This week in Bible180...
"Are You who You say You are?"
This week we will power through a good 30 chapters of Genesis - some of my favorite chapters in the Bible. For me, nothing colors in God's character quite as thoroughly as observing someone else's story of walking with Him.
Jacob is one of my favorites.
Jacob, a liar and cheat whose selfishness broke his family relationships, meets God quite unintentionally while on the run from his sin.
Alone, just after sunset with a rock for a pillow, he closes his eyes only to have them opened to the spiritual realm. God stands there: "I am the LORD, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie, I will give it to you and to your descendants. . . . Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you" (Genesis 28:13b, 15).
Jacob's salvation story is much like ours: at odds with God, yet pursued by Him anyway with the promise of a relationship he didn't deserve. From there, Jacob follows God through life slowly learning the answer to the same question we have all asked since Eve stood before the forbidden tree: "Is God who He says He is, or not?"
Surely the LORD is in this place, and I did not know it. . . . If God will be with me and will keep me on this journey that I take, and will give me food to eat and garments to wear, and I return to my father's house in safety, then the LORD will be my God.
Genesis 28:16b, 20b-21
The promise God asks Jacob to trust is twofold: "I am with you" first, and "I will bring you back" second. God's presence with Jacob is made very clear in his years of service to Laban - he prospers exceedingly, and when he is finally ready to leave Haran in the hope of the second half of the promise, he is a very rich man.
But what of the second part? Returning to Canaan means returning to the conflict he created and then ran from - confronting the brother he swindled. He's terrified that he won't even survive to enter Canaan, let alone father a nation there. Desperate, he pours out his fear to the God who has been trustworthy thus far.
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 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, form 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."
Are You who You say You are? Will You do what You said You would do?
Thus poured out, with all his doubts, fears, and concerns honestly bared, Jacob finds himself once more alone in the dark - where he meets God yet again.
This time, he is not a passive observer of the spiritual reality; he struggles, wrestles with God Himself - unwilling to let go until he has the answer to the question: "Will You bless me as you promised?" Are You who You say You are?
The answer to the question leaves Jacob forever changed - marked, painfully, with proof that he had indeed "striven with God and with men and prevailed" (Genesis 32:28b). He walks forward to meet Esau with a limp in his hip, weakened and vulnerable and required to find his strength in God.
We, too, will spend most of our lives asking God if He is who He says He is. When my circumstances feel out of control, I ask, "Are You the sovereign God of the Bible?" When I am broken by grief, I ask, "Are You the One who only allows pain with a purpose?" When I am afraid of the future, I ask, "Are You really good and loving and faithful?"
And wrestling for the answers often hurts. It leaves a mark. It sends the heart out into the unknown injured, handicapped with the realization that it has no strength of its own - forcing it to lean entirely into the strength of God for deliverance.
Jacob, made thus dependent, arrives safely in Canaan as promised, and wins back a relationship with his brother in the process. He immediately humbles himself before God in worship and surrender. He builds an altar to the Lord and names it "El-Elohe-Israel," which means "God, the God of Israel."
Not the God of Isaac. Not the God of Abraham.
The God of Israel - the God of a trickster named Jacob, who was given a limp and a new identity by the God who keeps His promises.
The next time God meets Jacob alone in the dark, Jacob is an old and grieving man with little left to cling to but his God's faithfulness:
God spoke to Israel in visions of the night and said, "Jacob, Jacob." And he said, "Here I am." He said, "I am God, the God of your father; do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for I will make you a great nation there. I will go down with you to Egypt, and I will also surely bring you up again; and Joseph will close your eyes."
Then Jacob arose from Beersheba . . . and came to Egypt.
Genesis 46:2-5a, 6b
Again, a twofold promise - "I will be with you" and "I will bring you back." Jacob has lived the fulfillment of this promise before and has the limp to prove it. So this time, there is no question - there's no "Are You who You say You are?" There is only immediate obedience to the One who IS who He says He is.
Jacob's walk with God is so real. Imperfect. A long, slow process of growth in trust. He begins as a questioner of God, curious and awed and perhaps a bit suspicious; then he becomes a wrestler with God, bold and relentless in seeking His face. Finally, when the struggle leaves his self-perception shattered and shows him his real identity as a weak man dependent on a mighty God, he can only surrender as a humble servant, ready to lay his frailty fully into the strong hands of Elohim.
And I don't think that a true understanding of God's character, born of a lifetime of following Him, can possibly have any other effect.
Genesis: God of Promise
Total read time for the book of Genesis: 3.5 hours