I have begun my journey through the pages of Scripture once again this new year to read it in its entirety. (If you have not, I would really encourage you to do so. My 14 year-old granddaughter read through the Bible last year and is starting again this year. You can do it!) I have used a number of different approaches over the years, and the Lord has helped me finish my goal, and encouraged my heart with the growth accomplished even when I failed. I also journal along the way (with a file cabinet full of notebooks to show for it!), trying to capture those moments when a truth freshly jumped off a page, or a concept became so clear, or I saw something from a new perspective. I also wanted to cement Truth into my thinking, especially when it served to correct me in some wrong, or comfort me in some distress...and there have been lots of those times through the years. I especially remember how precious and intimate it was to have the Lord meet me exactly where I was emotionally and spiritually when I would be up in the middle of the night with one of the kids sick or unable to sleep. I would turn to my Bible, not randomly, but where I was last in my reading, only to have the Lord use that specific passage at that specific time to lift my heart heavenward, grateful that He knew about some specific concern or struggle I was having. Its Truth would so amazingly be applicable to my situation. Have you ever had that happen? I hope so. It still awes me that God would and still does this.
Why does that awe me? Well, in Genesis this morning reading of Jacob I found myself considering two sides of an “if”.
“Then Jacob made a vow, saying, If God will be with me and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat and clothing to wear so that I come again to my father’s house in peace, then the Lord shall be my God.” (Genesis 28:20).
I must admit my first thought on reading this was that Jacob was a foolish, faithless man. “If?” Really Jacob? You really did not understand this great God of your ancestors. You knew of Him no doubt, but did you really know Him in all His greatness and holiness? Did you not understand that God is faithful and can be completely trusted to carry out His will and perform His Word? Why would you question “if”, unless there was some doubt in your mind that He could not? It sounds at first like Jacob is bargaining with God, much like we might attempt to do...."God, if You do this, then I'll do this."
This passage of Scripture details an encounter with God after Jacob has fled his home in fear of his life...at the hand of his own brother! And it began with Jacob deceiving his father and stealing the birthright and blessing that rightly belonged to the oldest, Esau. Many of you may be familiar with this story and remember Rebekah, Jacob’s mother, putting him up to this scheme. That’s a thought for another time. For now, my focus is Jacob, and he agreed to go through with it. After all, he had already taken advantage of a famished (and careless) Esau at an earlier time, gaining the birthright for a pot of beans.
Jacob, the deceiver. Lies, deception, manipulation, and whatever his motives for obtaining the blessing and birthright of the family, he did not come by them honorably. It is probable, and likely that Rebekah had told him what the Lord had told her about her twins when they were born, that the older would serve the younger, and the struggle in her womb would become a lifetime of struggle between the brothers. Perhaps it was completely unnecessary for Rebekah or Jacob to manipulate and manhandle situations to see God’s Word accomplished. If God had already determined that Jacob would be the son of blessing, then God would see to it that circumstances and situations worked to bring this to pass. In other words, God did not need their help to see to it that His divine plan was carried out. In fact, God’s plan was much bigger than either of them realized.
Foolish and/or faithless as he may have been, God chose Jacob, directed him, provided for him, protected him. And for the first time I considered that maybe Jacob did understand. Perhaps his great “if” moment was not about his understanding of God at all. Maybe it was more about his understanding of himself. When Jacob laid his head down on that rock that night on the run, God revealed himself to him in a powerful and life-changing way, promising Jacob He would be with him and would keep him wherever he went. Jacob was probably no more sure of God’s abiding presence with him at this point, as he was of God’s protection and provision for him. His future was uncertain, and after all, he had not shown himself to be an honorable man, one that necessarily revered God and His Word up to this point. In all of his failures, weaknesses, lies, deceit, fear, why would God care for him or promise him anything? Why should He?
Was this “if’ moment for Jacob a question of God’s ability, as in “is God able?”, or was it rather, “will God really do this for me? Me, after all I’ve done?” God was most definitely able, and willing. Jacob just needed to choose to believe and accept it, in spite of himself.
This is such a beautiful picture of grace. Jacob would indeed receive something from God that he did not deserve and certainly didn’t earn through his righteous behavior. No, he came face to face with the Lord God, was provided a promise, and all he had to do was believe and act upon it. That, is faith. Jacob chose at this moment, even though there would be other failures, to exercise faith and say, “If God would indeed do this for me, then He will be my God”. This seems more a declaration of Jacob’s feeble faith than a bargain he is making with God.
We don’t bargain with God about anything. He offers the great gift of salvation, inviting us each personally to come to grips with our own sinfulness and inability to be free from the weight and penalty of our sin, and gain forgiveness and an eternity with Jesus by trusting Him. We exercise faith, believing what God has told us in the Bible about Himself and His Son, about the death of Christ on the cross and the fact that He rose from the dead. That simple choice changes everything. It provides an everlasting life with God throughout eternity to come, instead of eternal punishment and separation from God. It provides the chance for an abundant life now, not just an empty existence with no real and lasting purpose.
No, we don’t bargain with God about anything. He has promised so much, made so much available to us in choosing to live for Him...Great joy, peace, provision, protection, wisdom, guidance, comfort, encouragement, grace. But we must trust His ways, His timing, His plans and purposes that are higher than ours, not attempt to finagle and finesse our way through life. God is the one over all, in charge, ruling and reigning, even when it does not seem like it. He is good at being God; He has been doing it a very long time….eternity. Let Him be God!
What side of the “if” are you on? Are you struggling to decide if God is truly who He says He is and is able to do what He says He will do? Do you see Him as the all-powerful, saving God that He is, able to care for you and all your concerns? Or, are you wondering if this great God, seeing you and knowing you for who you are (and He does see and know), would actually want to have a real and personal relationship with you? And if He does, would He care enough about what you are going through to want to come alongside and be your help and guide, never leaving you or abandoning you to yourself or your situation?
“If” moments. Jacob had one in Genesis 28. I had mine. I was on the side of complete wonder that God loved even me. I had no reservations about my sin, failures, inadequacies, weaknesses. They stared me in the face...stare me in the face...everyday. But Jesus lives in and through me. I am an overcomer because of Him. It may not seem as apparent to others all that Jesus has done for me, but I know God is great and good and FULL of grace and mercy to love the likes of me, and to care and be involved in the details of my life.
Oh God, even though I sometimes question why you would love me, why you would die for me, I thank you that I never have to question your greatness or goodness, your willingness to reach to me where I am. You are able and faithful and amazing.
God is bigger than your “ifs”.