Have you ever been in the middle of a fight? Maybe it was you participating in the ugly words and ever-escalating recriminations, or maybe you were just caught in the middle - either way, it leaves such a sad, sinking feeling. How can we treat one another so poorly? How can we get caught in that irrational and pain-inducing trap, time and time again? These situations can seem so surreal, as if someone was forcing us to be a part of a badly written soap opera. But, sadly, these situations are all too real. Very few of us live idyllic lives of continual peace and prosperity; for so many, much of life can seem like a reality show.
But there is hope! Recently as we were praying together, my husband asked that God would help us both to be happy, holy, healthy, and hopeful. I thought those words were so lovely and striking, and remembered something important - those words describe the very nature and character of God, and He helps us to become like Him! This world that we live in is broken, but God has not forsaken us or left us alone in the dark.
Consider the following verse…
The LORD Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.
An argument could be made that there is no more striking title for God than this, The God of Jacob.
It’s easy to think of calling Him the God of Abraham, the faithful friend,
Or the God of Moses, the humble deliverer,
Or the God of David, the man after God’s own heart,
Or the God of Daniel, the beloved servant of God and man.
But of Jacob?
The fact that quite a number of the fathers and mothers of our faith were so screwed up makes me love and trust the Bible so much. If our religion was about people reaching up to find God of their own accord, surely the story of Jacob could and would have been airbrushed a little. Instead, just a quick glance at his life reveals how dysfunctional Jacob and his family really were. His experience could have been a reality show - maybe Keeping up with the Abrahamsons, or Real Housewives of the Ancient World!
Jacob was born in a fight with his twin brother. The Bible says that the babies were always jostling in their mother’s womb, and that Jacob was delivered actually grasping the heel of his moments-older brother, Esau. Esau grew up to be focused on material things and quite robust, and did masculine things like hunting and fighting. In contrast, we read that Jacob, though more spiritually minded than his brother, was a conniving, soft, and coddled momma’s boy. On one occasion, he got Esau to sell his entire birthright inheritance to him for a bowl of soup. Another time, Jacob tricked his dying father into giving him the blessing reserved for Esau by dressing himself up to smell and feel like his outdoorsy older brother. Interestingly, these two events happened when Jacob was likely well into his seventies and then over eighty, respectively - not exactly silly kid stuff. He was firmly stuck in some poor lifetime habits of thought and action.
After tricking his father and once again cheating his brother, Jacob had to run for his life to his mother’s people. There he encountered Laban, a man even more awful and dysfunctional than himself, and promptly fell head-over-heels in love with that man’s daughter. He was out-tricked by his new father-in-law both into marrying the older sister of the woman he actually loved, and then into working for years for doing so. So, in true reality show fashion, Jacob worked even longer to marry the younger sister and brought a couple of maidservants into the mix, as well. This, of course, led to both a huge family and a lifetime of pain, anger, betrayal, jealousy, and terrible life-and-death drama.
This is Jacob, a father of our faith. He is given such an honorific title simply because he is so much like all the rest of us. It is precisely here that we must remember that our faith is not based at all upon us reaching up to God. It is not based on anything we can do to tip the scales of justice towards at least a little more good than bad, or in convincing God that we are worthy of His graces...
Rather, our faith is based entirely upon a relentlessly good God who reaches down, not just to find us, but to save us.
One poet referred to God as “The Hound of Heaven.” Our patient and hopeful God knew all about Jacob and his problems both of character and circumstance, and loved him still; He was always in swift pursuit of this tricky, fighting, deceptive man. J. Oswald Sanders said it so well, “It is human nature to notice the worst in our fellowmen, but God is always looking for what is best. He clearly discerns the deepest spiritual yearnings of our hearts and works towards their realizations. All His chastening have that end in view.” The Hound of Heaven had His sights set on Jacob.
The tension in Laban’s household only grew over the years, and the time finally came for Jacob and his family to leave that place. The only option was to head back in the direction that would put him into immediate contact with his brother again. He was frustrated, scared, and unsure of what to do. He was still a schemer, and came up with an elaborate plan of separating his family and possessions into two camps, so perhaps he might emerge from the encounter with his rightly furious twin brother with something left to his name. On this night before the encounter, he found himself a place to be alone and think. Jacob was fleeing from one opponent directly into the arms of another, when he had the greatest fight of his life.
A man showed up, out there in the middle of nowhere, and wrestled with Jacob all night. It was no dream or imagination; Jacob walked with a limp after this match; but it was also no ordinary man. Jacob was resorting to his old habit of scheming his way out another family mess when the Hound of Heaven caught him. It was on this night that God changed Jacob’s name from deceiver to Israel because “he had struggled with God and with men and had overcome.” God saw that this conniving, crafty man had within him something that longed for the spiritual. Our God of Hope knew that He could make something of that, if Jacob would just let Him.
Mr. Sanders again, “There is an optimism in God which discerns the hidden possibilities in the most unpromising character. He has a keen eye for hidden elements of nobility and promise in an unprepossessing life. He is the God of the difficult temperament, the God of the warped personality, the God of the misfit. Only God saw the prince in Jacob. He has a solution for every problem of personality and temperament. When we surrender our lives into His hands for drastic and radical treatment, He will bring into play all of His resources of love and grace.”
In this day, when real life all around us often seems so much stranger than fiction, it is good for us to remember both the reality of the human condition and the character of our faithful God. Much of the world might read Jacob’s life story and not be able to see anything but the worst of all the personalities involved. The current trend of our culture of endless social media and on-demand news is to take a perverse pleasure in being shocked and disgusted by the dysfunction of others. We are coached and conditioned, even manipulated by unseen but very real algorithms, to be both aghast and addicted by stories of the sorry condition of our neighbors. Of course, we do all of this while never considering just who is telling the story and what their motives might be, or what it might feel like to have our own lives exposed and picked apart in like manner. Rather, we too easily fall into the trap of being daily encouraged to think better of ourselves by thinking the worst about everyone else.
But others who have had lives our lives touched by God will read of Jacob and his dramas and immediately think of our own lives, families, and communities. Many can relate to complicated and tricky relationships, and lifetimes of reaping the dysfunction that has so long been sown, sometimes for generations. It is so comforting to realize that God sees it all, and has never been afraid of getting His hands dirty in reaching down help us. In fact, He was so willing to do so that God the Son condescended to be born to an unwed teenager in a borrowed stable. The King of Kings was so glad to help us that He took all of our shame and scorn upon Himself, and was brutally nailed to a cross for our sin. His goodness and faithfulness in relentless pursuit of us is the whole point of our faith.
Today, let's thank the Lord for His grace to rise above our own sinful condition. Let's strive to be more like Jesus, Who always looks for the best in each person, and not like the world which gleefully rejoices in the worst. Our family, friends, and neighbors need to see the forgiveness and life that is found in Jesus. We all need to know that God is so good, and that He actively wants to help us change the channel on our reality show lives, and to become more happy, holy, healthy, and hopeful. All of us can take courage and hope because the Lord Almighty is with us, and the God of Jacob is our fortress.
PS: Coming soon - some big changes and a big announcement!
Hi! I'm Mary - mother to two wonderful grown daughters, wife to an incredible husband, and loving our life in the piney woods of Texas... (read more!)
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