No matter where we are, the Word of God will come to find us,
to bring us from where we are to where we are meant-to-be.
Even in their mother’s womb the twin brothers struggled, so much so that the pregnant Rebekah prayed, “Why?” The Lord answered that two nations were in her womb, and that one day the older would serve the younger. (Genesis 25:23) When the boys were grown, the younger of the twins, Jacob (his name meant “trickster”), deceived his father in order to steal his first-born brother’s blessing. Jacob was his mother’s favorite; and deep down the two of them must have believed that in order for God’s Word to come true, they needed to “help things along” by manipulating, defrauding, and deceiving those closest to them.
Our actions breed consequences. Seething with vengeance, Esau swears that he will kill Jacob, sealing the enmity that will mar both nations forever. Jacob flees for his life to his uncle Laban, who gladly hires him. But Laban will continually manipulate, defraud, and deceive Jacob. What goes around comes around—Jacob drinks to the bitter dregs what it feels like to be on the receiving end of those strategies. And Rebekah, no longer warmed by the presence of her favored son, is left to the chilled company of those she has betrayed.
Jacob is not in a good place, but to read his story is to see over and over how the Word of God comes to find him, to bring him out of the mess he has made, to use everything taking place in his life to bring him closer to where he is meant-to-be.
In a far country working for his corrupt uncle, The Word of God comes to find Jacob, telling him to leave—to take his wives, children and flocks and return home. And so, he begins his long trek home.
Nearing Canaan, Jacob’s scouts report that Esau is marching toward him with a contingent of 400 armed men. Dividing his servants into companies, he sends them ahead with droves of animals as gifts to assuage his brother, strategizing that if one company is attacked the other might escape. Then, as darkness descends, Jacob is left alone, wrestling with the repercussions of his life. The Word comes in the form of “a man” wrestling with him all night long. The Word, magnificently able and divinely strong, allows Jacob to prevail. He has come, not to fight against Jacob, but to fight for him.
Though he is weak with exhaustion, Jacob refuses to let go, until he has wrested the blessing he knows is there.
How often do we miss the blessing, because we let go too soon?
At the climax of their “match”, locked on each other, The Word asks Jacob his name. (Like He doesn’t already know!) As the spent Jacob is forced to own his name, “trickster” sears him one more time, sore and deep. With his admission a deep transaction takes place, and the divine visitor gives him a new name. He is Jacob no more; he is Israel, contender with God, prince of God.
The Word has found him, to bring him from who he’s been, to who he is meant-to-be.
As the sun rises, Israel limps homeward…for in the wrestling his thigh has been dislocated. . . signifying the brokenness of the old man preceding the gift of his true self. He may walk with a limp, but his face glows, and his heart is strong. He names the place Peniel, because in what has passed between He and God, he has has seen Him “face to face” (Genesis 32:30-31).
Unaccountably, Esau’s heart has been warmed; so when the two brothers finally face each other, they fall upon each other’s necks weeping. For the first time in his life, Jacob is where he is meant-to-be—trusting God to work things out instead of believing that he has to scheme and manipulate to make them work out.
To be found.
Jacob’s story lays a deep foundation for us to build upon. Words from God have come to Jacob time and again. They’ve come to summon, guide, strengthen, teach, warn and direct him on his journey. But when does the Word find him?
Not in his early deal making days. . . At the beginning of his journey, when the presence of God comes to assure and comfort the young refugee, his heart remains unscathed. The audacious deal-making Jacob informs the God of his fathers that if He brings him home safe and sound, well then, maybe He will become Jacob’s God as well. The Word has come, but it has not found the one it is searching for.
Throughout his life Jacob has sworn by the fear of his father Isaac (Genesis 31:53-54) and prayed to the God of his grandfather Abraham. (Genesis 32:9). Only after he has wrestled through to receive his new name (signifying he has become a different person), does this change. Returning home, Israel builds an altar to worship. He names the altar “El Elohe Israel,” meaning “El, the God of Israel.” (Genesis 33:20) Tenderly, powerfully, the decades of his exile done, The God of his fathers has become at last—his God—the God of Israel. The word has found him.
All those years, the Word had been coming to find him, to bring him from where he was (in the second-hand worship of the God of his father) to where he was meant-to-be (worshipping God as his own). But something takes place at Peniel to change this. . .
Like two sides of a single coin, two events simultaneously take place in the same moment at Peniel: the Word finds him as he finds God.
But what strikes me with quiet thunder about this moment of simultaneity, is that when the Word finally found him, it did not just find Jacob—it found Israel. The Word kept coming, until it found the one it was searching for: Israel, who was simultaneously waiting to be found.
The only part of me who is going to know God as my own,
who is going to really understand what He is saying deep unto deep in me,
is “the me” that God Himself is coming to find.
There was a time when Scripture taught me nothing and meant little. I didn’t value or trust it. I could not recognize the gems of its elemental truths. But that was before the Word found the one it was seeking in me. The Word comes to us all. Most any pagan can sense the drift of what God is saying: to be led, comforted, taught, directed, and blessed beyond measure—and yet—not be found. The worldling, Jacob, does not know the difference and really doesn’t care. But Israel does. The Word that came time and again—was not coming to find Jacob—but to find Israel.
God had to figure out a way to get this critical information to us, in a way that no one could mess with.
- So, like cave paintings left deep and dark to be found at a later time, he meticulously drew upon on the walls of time.
- He breathed Scripture into ancient prophets to teach us what we would have no other way to know.
- He engineered history to bring forth a people who would be the center of His story, who would symbolize His story, through whom He would enact His story, who would protect His story—but it was never just a story about ISRAEL. It was always God’s story being told through ISRAEL, so that the word could find us.
- And in the simultaneity of our being found, we would recognize God’s story telling itself in our own.
The elemental truth—that the Word comes to find us, to bring us from where we are to where we are meant-to-be—is encrypted safely in sacred stories that have survived the rise and fall of civilizations.
Culture wars rage over theology, trying to wrest the truth to serve human ends. But even as human interpretations flux and change, the stories remain the same. As fresh today as the day those stories were written, the critical information waits to be found in the moment that it finds us.
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Lord, You stun me with the revelation that Your Word came over and over to Jacob in order to find Israel. I feel it, I know it, I’ve seen it—all the ways Your Word keeps coming to me, to find the one who is waiting to be found. She is the me “in Christ”, the me You died for, the me You knew and dreamed of before time, the me that I am meant-to-be, the me that is capable of inheriting the promised land, the me that is meant to walk in fellowship with you, the me that experiences the Holy Spirit in the back and forth dialogue that flows between us, the me that never needs to be ashamed, the me that overflows with peace patience and love—the me that I can’t fake because she is so real, so alive, so healthy and complete. Fresh from Peniel she is drenched with Your presence. Oh, God, keep me from running away from the rigor of our wrestling matches, when it is dark and I am afraid. When it comes time to face the consequences, and it feels like You have come against me in mortal combat, help me remember that you are fighting for me, not against me. And if You need to touch some place in me that needs breaking, hold me in arms that will not let me go, reminding me with the gentlest of tender whispers, that it is to weaken what is corrupt and shoddy and can never know You—so that precious Israel in me can be brought forth whole and new, loving You.