Claiming your faith

We have been looking at the big picture story of God. When you view the entire Bible as one book that has one major hero, many villains, a few main story lines, some sub plots and one major lesson – it is amazing how clear many of he truths some to life. It helps us not to distort the main plot and not to mis-represent the main characters.

As we have looked at the story, we have been given genealogies to show us who is related to who. At the point we are at, God has declared that he will make a great nation out of him and his descendants.

I wrestle.

I would say that one of the issues I wrestle with the most as a pastor and as a parent is the fact that I cannot MAKE my kids love God. As our boys reached the age where they would have to choose God on their own, I had a very power reality hit that it is possible that one or both of them could choose not to follow God. It was and is their choice.  I could make them eat their veggies but I could not force them to love and follow God.

Abraham is picked out by God, blessed by God and finally trusts God after the birth of Isaac when he was 100 years old.

Last week, David shared with us the story of Isaac being offered as a sacrifice. The lesson being that God wants us to trust him completely – just like he wanted Adam and Eve to trust Him in the garden. With trust comes blessing.

Isaac is a chip off the old block. 😉 At one point he actually asks Rebekah to lie so that he might not be killed because of her being his wife. Does that sound familiar? He was a nomad. He lives with the Philistines for while and God blessed him and the Philistines (those around Isaac). That was part of God’s covenant: I will bless you and make you a blessing.

Isaac has twins, which we know historically has not always worked out well. These two come out of the womb wrestling – with Jacob grasping at Esau’s heel. These brothers are night and day!

  • Esau is a hunter, hairy, rugged and smells of the wild.
  • Jacob is mommy’s boy.

The story of their lives covers Genesis chapters 25-36.

Today, we want to FOCUS primarily on the story of God, not the story or Jacob and Esau. To do that, let’s skim through the story of Jacob & Esau.

Esau sold his birthright (inheritance) to Jacob for some stew. Then, when Isaac was going to bless his oldest son Esau, Rebekah had Jacob pretend to be Esau to steal the blessing. Esau found out and was furious, so Jacob fled for his life.

As Jacob was fleeing for his life from his enraged brother, God appeared to him in a dream: Gen 28

10 Jacob left Beer-sheba and went toward Haran. 11 He reached a certain place and spent the night there because the sun had set. He took one of the stones from the place, put it there at his head, and lay down in that place.

12 And he dreamed: A stairway was set on the ground with its top reaching the sky, and God’s angels were going up and down on it. 13 The Lord was standing there beside him, saying, “I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac. I will give you and your offspring the land on which you are lying. 14 Your offspring will be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out toward the west, the east, the north, and the south. All the peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring. 15 Look, I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go. I will bring you back to this land, for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.”

16 When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he said, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it.” 17 He was afraid and said, “What an awesome place this is! This is none other than the house of God. This is the gate of heaven.” 18 Early in the morning Jacob took the stone that was near his head and set it up as a marker. He poured oil on top of it 19 and named the place Bethel, though previously the city was named Luz.

20 Then Jacob made a vow: “If God will be with me and watch over me during this journey I’m making, if he provides me with food to eat and clothing to wear, 21 and if I return safely to my father’s family, then the Lord will be my God. 22 This stone that I have set up as a marker will be God’s house, and I will give to you a tenth of all that you give me.” // Genesis 28:10–22 CSB

God appears at Bethel. Just as God sought out Abram and approached Noah, God appears to Jacob in a dream. This is Jacobs first encounter with God.

At this point in time, God, The God of Abraham, is NOT the God of Jacob. Did you catch that?

VS 20: This is also the first time we have someone making a bargain with God! Talk about being brass!

I remember when I taught my kids how to negotiate. They would want to spend the night at a friend’s house so I explained how to negotiate that: What do you want, what will the parents want? How can you make the parents happy AND have what you want to be the solution for it?

I thought it was genius parenting. Then I had one of my sons who was working for me and I needed some more hours from him, so I called him and… he started negotiating wages with me! Didn’t see that one coming. It was a great lesson, and I reap the benefits of that lesson still today 😉

Even though we may negotiate with our bosses and with each other, I am not sure I would be able to stand before God and start negotiating.

  • Here is Jacob’s deal:
    • If you will be with me
    • If you will watch over me
    • If you will provide my food and clothing
    • If you will allow me to return to my father’s house
    • Then you will be my God
    • Then I will honor you with my possessions
  • God promised all of these things in verse 15, so basically, Jacob is saying, if you do what you say you will do, then I know I can trust you.

Jacob makes his covenant with God and sets up a stone in a place called Bethel (House of God) as a reminder of his promise. God is silent, and Jacob continues on his journey.

Jacob works for his uncle Laban and is tricked by him. He ends up with 2 wives and a lot of possession, as well as a healthy hatred for his uncle. [READ Genesis 29-30] It’s like a soap opera of wives trying to win the affection of their husband and trying to outdo each other by having the most kids. Talk about a dysfunctional family!

Eventually, after 20 years or working for Laban, Jacob had enough. He leaves. God, again, reveals himself to Jacob just before his departure from Laban.

3 The Lord said to him, “Go back to the land of your fathers and to your family, and I will be with you.” 4 Jacob had Rachel and Leah called to the field where his flocks were. 5 He said to them, “I can see from your father’s face that his attitude toward me is not the same as before, but the God of my father has been with me. // Genesis 31:3–5 CSB

God gives Jacob a specific direction, and he obeys.

How did he refer to God in verse 5?

He is “the God of my father”. God is still NOT the God of Jacob. Though he has 11 children and many possessions, he has not accepted God as HIS God. God is fulfilling his promise, but not all of it has been fulfilled yet.

Laban tracks Jacob down and accuses Jacob of stealing his idols, which Rachel did. She lies about it to her father. At the end of the discussion, Jacob says this:

42 If the God of my father, the God of Abraham, the Fear of Isaac, had not been with me, certainly now you would have sent me off empty-handed. But God has seen my affliction and my hard work, and he issued his verdict last night.” // Genesis 31:42 CSB

Notice still, that God is NOT the God of Jacob. He is the God of his father, Abraham and the Fear of Isaac. He is still NOT the God of Jacob.

So, Jacob continues back to the land of his father, Isaac, where Esau still lives. He left 20 years prior with his brother in a rage and has not been back since. Now he is going to return. He is nervous about facing his brother.

Even though God promised to give the land as an inheritance to Jacob, he never really said that Jacob would live to see it 😊 Jacob decides to split his family into 2 units in hopes that half of them could experience the blessing of God if the other half is killed.

LESSON #1: GOD WORKS THROUGH FAITH.

God did NOT give Jacob all of the details. Why? The same reason He did not say to Abraham in the beginning that he AND Sarah would have a child. God works through FAITH. He wanted Jacob to trust Him. He wanted Abraham to trust Him. In the same way, God does not always give us all of the details because he wants us to simply trust Him.

It is the night before Jacob expects to meet his brother, and possibly his doom. He sends gifts in hopes to appease the anger of Esau, but his words and actions are clear that he is not certain that he will live through this encounter.

At this point we see a big change in Jacob. Instead of taking matters into his own hands, instead of making another deal with God, Jacob prays – a bit more humbly than before:

9 And Jacob said, “O God of my father Abraham and God of my father Isaac, O Lord who said to me, ‘Return to your country and to your kindred, that I may do you good,’ 10 I am not worthy of the least of all the deeds of steadfast love and all the faithfulness that you have shown to your servant, for with only my staff I crossed this Jordan, and now I have become two camps. 11 Please deliver me from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau, for I fear him, that he may come and attack me, the mothers with the children. 12 But you said, ‘I will surely do you good, and make your offspring as the sand of the sea, which cannot be numbered for multitude.’ ” // Genesis 32:9–12 ESV

Jacob still has not called God HIS God. But look at the change in his heart:

  • He gives God credit for his blessings and admits he does not deserve them
  • He admits that he NEEDS God [of course he just heard that Esau was coming with 400 men!]
  • He reminds God of his promise (he did not restate HIS promise to God)

LESSON #2: TRIALS CAN BE BLESSINGS.

It is often at our times of greatest need, fear or sorrow that we turn to God for help and comfort. For this reason alone, we should be thankful for our trials and tragedies because anything that drives us to the arms of our loving Father is a blessing.

Jacob then sends everyone away and is left alone. And… God picks a fight with Jacob.  Yes, you heard that correctly.

22 During the night Jacob got up and took his two wives, his two slave women, and his eleven sons, and crossed the ford of Jabbok. 23 He took them and sent them across the stream, along with all his possessions. 24 Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. 25 When the man saw that he could not defeat him, he struck Jacob’s hip socket as they wrestled and dislocated his hip. 26 Then he said to Jacob, “Let me go, for it is daybreak.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” 27 “What is your name?” the man asked. “Jacob,” he replied. 28 “Your name will no longer be Jacob,” he said. “It will be Israel because you have struggled with God and with men and have prevailed.” 29 Then Jacob asked him, “Please tell me your name.” But he answered, “Why do you ask my name?” And he blessed him there. 30 Jacob then named the place Peniel, “For I have seen God face to face,” he said, “yet my life has been spared.” 31 The sun shone on him as he passed by Penuel—limping because of his hip. // Genesis 32:22–31 CSB

Jacob has been wrestling with men (Laban and Esau) and he has been wrestling with God (IF you…) and  the “man” that wrestles with Jacob NEVER ONCE discounts him for this!

The man, wrestles with him, pops his hip out of socket and still cannot win! The man asks for his name and changes his name and blesses him.

Who blesses people? GOD. When Jacob was done receiving the blessing, he knew he has been with God.

This is the 3rd recorded name change we have:

  • Abram -> Abraham
  • Sarai -> Sarah
  • Jacob -> Israel (which, in Hebrew sounds like “He struggled with God”)

Jacob meets Esau – they are good Esau does NOT kill Jacob and is actually glad to see him. Jacob LIES to Esau and travels away from Esau and his family. He settles in Canaan and makes an altar there:

19 He purchased a section of the field where he had pitched his tent from the sons of Hamor, Shechem’s father, for a hundred pieces of silver. 20 And he set up an altar there and called it God, the God of Israel. // Genesis 33:19–20 CSB

ASK: What has changed? [yeah, you a re keeping up with what is going on here! ]

This altar has a name, like the stone did at Bethel. But this name is unique. It was an altar to God. But NOT the God of Abraham, nor the God of Isaac. This is an altar to God, the God of Israel (Jacob).

Then we come to chapter 35 of Genesis:

1 God said to Jacob, “Get up! Go to Bethel and settle there. Build an altar there to the God who appeared to you when you fled from your brother Esau.” // Genesis 35:1 CSB

God then reminds Jacob of his promise, “Go back to Bethel…”  I love this verse. God is calling out Jacob on his promise. God says to build an altar “to the God who appeared when…” That is HIM. He is basically saying, “Remember when you and I talked back then – you made a promise. Go back to the place YOU named the House of God.

I am amazed at how often we will turn to God in our trouble and how easy it is to look past him or forget him when we are no longer in that trouble.

2 So Jacob said to his family and all who were with him, “Get rid of the foreign gods that are among you. Purify yourselves and change your clothes. 3 We must get up and go to Bethel. I will build an altar there to the God who answered me in my day of distress. He has been with me everywhere I have gone.” 4 Then they gave Jacob all their foreign gods and their earrings, and Jacob hid them under the oak near Shechem.

5 When they set out, a terror from God came over the cities around them, and they did not pursue Jacob’s sons. 6 So Jacob and all who were with him came to Luz (that is, Bethel) in the land of Canaan. 7 Jacob built an altar there and called the place El-bethel because it was there that God had revealed himself to him when he was fleeing from his brother. // Genesis 35:2-7 CSB

Jacob goes, and what are his actions:

  • He purifies himself and his family
  • He declares the good ness of God and gives God glory
  • He worships God
    • Sets up an altar
    • Gives offerings to God
    • Sets up a memorial to remember this time with God

LESSON #3: GOD CAN RE-CREATE US.

when we wrestle with God and finally accept him as OUR God, it changes the way we live. We WANT to be pure in our devotion to Him, we WANT to tell others of his goodness, we WANT to bless him with worship and sacrifice. Out lives are re-created. Where we once lives for self-representation and self-gratification, God changes our heart and we want to represent and glorify Him.

Then, at the end of this passage, God approaches Jacob and reminds him of what God had in mind the whole time. These words echo of Eden and also of the promise to Abraham:

9 God appeared to Jacob again after he returned from Paddan-aram, and he blessed him. 10 God said to him, “Your name is Jacob; you will no longer be named Jacob, but your name will be Israel.” So he named him Israel. 11 God also said to him, “I am God Almighty. Be fruitful and multiply. A nation, indeed an assembly of nations, will come from you, and kings will descend from you. 12 I will give to you the land that I gave to Abraham and Isaac. And I will give the land to your future descendants.” 13 Then God withdrew from him at the place where he had spoken to him. 14 Jacob set up a marker at the place where he had spoken to him—a stone marker. He poured a drink offering on it and anointed it with oil. 15 Jacob named the place where God had spoken with him Bethel. // Genesis 35:9-15 CSB

  • First, God does what? Blesses him.
  • Next he commands Jacob to be fruitful and multiply: take my image across the earth!

If you do not see the consistency in the message and character of God, if you do not see the call back to Eden and the original creation, you are missing all of the beautiful details here!

  • I will make you a nation, a royal nation! I will give you a land, You will have kings.

Jacob will have 12 sons, which become the 12 tribes of Israel (of Jacob). They will multiply, they will be blessed, and they will wrestle with God as well.

ASIDE: Approximately 1200 years later, the prophet Hosea will remember this event and remind us of some of the main lessons from the life of Jacob:

2 The Lord also has a dispute with Judah. He is about to punish Jacob according to his conduct; he will repay him based on his actions. 3 In the womb he grasped his brother’s heel, and as an adult he wrestled with God. 4 Jacob struggled with the angel and prevailed; he wept and sought his favor. He found him at Bethel, and there he spoke with him. 5 The Lord is the God of Armies; the Lord is his name. 6 But you must return to your God. Maintain love and justice, and always put your hope in God. // Hosea 12:2–6 CSB

God’s mission for Jacob was that he would put his hope in God and not his own accomplishments.

God’s mission is restoration and re-creation

God restores his relationship with mankind by invading our space, seeking us out and proving himself to us over and over. He desires to have a relationship with his creation, to be our Father.

And when we finally come of the place of accepting God as OUR God, he re-creates us. In these passages it is a new name and blessing. For you and me it is a new identity as a child of God and a blessing: to join God in his mission that all of the world will be blessed through us as we reflect God.

BIG THOUGHT: Claiming our faith

The story of Jacob is a great reminder that our faith must be OUR faith. It is NOT enough to have Christian parents or grandparents. Just because your parents trust God does NOT mean that you will. You would think that having Abraham as your grandfather and Isaac as your dad would make you a strong believer in God. That was not the case.

Our faith is not inherited, nor is it genetic. It is something each generation must claim for themselves. It is something that each of us must claim. Not the faith of our parents. Kids, your parent’s faith cannot save you. Not our spouses faith, but our own.

What do YOU believe about God? Who do YOU believe Jesus is? Are YOU going to trust God?

We are only ever one generation away from leaving God. Though we, as a nation, have churches on every corner, it does not mean we are a Christian nation. Though we used to be known as a nation under God, it cannot be assumed that we are or will remain that way.

This is why we must ALWAYS be on mission with our Father – to restore and re-create. To help people encounter God so God can restore his relationship with them and recreate them.

God restored his relationship with Jacob by allowing Jacob to wrestle with him. Some of you will wrestle with God for some years before you finally acknowledge God as YOUR God. When Jacob did, he was blessed and commissioned. When you and I accept God, we are blessed and commissioned.

However, the promise to Abraham was not just that his family would be blessed, but that all the nations of the world would be blessed. God reminded Jacob of this in the beginning of his journey:

14 Your descendants will be as numerous as the dust of the earth! They will spread out in all directions—to the west and the east, to the north and the south. And all the families of the earth will be blessed through you and your descendants. // Genesis 28:14 NLT

Therefore, to join God on his mission is not just to make sure our families know God, but ALL nations get a chance to know God. That means we cannot just be focused on our house, but our town, our county, our country AND the many other people groups in other parts of the world that have never heard about God and his love for them.

God pursues us. God engages us and may even pick a fight with us. But in the end, His passion is for us to be reconciled to Him. He wants to bless us but cannot unless we trust him.

  • Are you wrestling with God? Why not simply trust Him and see how he can bless you?
  • Have you already trusted God? What is one way, who is one person, that you can bless by sharing the love of God with this week?

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NCF was started in 1987 to minister to the growing population of Fort Drum and Jefferson County. Located in Carthage, just minutes away from Ft Drum, Lowville and Watertown, it is a blended congregation of local and military folks, single soldiers, young families and grandparents.

35206 Sayre Road
Carthage NY 13619
PO Box 823
Carthage, NY 13619
315-493-3958