Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Unremarkable Yet Unforgettable, A Significant Insignificance

My 2017 look into the life of Jacob continues....

So, is there anything about Jacob's life that was especially 'heroic'? No glorious battles won. No giants defeated. No exploits of supernatural episodes. In fact, the memorable things in Jacob's life are God encounters which God Himself initiates and with no crowd of witnesses.

Is there a message here?

As unremarkable as Jacob's narrative may seem to be.... the lasting impact and power of the story is deep and everlasting.

As a young man growing up in an enthusiastic sports culture, I got a taste early of the glory of competition and 'highlight, movie moment' narratives. I have mentioned this before, but seeing my name and picture in the paper after a thrilling Friday night football game was one of the worst things that ever happened to me. I got wrapped up in the 'glory of the story'. 

If I could talk to myself back then, I would do my best to say...' this is the fluff part of this experience... not the meat of it'. It emphasized the wrong things about what I was doing. I became more selfish, more self absorbed, prideful... to be honest it is hard to describe. It was a dramatic shift change... a complete paradigm restructuring that in the end stole away significant benefits of the opportunity.

There is nothing wrong with a dramatic narrative... especially a God directed one. We all get the thrill of seeing Eric Liddell's Chariots of Fire victory and thousands of other contra mundum moments, especially in slow motion and set to music. We all love the heroic narratives even in the Bible- Moses and the Exodus, David and Goliath, the walls of Jericho, Elijah and the prophets of Baal.

Let me drill down one more layer... with great glory becomes a great name. The weightier the story.. the more reverent the name. Sports heroes carry those weighty names... Ruth, Nicklaus, Jordan, Tiger, Brady, Lebron.... 

How weighty is the name 'Israel'? Pretty important... agree?

But it wasn't a dynamic movie moment that cause this name change. However, it was a moment of HUGE significance and meaning.

And there is nothing heroic about Jacob here... he is his same old conniving, manipulative self. His name, "the deceiver', fits him like a glove.

You know the story in Gen. 32. Jacob is 'escaping' Laban and is facing a terrifying reality... He is going to have to face his brother, Esau, who as far as Jacob knows... wants to kill him... with reason.

And the messengers returned to Jacob, saying, “We came to your brother Esau, and he is coming to meet you, and there are four hundred men with him.” [7] Then Jacob was greatly afraid and distressed

And Jacob continues his scheming....

He divided the people who were with him, and the flocks and herds and camels, into two camps, [8] thinking, “If Esau comes to the one camp and attacks it, then the camp that is left will escape.”

To commend Jacob here... he does pray... and in the prayer he says the right things... but we know so much of Jacob that all of us question whether he is adding an expedient to his plan (who knows).

 And 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 kindred, that I may do you good,’ [10] I am not worthy of the least of all the deeds of steadfast love and all the faithfulness that you have shown to your servant, for with only my staff I crossed this Jordan, and now I have become two camps. [11] Please deliver me from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau, for I fear him, that he may come and attack me, the mothers with the children. [12] But you said, ‘I will surely do you good, and make your offspring as the sand of the sea, which cannot be numbered for multitude.’”

Jacob still works his plan- waves of presents to possible appease his brother....

[13] So he stayed there that night, and from what he had with him he took a present for his brother Esau, [14] two hundred female goats and twenty male goats, two hundred ewes and twenty rams, [15] thirty milking camels and their calves, forty cows and ten bulls, twenty female donkeys and ten male donkeys. [16] These he handed over to his servants, every drove by itself, and said to his servants, “Pass on ahead of me and put a space between drove and drove.” [17] He instructed the first, “When Esau my brother meets you and asks you, ‘To whom do you belong? Where are you going? And whose are these ahead of you?’ [18] then you shall say, ‘They belong to your servant Jacob. They are a present sent to my lord Esau. And moreover, he is behind us.’” [19] He likewise instructed the second and the third and all who followed the droves, “You shall say the same thing to Esau when you find him, [20] and you shall say, ‘Moreover, your servant Jacob is behind us.’” For he thought, “I may appease him with the present that goes ahead of me, and afterward I shall see his face. Perhaps he will accept me.” [21] 

So the present passed on ahead of him, and he himself stayed that night in the camp.

Then he added even an extra layer of protection.... wife and children

The same night he arose and took his two wives, his two female servants, and his eleven children, and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. [23] He took them and sent them across the stream, and everything else that he had. [24] 

And Jacob was left alone. 

And a man wrestled with him until the breaking of the day. [25] When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he touched his hip socket, and Jacob's hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. [26] Then he said, “Let me go, for the day has broken.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” [27] And he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” [28] Then he said, “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed.” [29] Then Jacob asked him, “Please tell me your name.” But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And there he blessed him. [30] So Jacob called the name of the place Peniel, saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life has been delivered.” [31] The sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel, limping because of his hip. [32] Therefore to this day the people of Israel do not eat the sinew of the thigh that is on the hip socket, because he touched the socket of Jacob's hip on the sinew of the thigh.

[1] And Jacob lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, Esau was coming, and four hundred men with him. So he divided the children among Leah and Rachel and the two female servants. [2] And he put the servants with their children in front, then Leah with her children, and Rachel and Joseph last of all. [3] He himself went on before them, bowing himself to the ground seven times, until he came near to his brother.

[4] But Esau ran to meet him and embraced him and fell on his neck and kissed him, and they wept. [5] And when Esau lifted up his eyes and saw the women and children, he said, “Who are these with you?” Jacob said, “The children whom God has graciously given your servant.” [6] Then the servants drew near, they and their children, and bowed down. [7] Leah likewise and her children drew near and bowed down. And last Joseph and Rachel drew near, and they bowed down. [8] Esau said, “What do you mean by all this company that I met?” Jacob answered, “To find favor in the sight of my lord.” [9] But Esau said, “I have enough, my brother; keep what you have for yourself.” [10] Jacob said, “No, please, if I have found favor in your sight, then accept my present from my hand. For I have seen your face, which is like seeing the face of God, and you have accepted me. [11] Please accept my blessing that is brought to you, because God has dealt graciously with me, and because I have enough.” Thus he urged him, and he took it.

The hero of Jacob's story is God, God is actually the hero of every human story.

What we are called to do is not to worry about the audience or 'magnitude' of the story... we are just called to 'strive'. The funny thing is... I don't even think we are called to win.  We just need to keep walking, keep breathing, keep trusting.

And God is glorified and satisfied even in the small, seemingly insignificant victories.

Life is a series of trials and battles, there is no way around it. The story of Jacob is all of the circumstances God used to change him from the inside out. Jacob’s name means “schemer” or “deceiver” and he spent much of his life as a manipulator. He would lie, cheat, steal or do anything to get his way.

Then, through a series of hard circumstances, Jacob was left to struggle. The struggles began producing the fruit of character. It finally culminated in this epic story of Jacob wrestling with God. In this struggle, Jacob is given a new name and a new destiny. But the road of progress always includes pain.

Have I experienced hard times in the Lord?  To be honest, I am ashamed at what I call ‘hard’- my suffering is nothing compared to what many others have had to endure. But I have felt betrayal and disappointment, loneliness and despair. There have been dark moments where I believed my whole life was going to crumble.

As a competitor, I have had some bitter losses and deep, painful experiences.

There are two very important points in this process. The first one is to keep striving. Jacob wrestled with the Lord all night. In the darkest moments when all seems lost, we need to keep fighting. We need a rugged disposition to fight to the bitter end.

A second important point though is seen in the process..God's tactic. The Lord jumped Jacob and wrestled with him. I imagine that early on, Jacob tried to get out of the choke hold. Then, during the night, Jacob changed his plan. Instead of fighting against God, he began to cling to Him. God said to Jacob, “Let me go” and Jacob said, “Not until You bless me”. WOW!

Are you struggling in life? Have you considered pressing into God instead of running? Do you have a battle-hardened spirit that says, “God, You may kill me, but I am not quitting until this comes through.”

You will find blessing. And you will have scars and limps. But that is OK- Jesus kept His scars too! They are marks of victory!

But most importantly... are you willing to do this in secret? Are you ok winning battles over temptation and idolatry that only God sees. Are you and I ok with God giving us a new name... but no one knows about it yet? And may never know it at all?

The call of God on my life is becoming more apparent...

John 3:30

 Therefore this joy of mine is now complete. [30] He must increase, but I must decrease.” (ESV)

Jeremiah 45:4-5

[4] Thus shall you say to him, Thus says the LORD: Behold, what I have built I am breaking down, and what I have planted I am plucking up—that is, the whole land. [5] And do you seek great things for yourself? Seek them not, for behold, I am bringing disaster upon all flesh, declares the LORD. But I will give you your life as a prize of war in all places to which you may go.” (ESV) 

And it is a joy to see that attitude growing in me and all the credit belongs to Him.

Let us all keep striving!

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