful, the disturbing, the vile within its pages. A Christian who pays attention to what God says about sex through the lives and decrees and admonitions in Scripture can hardly have a prudish attitude toward sex.

The Bible doesn’t shy away from the topic of sex, but it also never presents sex as mankind’s problem. But don’t take my word for it; read it yourself.

Published in: on May 1, 2014 at 6:32 pm  Comments (2)  
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Jacob Was No Abraham


Abraham wasn’t perfect, but he was pretty amazing. Leave your home, God said. Where to? Abraham asked. Just go until I tell you to stop. So off he went “as the Lord had spoken to him.”

When it was clear that his and his nephew Lot’s animals couldn’t pasture together any longer, he unselfishly gave Lot the pick of the land.

Later he pleaded with God to be merciful to Sodom on behalf of Lot and his family. Six times he interceded for them.

When God told him to circumcise every male in his household, he took care of it the very same day.

When Sarah wanted to send Hagar and Ishmael away, Abraham objected, but God told him to listen to Sarah. So “Abraham rose early in the morning,” packed them up, gave them provisions, and sent them on their way.

One boy gone, but then God tells him to sacrifice the son of promise. “So Abraham rose early in the morning,” took wood, fire, and his son and set off. Three days later they came to the place where God told him to go. (Good thing Abraham listened since that’s where the ram was that would become the substitute sacrifice).

Compare this to Jacob. He swindled his brother out of his birthright, lied to his dad and fooled him into thinking he was his twin in order to obtain his brother’s blessing, manipulated his uncle’s animals to procure the best for himself, and sneaked away without saying goodbye.

On top of that, as he’s returning home, he gets word that his brother–who, rumors said, planned to kill him–is on his way to meet him, with four hundred men. So Jacob, brave man that he is, sends a gift, divides his people and property in two, with the hopes that at least half of them could get away, and puts it all in front of him.

Interesting, though. He had an encounter with God and the next morning he changed things up–putting himself ahead of his family and falling on his face before Esau.

He’s learning.

But he made more mistakes, most notably favoring Joseph, Rachel’s firstborn. To be fair, he learned about favoritism from his parents. His mother Rebekah favored him–which is why she came up with the idea for him to steal his brother’s blessing–and his father Isaac favored Esau. So Jacob is carrying on the family tradition. It’s just that it didn’t sit well with the ten older brothers. They eventually kidnap Joseph, sell him, and report to Jacob that they found his bloody coat.

Believing Joseph to be dead, Jacob shifts his protection and possibly his favor to his youngest, Benjamin. Fast forward years later, and famine forces Jacob to send his sons to Egypt to buy food–all except Benjamin. Unbeknown to the brothers, Joseph is the man they buy from, and he tells them not to return unless their youngest brother is with them.

Time passes, food dwindles, the famine continues, and Jacob won’t sent Benjamin. Ruben tries to give his father assurances, to no avail. Judah tries and is turned down, but finally things grow desperate, and Jacob relents. Here’s the big turning point of his life, I believe. He went from saying

“My son shall not go down with you; for his brother is dead, and he alone is left. If harm should befall him on the journey you are taking, then you will bring my gray hair down to Sheol in sorrow” (Gen 42:38)

to saying

“may God Almighty grant you compassion in the sight of the man, so that he will release to you your other brother and Benjamin. And as for me, if I am bereaved of my children, I am bereaved” (Gen 43:14)

It took him a long time to get there. In the meantime, God gave him the same promise He had given Abraham and Isaac–one not connected with the blessing he stole. He also protected him from his uncle and from his brother, appeared to him more than once in visions and dreams and perhaps even as the pre-incarnate Christ. And at last, he stopped grabbing and grasping and holding on. He opened his hand and relinquished his son. Only then did he receive Joseph back, alive and well.

Two patriarchs–one quick to obey, the other oh, so slow. One willing to give up his sons, the other holding on as if he could care for them better than God. In the end, God used them both, but I can’t help but think Abraham took the better road.

Published in: on August 31, 2012 at 6:36 pm  Comments Off on Jacob Was No Abraham  
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