Jacob comes from a religious family. His grandfather is Abraham, the one
who makes the first covenant with God. Abraham is often recognized as the
father of Judaism and Islam. His grandmother is Sarah, who is visited by angels
and told that she will give birth to a miracle baby at age 90. So Jacob’s grandparents
are pretty well respected by a lot of religious people.
But that isn’t all. Jacob’s father, Isaac, is the miracle baby who was promised
by the angels, and then he is nearly sacrificed to God as a child, but is saved
by a timely appearance of a ram. Isaac is very careful to go out of his way to
find a wife that also follows God. He doesn’t want to marry one of the women in
the area where he lives that worship a different god. So he travels a long way
to find and marry Rebekah, a holy and God-loving woman. So religion is
important to Jacob’s family.
But Jacob has always been a problem child. He steals from his brother,
cheats his way through relationships, sneakily obtains his father’s blessing,
and uses people for his own gain. So religion, whatever it may have meant to
his family, doesn’t seem to mean a lot to him. He was like the boy who when
asked by the Sunday School teacher why he believed in God said, “I don’t know,
unless it is something that runs in the family.”
If he believes in God, he certainly doesn’t act like that belief should change
his behavior. The impression that we get is that religion for Jacob is
something that is a tool for getting what he wants, that he doesn’t really care
if God is real or not, but if he can find gain from this religion thing, then
he will milk it for all it is worth.
And then one night God comes to Jacob in a dream. Now, what would you
expect God to do when meeting with a person like Jacob?
Yell at him about his past? Tell him to get in line or he will be punished?
Strike him with an illness or have him kidnapped and enslaved by foreigners?
Something like that perhaps? Certainly we would expect some words from God that
tell him to clean up his act.
Amazingly as God meets with him, God doesn’t do any of that. There is no
yelling, or threats, or punishment. Instead God promises to be with him in the
future and bless him and his descendants. God says every family of earth will
be blessed because of him and his descendants. Those are pretty big promises
and kind words for a liar and a cheat.
But here is the funny thing -- Jacob’s reaction to this meeting is being
terrified. The words God uses aren’t terrifying, they are quite comforting.
So why is Jacob terrified? Probably because he realizes for the first time
that God is very real. Not just abstractly real, not just a nice idea, but
really real – able to touch you real. He says in verse 16 “The Lord is
definitely in this place, but I didn’t know it.” That disturbs him, because he
now knows that God is standing beside him, and the life he has been living
isn’t really the one he wants to live with God looking over his shoulder. God
has seen what he has been doing, and although God didn’t yell at him, the
thought that God saw his actions terrifies him.
Such a change of thinking can happen to any of us. We may have come from a
religious family, we may be able to name the people who are pastors, or church
leaders in our ancestry, but we may have never quite taken it seriously.
Perhaps we have even been the problem children, the ones who acted out, who did
everything that our family hated. But I have news for you. God still wants very
much to meet with you, to be part of your dreams and visions for the future.
God won’t dwell on your past, but will forgive it and move on, because what God
really wants is to be with you in the future and bless you and your
For example: Soon after Bill admitted himself to the Towns Hospital for
what would be the last time, he cried out: “If there be a God, let Him show
His hospital room was filled with a white light. He was seized with an
“ecstasy beyond description.” In his mind’s eye, he stood on the summit of a
mountain, where a great wind of spirit blew right threw him. “Then came the
blazing thought: ‘You are a free man.’” He became aware of a Presence, like a
sea of living spirit. “This,” he thought, “must be the Great Reality. The God
of the preachers.” Bill Wilson never took another drink. He had started down
the path to become one of the cofounders of Alcoholic Anonymous.
When God becomes very real to us, as opposed to just a nice idea, when we
become convinced that God is present, as opposed to far away in heaven, it
changes our attitudes and the very way we approach our everyday lives. That
change in how we live can become the basis for blessing not just for ourselves
but for people all around us, people who will never directly meet us.
Yet that meeting, that moment of deeply real connection with God may end up
terrifying you, as you realize that God is standing beside you when you are at
your best and when you are at your worst.
Even though we know that God loves us. Even though the words that God
speaks are comforting and calming. We end up being terrified, because (I think)
that simply is the reality of meeting the one that is much more powerful than
we are. I don’t think that God is trying to scare us, I just think that when we
as humans stand before the greatness of God, we are so awed that it can be
I certainly have had my share of experiences of this. There are times and
places where I know that I have been in the presence of the Holy, like a sea of
living spirit, and in that moment God is very real. And even though the message
that God has given me is one of comfort, yet the actual meeting with God can be
disconcerting and even terrifying. It has changed how I think about those
places where I have met with God. Like Jacob, they become places that I
remember as sacred and especially spiritual. I almost desire to build a little
shrine there, a reminder of what has happened as God emerged into our world so
vibrantly for me. And perhaps you have had experiences like this as well. Where
God is near and it is both comforting and terrifying, where you stand in awe,
and feel the sea of living spirit around you.
The good news is that despite our feelings of terror, God works with us
lovingly and patiently to craft us into a new creation. God wants us to be that
blessing to the world.
God wants us to live into our full potential. So if it takes God erupting
into our world, disturbing our dreams at night, or suddenly bursting through to
us while we are in the hospital, God will do it. All so that the world can
receive the blessings that God wants to pour upon it through us. Yes, you are
an agent of God’s blessings. Maybe that thought terrifies you a little, because
you have a great responsibility. But through it all God reminds you, I will be
with you always, I am with you now, I will protect you everywhere you go, and I
will not leave you until I have done everything that I have promised you.