Summary: In our Scripture today, Jacob lived a life of denial and deception. From the time Jacob was born, he had an internal struggle with his own personal identity.
From Denial to Deliverance
Brennan Manning tells a story in his book, “The Ragamuffin Gospel” of entering a 28-day alcohol treatment program and meeting Max. Early on in the program, they had to sit in a circle with a leader and tell the other people in the group about the extent of their drinking. Everyone told their story, except Max. When it came time for Max to talk about his drinking, he said, "I never really drank that much." They said, "Max, you’re in an alcoholic treatment center for a month. You weren’t sipping cokes. Tell us the truth. Admit it." He said, "I’m being honest with you. I’ve never really had all that much to drink." In the center of the circle, they had a speaker phone, and the leader said, "I’m going to call the bar that’s close to your office and we’ll just find out." So they called and asked for the bartender , "Do you know Max?" The bartender said, "Oh, like a brother! He stops in every day after work and has a minimum of six martinis. Man, this guy drinks like a fish! He’s the best customer we have." Everyone looked at Max. Max said, "OK, I’ve had a lot to drink." A little later on in the group, they asked everyone, "Have you ever hurt anybody, a friend or family member, while you were drunk?" Some people described their experiences. But when they got to Max, he said, "I would never, ever hurt anybody. Not when I’m sober, not when I’m drunk. I have 4 lovely children. I’d never hurt them or my wife." The leader said, "You know, Max, we don’t believe you. We’re going to call your wife." As soon as Max’s wife started talking on the speaker phone, Max started breathing heavily. The leader asked Max’s wife, "Has Max ever mistreated you or anyone in the family when he was drunk?" And she said, "Well, yes he has. It happened just this last Christmas Eve. He took our 9-year-old daughter shopping on Christmas Eve, bought her a new pair of shoes. On the way home, our little girl was sitting in the front seat enjoying her new shoes, and Max passed the bar and saw the cars of some of his buddies. He pulled in. It was a cold, wintry day, 12 degrees, with a high wind chill. He made sure all the windows were rolled up snugly, left the car running so that the heater was blowing, said to our daughter, ’I’ll be right back. You just play with your shoes; I’ll be right back.’ He went in the bar and started drinking with his buddies and didn’t come out of the bar until midnight. In that time, the vehicle had shut off and the windows had become all frosted over and locked up tight so she couldn’t get herself out of the car. When the authorities opened up the car and rushed her to the hospital, she was so badly frostbitten that her thumb and forefinger had to be amputated. And her ears were so damaged by the cold that she’ll be deaf for the rest of her life." At that, Max fell off his chair and started convulsing on the ground. He was living in denial and couldn’t bear admitting what he had done or even face it.
Max isn’t alone. In our Scripture today, Jacob lived a life of denial and deception. From the time Jacob was born, he had an internal struggle with his own personal identity. In Israel, every name has a meaning and that meaning became your destiny. Jacob, whose name means ‘cheater’ and ‘deceiver’ lived up to every ounce of his name. He conned his brother Esau to steal his inheritance. He deceived his dad to get his father’s blessing which belonged to Esau because he was born first. And then he deceived his father-in-law to get the majority of his wealth. And in his own mind, he rationalized that he deserved this and everything was OK living in denial of who he really was. But it all caught up with him and Jacob had to run for his life from his brother, his father-in-law but most of all, Jacob ran from himself. It was at the river of Jabbok that Jacob’s past, present and future collided. His brother Esau was bearing down on him with 400 soldiers. Jacob was at a crossroads. He had to make some tough decisions in his life. With his back up against the wall and nowhere to run or hide, Jacob had to deal with his denial of who he really was and what he had done. It wasn’t until God got Jacob all alone that he was able to deal with him and Jacob was confronted with the reality of his own life.
So often we immerse ourselves in crowds and get connected in so many numerous relationships because we don’t want to deal with our true selves. We go from store to store, hobby to hobby; job to job; city to city, seeking cures or anything to distract us from seeing ourselves for who we really are. But it was at the river of Jabbok where Jacob could no longer run from himself and he was forced to wrestle with his own stuff. The river of Jabbok was symbolic because on the other side of the river lay the Promised Land that God promised Jacob’s grandfather, Abraham. But Jacob first had to deal with his past and with his present before he could ever move on and receive God’s blessing for his future.