Summary: Jacob had an encounter with God that shook him to his core. This fugitive on the run discovered that his ancestors' God was his God, and that this God would be with him wherever he went. Great lessons for us to learn on our faith pilgrimage.
When God Shows Up
In today’s story, Jacob was in a strange place to meet God. You might expect to encounter God at a church retreat or a revival meeting, or in an inspiring church service. You might expect to find God when you are serving him with all your heart. But Jacob had been doing none of those things. In fact, when he met God, he was actually a fugitive on the run. Jacob the trickster had tricked his brother Esau out of his birthright, and Esau had murder in his eyes. So, Jacob’s mom saved his life by sending him to their home country to find a wife.
Jacob was a manipulator, a conniver, a trickster, an unlikely person to carry out God’s promise to his parents and grandparents. Yet, he was the son of Isaac, the grandson of the great patriarch Abraham. And whether Jacob liked it or not, he was in the holy line of succession to birth a nation of God’s people. One day God would rename him “Israel,” from which would come both the name and the people for this great nation.
But right now, he was fleeing for his life. And, lo and behold, God showed up. Today I want you to note three things God said to Jacob, because we need to hear these same messages from God. The first thing God said is,
1. I AM THEIR GOD. He told Jacob, “I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac.” This was an important starting point for Jacob: though this is the first time he met God personally, he had heard about God. How could you not, growing up with Isaac and Rebekah and Abraham and Sarah? I can just hear him saying to Isaac, “Daddy, tell me again the story of when Granddad was about to sacrifice you out of obedience to God, and a voice from heaven stopped him.” Or to Abraham, “Grandpa, what was it like for you and Grandma to have a child in your twilight years? I mean, did you go to Babies R Us and buy a walker/stroller combo unit?” Jacob certainly had heard about God.
I was thinking about my own family. I was surrounded by Christians who went to church every Sunday and more or less practiced their faith. My granddad was a quiet man of strong faith. When he was in his late 90s, I asked him about it. He said, “In our day, we didn’t talk much about it, especially men. But I knew I had Jesus in my heart. And I served as a deacon in our church all my life, helping care for people.” My mom and dad were far from perfect, but they too knew the Lord. And there were so many in our church family who invested in me as I grew up.
You may not have been blessed with a family of believers, but no doubt you can recall some people in your life—whether family or friends, mentors or teachers—who made a spiritual impression on you. For some of you, that was how you came to the Lord. And your first step was to hear, “I am their God.” God wooed you into his family through his work in the lives of others.
Perhaps you have been a spiritual mentor yourself. The saying goes, “You may be the only Bible someone ever reads.” They may see your quiet faith, your life of integrity, your desire to please God with your thoughts and actions and words, and God whispers to their soul, “I am their God,” as God woos them to himself. One of the fun parts of heaven will be to exchange stories: “You know that one time I was having a really bad day, and you encouraged me? That was the day I started watching your faith and moving toward Jesus, because I knew you had something I didn’t have!”
It’s a great message to hear, “I am their God.” But it’s not enough. Jacob also needed to hear a second message, which basically was ...
2. I AM YOUR GOD. The saying is true: “God doesn’t have any grandchildren, just children.” Nobody makes it to heaven by the faith of their mother...or father...or great aunt who had that humongous family Bible on the coffee table. No, as wonderful as it is to have a spiritual heritage, it’s not enough. You need to be able to hear what Jacob heard: “I am your God.”
Jacob was running from his problems when God met him on the run. He never anticipated a holy encounter. If anything, maybe he expected a holy scolding. But instead of guilt, he found grace. Instead of condemnation, he found compassion.
And he received the promise God made long ago to his grandfather and father. In verses 13 and 14, God told him, “I will give you and your descendants the land on which you are lying. Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east, to the north and to the south. All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring.” The great Abrahamic covenant of land, people, and blessing would now be Jacob’s. You see, even as he fled for his life, God had not forgotten about him. God knew where he was. God knew what he was. And God was still his God, not just his father’s and mother’s God, not just his grandfather’s God, but his God.