Saturday, March 17, 2012

Patriarchal Patience


I’ve been thinking, recently, about the importance of patience—and those of you who have been eagerly awaiting my next post must have been thinking about this topic too. (Sorry--job interviews and the arrival of a new child have kept me running.)

We typically trot out Job as a model of patience because of the manner in which he patiently suffered the loss of his family, wealth, health, and friends. Indeed, the patience of Job has become proverbial; James writes that, that we should “Take . . . the prophets . . . for an example . . . of patience” and reminds us that we “have heard of the patience of Job” (5:10-11). But Job’s patience is, perhaps, too exemplary—so perfect that it is difficult to relate to. After all, when Joseph Smith was learning patience at the hands of his enemies, he cried out to God for judgment and the Lord replied, “Thou art not yet as Job” (Doctrine and Covenants 121:10). Like Joseph Smith, you and I will never be “as Job.” But there are plenty of other scriptural models of patience who practiced patience in circumstances much more like our own—most notably the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

You and I will never suffer like Job, but chances are good that you or someone you know will struggle with the challenge of infertility. Abraham was seventy-five (Gen. 12:4) when the Lord first promised him that “I will make of thee a great nation” (Gen. 12:2) and that “I will make thy seed as the dust of the earth” (Gen. 13:16). Abraham lived with this promise for ten years (16:3) before complaining to the Lord that “I go childless” (Gen. 15:2), at which point God renewed the promise that his seed should be numerous as the stars (15:5). At the end of ten years Abraham took Hagar as a wife, and Hagar bore him Ishmael—but the Lord indicated that this was not the child he had promised Abraham and Sarah (Gen. 17:19-21). That promised child, Isaac, did not arrive until Abraham was one hundred years old, twenty-five years after Abraham expected him to!  There was a “time appointed” for Isaac’s birth, and the Lord, in his wisdom, did not fulfill his promise until that opportune moment had arrived (18:14). If Isaac had been born earlier, might Abimelech have slain Abraham, instead of allowing Sarah’s “brother” to live (Genesis 20)? I can’t answer such a hypothetical question, but the examples of Sarah and Abraham remind us that the Lord has a “time appointed” for all blessings and that the passage of time—even twenty-five years!—may be necessary before we can claim promised blessings, such as posterity.

You and I will never suffer like Job, but chances are good that you or someone you know will struggle with the challenge of children who make suboptimal choices. Isaac, like Abraham, had two sons who were born only after twenty years of patient waiting (Gen. 25:20-26). Isaac and Rebekah, his wife, clearly knew the importance of marrying a spouse who worshipped Jehovah, who would covenant with God—that is, after all, the reason that Abraham’s servant traveled across miles of desert to woo Rebekah on Isaac’s behalf in the first place (Gen. 24:2-3). But when their eldest son, Esau, grew to maturity, he disregarded parental counsel that he marry within the covenant and “took to wife Judith the daughter of Beeri the Hittite, and Bashemath the daughter of Elon the Hittite: which were a grief of mind unto Isaac and Rebekah” (Gen. 26:34-35). Rebekah, fearing that Jacob would, like Esau, marry outside the covenant, lamented: “if Jacob take a wife of the daughters of Heth . . . what good shall my life do me?” (27:46). Of course, Jacob did marry in the covenant, but Isaac and Rebekah may not have known about his choice for twenty years! Their patience (and good parenting) was rewarded. The Lord’s promise of a righteous posterity was fulfilled, but not until after the (long) trial of their faith.

You and I will never suffer like Job, but chances are good that you or someone you know will struggle with employment challenges. You might be under appreciated, unfairly compensated, or an entrepreneur struggling to make good. Modern custom allows employees to leave their job for greener pastures, but a new job is no guarantee of a good job. Whatever your employment circumstance, you may have to exercise the patience of Jacob. Why is it that news of Jacob’s marriages to Leah and Rachel might have required twenty years to reach Isaac and Rebekah? Because Jacob worked for one of the worst employers in history: his uncle Laban. In exchange for seven year of Jacob’s labor Laban agreed to give him Rachel’s hand in marriage. But on the wedding night Laban married Jacob to Leah instead! Jacob had to work an additional seven years—while living in the household of his in-laws—to receive the compensation he deserved. However, his patience in this less-than-ideal housing and employment situation was eventually rewarded. At the end of fourteen years Jacob bargained with Laban for an additional six years labor, at which time Jacob would be free to leave, with all of the speckled livestock. By the twentieth year, this long-suffering worker, whose employer “changed my wages ten times” had finally reaped the rewards of his patience (Gen. 31:41). The Lord caused the speckled livestock to reproduce quickly, and Jacob left Laban’s household a wealthy man.

We often speak, in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, of seeking the blessings given to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. We speak much less frequently of enduring well the trials of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. But the blessings and the trials are, all too frequently, inseparable. In the Doctrine and Covenants, the Lord warns that everyone “must needs be chastened and tried, even as Abraham, who was commanded to offer up his only son. For all those who will not endure chastening, but deny me, cannot be sanctified” (101:4-5). If we would receive the blessings and sanctification of the patriarchs, we must also endure the chastening and acquire the patience of the patriarchs. Their promised prosperity came only after long periods of patient waiting for posterity to be born, for children to repent, for hard work to be recognized and rewarded. You and I might have to live in Laban’s household for a time. We might have to pass through Abimelech’s court or see a child stray. The Lord’s promises cannot be expedited. There is a “time appointed” for all blessings, and we must wait patiently for their fulfillment even as we work faithfully toward in His service.