In our connected culture of today, I wonder whether we even have a moment to think. We get our information on demand, and we text, tweet and email – all from our smartphones. We have to keep the conversations going.
Are we now afraid to be alone with our thoughts and, more to the point, alone with God? Where in our lives can God even get a word in edgewise?
The book of Genesis tells the story of one man who suddenly found himself all alone with God. Not only that, he found himself wrestling with God.
Jacob was a conniver. He and his brother, Esau, were twins. When the day came for them to be born, Esau was born first. Then Jacob came along, hanging on to Esau’s heel. In those days, often the child would be given a name that tied in to what was happening during his or her birth. So Jacob was given his name because it meant “heel-catcher, contender, supplanter, or grabber.” And that pretty much summed up Jacob’s life.
At first glance, one brother appeared to be more virtuous than the other. Esau was a man’s man, an outdoorsy kind of guy. He hunted wild game, killed it, cleaned it and served up a great venison to his father, who favored him for that reason. Esau was an earthly man, a man who really had no place for God in his life.
Then there was Jacob, who was a little more of a mama’s boy. He was a schemer, but believe it or not, Jacob was God’s man and Esau was not. In fact the Scripture tells us that Esau was a profane person, which could be translated “sacrilegious.” He had no regard for the things of God.
Things are not always as they appear. And sometimes there are individuals who start out with great promise in the Christian life, and we think they will turn the world upside down. But one day, they just crash and burn. Then there are others who seem to have no promise whatsoever, and they end up soaring across the finish line.
It looked good for Esau in the beginning, but he didn’t do so well in the long run. Jacob had a lot of starts and stops and limped across the finish line (in his case, literally) because he indeed turned out to be God’s man.
But here was Jacob’s problem: He had a hard time accepting that God could do his own work in his own way. God had declared that the blessing of the family always went to the firstborn, but in the case of Jacob and Esau, he reversed the order. So the blessing was Jacob’s. All he had to do was wait on God. But Jacob couldn’t do that. He started scheming and plotting, trying to figure out how he could get the family blessing instead of Esau.
With the help of his mother, Rebekah, Jacob succeeded in convincing his father that he was Esau, and Isaac ended up giving Jacob his blessing. When Esau found out what happened, he wanted to kill Jacob. So Rebekah sent her son away to visit her family in Haran. And off Jacob went.
If Jacob ever met his match, he met it in his Uncle Laban. If Jacob was a con artist, Laban was the con artist extraordinaire. So Jacob got a taste of his own medicine when he wanted to marry Laban’s daughter Rachel. He served Laban for seven years for Rachel, but when the wedding day came, Laban pulled a little switch on Jacob and gave him his daughter Leah for a wife instead. So Jacob ended up serving Laban seven more years to marry Rachel.
Fourteen years of service, and then some, is what Jacob ended up giving Laban. Then God said, “Return to the land of your fathers and to your family, and I will be with you.”
But instead of leaving graciously, Jacob decided to try and stick it to Laban one last time and pulls off the ultimate sting, leaving with more sheep than he was supposed to leave with. And unbeknownst to him, his beautiful bride Rachel had taken some of the family idols with her. Discovering this, Laban went in hot pursuit, catches them, and they had a great conflict. Thankfully it was resolved. But you would think at this point Jacob would have been getting the picture. But Jacob just continued with his old ways.
But as Jacob continued on his journey, he had an encounter with God. Why? Because God knew that he would need special strength for what he was about to do, which was face his brother Esau. This reminds us that God will meet us at whatever level He finds us in order to lift us to where He wants us to be.
I find it interesting to look through the pages of Scripture and note how God came to various people in the way they needed him to come. To Jacob, God came as a wrestler, because figuratively speaking, he was always wrestling with people. He wrestled with his father, Isaac. He wrestled with his brother, Esau. He wrestled with his father-in-law, Laban. So God came to him as a wrestler at a place called Peniel, which means “the face of God.”
Jacob had been left alone with God. He was always conniving, always scheming, always plotting, always had an idea. And then God stripped everything away and got Jacob alone with him. A life-changing moment transpired for the scheming Jacob. Instead of fighting with God, he ended up clinging to Him.
We need to get away from our distractions and get alone with God. Often we don’t want to do this because we are so busy. Busyness can be good – if we are doing worthwhile things. But sometimes we are busy doing a bunch of stupid stuff. It is the barrenness of busyness.
Do you need God to come to you right now? Are you facing a big problem? Do you need his assistance, his help, his comfort, his wisdom? Take time to be alone with him. He will be more than sufficient for you.