What’s going on here? 4 After disappointment.
Ok so here we come to part four of ‘What is going on here’ a journey through the first 5 great covenants of the Bible. Straight away however, this week let me begin with a disclaimer. In the strictest sense, what we have here with Jacob is not a covenant. As in, there’s not the ceremonial side of it, nor the external sign (apart from perhaps the changing of Jacob’s name) and it is far more of a re-confirmation of God’s covenant with Jacob’s forefather Abraham than it is adding anything particularly new. (ie; it is still based around the idea of many descendants.)
So, why do it? Jacob is an extremely pragmatic even ruthless person with it seems strangely modern problems. So a little like last time, let’s summarise his life a little.
- Jacob (born second) basically swindles his Father and older brother at the advice of his mother into receiving the blessing reserved for the first born.
- After this he embarks on a life lived on the run from his Brother who now wants to kill him. It is while he is on the run that he has his ‘God encounter through the dream.’
- He goes from there, and arrives in Paddan-Aram where he stays with Laban and of course meets Rachel.
- Laban swindles Jacob into maying Leah as well as Rachel and getting 14 years of work out him rather than 7. (For the marriages that is, he actually works a total of 20yrs)
- The love story turns really into an idolatry story as Jacob is so obsessed with Rachael over Leah that it brings untold heartache into his family.
- Jacob ends up having children by four different women in his family, only two of which are his wives. This gets to the state where the women in his life are bartering aphrodisiacs to get into his tent for the night.
- Jacob increases his flocks by swindling Laban back using an…….. ‘extremely creative breeding technique.’
- He does however out-stay his welcome and must flee from Laban who chases him.
- They reconcile while Jacob plays innocent and they set up a covenant between themselves.
- As Jacob gets up to leave, he notices that Angels have come again to meet him.
- He realises that Esau is on his way to kill him and tries to appease him by sending gifts.
- The night before he meets Esau, he meets God.
So what is going on here in Jacob’s life? Well here’s a guy who has everything…..and nothing. Jacob is controlled by his idols. He has wealth, He has the girl of his dreams plus, and please notice this; He is aware that God’s favour rests upon him. But there’s a huge difference between favour and love.
Jacob’s life is empty. He never had his father’s love. He had lost his mother’s love and he has no certainty of God’s love. No really, he doesn’t. Let’s look at the two great promises:
- The stairway
Gen 28:10 Jacob left Beersheba and set out for Harran. 11 When he reached a certain place, he stopped for the night because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones there, he put it under his head and lay down to sleep.12 He had a dream in which he saw a stairway resting on the earth, with its top reaching to heaven, and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. 13 There above it[c] stood the Lord, and he said: “I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac. I will give you and your descendants the land on which you are lying. 14 Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east, to the north and to the south. All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring.[d] 15 I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.”16 When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he thought, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it.” 17 He was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven.”
God says some amazing stuff in this passage. He promises so much to Jacob. The speech of God has something of a progression to it. It begins by talking about Jacob’s Family line, the land, and his eventual descendants. From there it moves to becoming far more personal in verse 15; “I am with you.” God is ensuring Jacob that he is going to take care of him.
The question is, has Jacob made a real heart connection with God? When he awakes we see that he is in awe. We also notice that he has become more aware of how unaware he has been. (There’s a sermon right there.) There is fear, there is reference but is there a deep connection?
What sticks out to me whenever I read this text is that for the first time, there’s a biblical character responding to a covenant or promise from God with a conditional clause. (v20-23) “If God will indeed be with me, if he will protect me, if he will provide for me, and keep my safe till my return….then the Lord will certainly be my God and I’ll worship him here with a tenth of everything.” What a modern response!
Jacob, is waiting for God to prove himself before he goes ‘all in’ and this is precisely why we see what happens next. What’s the next story? Jacob and Rachel.
- Give her to me!
The Jacob Rachael story isn’t a love story. It’s an idolatry story. The way it’s translated into English takes the extremity out of Jacobs expressions. Hebrew Scholar Robert Altar mentions that although 19:20 talks about Jacobs love for Rachael verse 21 is unusually stark, graphic and sexual for ordinarily reticent ancient discourse. Jacob basically bursts in to Laban and says: “Give her to me, I want to have sex with her right now.”
Jacob, is a remarkably modern character. Modern arts and culture are constantly telling people you’re nobody until somebody loves you, Tim Keller in his book ‘counterfeit Gods’ quotes Ernest Becker who says: “We maintain the fantasy that if we find our true soul mate everything wrong with us will be healed…but no lover nor human being is qualified for that role. The inevitable result is bitter disillusionment.”
Here’s the irony, Jacob said that if God does what he says then, he’ll worship him. But God is giving Jacob exactly what he wants so that Jacob will eventually see that even this won’t satisfy. Jacob is going to find out the hard way that Rachael will not solve his loneliness.
All the promises of God, no matter how amazing they are bounce off us like sunrays off a mirror until we allow him to deal with our idols.
Someone says “but I have no idols,” really? Let me ask you, what are most concerned about? You see, it’s easy to locate our idols, all we need to do is picture what we think is the worst thing that could possibly happen. I was having my time with God about a week ago and I simply couldn’t get this thought out of my head: “We either invest in our fears or invest in God’s promises but never both.”
- The wrestle you need to have.
Genesis 32:22- 22 That night Jacob got up and took his two wives, his two female servants and his eleven sons and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. 23 After he had sent them across the stream, he sent over all his possessions.24 So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak.25 When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man. 26 Then the man said, “Let me go, for it is daybreak.” But Jacob replied, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” 27 The man asked him, “What is your name?” “Jacob,” he answered. 28 Then the man said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel,[f]because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome.” 29 Jacob said, “Please tell me your name.” But he replied, “Why do you ask my name?” Then he blessed him there.
So learning that Esau is coming he moves all that he has and his family on to the other side of the river to protect them, but he stays put. He knows that if Esau turns up early it will be him against Esau’s 400 which is of course impossible odds. So the only other chance for his survival rests on what? God answering his prayer for protection in 32:9-12.
What’s he doing? He’s beginning to trust God. How do you know? Because he is alone. You see it’s when we finally embrace our loneliness that God shows up. And boy does he show up. I love this story of Jacob wrestling God because it’s central point is so obvious, at the end of the day, it’s us and God. No one can get to know God for you. No one can wrestle for you. No one. It’s between us and God. It’s no accident that so many people feel that God never speaks in an age absolutely terrified of solitude and silence. Why? Because when we’re alone, we’re alone with our fears, we’re reminded of our idols. So it’s often so much easier to be active.
But there in the darkness, Jacob finally stays put and rather than run from the terrifying loneliness he tries something different; he embraces it, and God wrestled him. Are you ready to wrestle with God? It happens when you’re alone.
I’d love to talk about the ‘injury’ that God gives to Jacob but we’re fast running out of time. For the purposes of this series, the key verse here is verse 26: 26 Then the man said, “Let me go, for it is daybreak.” But Jacob replied, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” What’s going on here? Jacob is seizing the opportunity, God has spoken to him before but now amazingly, in the darkness, in the loneliness God has put himself within the grasp of Jacob. Jacob, recognising this realises it is now or never, He knows that he’s not complete, not satisfied not willing to live another moment without a deep fulfilment he says; He essentially says I’m not letting you go until you give me what you know that I really need.
And what does God do? Does he say too bad? Does he say, how dare you, and this time touch his head or chest and put Jacob to death? No, he re-names him. In other words, he gives him an new identity. Wow.
Did you notice that in doing so, God outlines to all who would follow how the gospel works in a person to change them? It begins with a new identity! Revelation 2:7 says To they who overcome I will give to eat from the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God.”’
Are you in a wrestle with God now? You’ll be fine if you keep saying: I Will Not Let You Go Until You Bless Me..
It’s ultimately between us and God.