Last week we began our series on biblical principles of relationship by laying a foundation of truths:
- God is all about relationship
- Relationship is the reason for our existence
- The Bible is a relationship book – the first romance novel!
When we examine our personal human-to-human relationships through this lens, we begin to see nuances and flavors that are much deeper and richer than anything our culture says about relationship. Only then are we able to allow relationship to take shape in its truest form, modeled by the relationship of the godhead trinity and reflected our relationship with God. Like the godhead (Father, Son, Holy Spirit), the relationship trinity has three facets, each of equal importance, each reliant on the other two, and together comprising a complete whole. I call these the three pillars of relationship. The first is the pillar of character. No one is born with strength of character. We come into this world as selfish beings. A baby does not consider its parents when he cries at two a.m. He only knows that he is hungry, or wet, or cold and he lacks the patience to wait. Babies need parents, churches and teachers to teach them how to behave in polite society as they grow and foster greater awareness of themselves and the world around them. As we see in the story of Jacob, this system is flawed when imperfect parents are raising imperfect children. Even the best parent is riddled with their own inadequacies and character flaws that an impressionable child picks up. The child grows to develop their own faults simply as a result of living in a fallen world, and then they raise their own children, and it becomes a snowball effect. As our society continues to edge God out of daily life, and church community is now the exception instead of the rule, we are seeing a generational degradation of morals. This is where we pick up the story of Jacob and Rachel. Quite possibly the greatest love story in the Bible (aside from the God-mankind romance, of course), it becomes even more remarkable when we consider Jacob’s character before he and Rachel met. When Jacob’s mother sent him on a journey to Haran from Beersheba, his core mission was not to find a wife. In Genesis 27:43 his mother tells him “Flee at once” because of his brother’s plot to kill him as a result of Rebekah and Jacob’s manipulations. Only secondarily, in verse 46, does Rebekah consider that her son must also find a wife in the land of Haran to save him from marrying a Canaanite. This secondary mission is more for the purpose of explaining Jacob’s departure to Isaac than for its own purpose. When we compare these circumstances surrounding Jacob’s journey to the story of Abraham sending his most trusted servant to bring back a godly wife for Isaac (Genesis 24:1-9), we already see a shift in the character difference between generations. Abraham did not want Isaac to leave the promise land, which is why he told the servant “Make sure you do not take my son back there [Mesopotamia]” (Gen 24:6). Conversely, Rebekah (and Isaac through manipulation) was forced to send Jacob away from the promise land in order to spare his life because of his sin. Jacob left the promise land empty handed as the product of a manipulative mother; qualities that Jacob himself picked up. Before his journey he had manipulated his brother Esau into giving away his inheritance in exchange for a bowl of soup, and then he tricked his dying father – at his mother’s promptings – for a blessing that would make Jacob a patriarch of a nation. No wonder his brother wanted to kill him. Have you ever left God’s provision and promises for your life because of the result of bad decisions? Jacob was drowning in the consequences of his bad decisions when he set out on his journey. And one of the many beautiful things about God is that He will use your sins to bring about His purpose for your life and bless you in ways you never thought possible. God met Jacob outside the borders of the promise land in the land of Luz, which literally means “separation.” Until now he reaped the benefits of his father’s and grandfather’s faithfulness to God. But here, after the sun sets and with his head on a rock (Gen 28:11), Jacob is alone, presumably for the first time. Sometimes we have to get uncomfortable before we are willing to seek God. It is in this place of discomfort and separation where God gives Jacob a powerful dream:
He had a dream in which he saw a stairway resting on the earth, with its top reaching to heaven, and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. There above it stood the Lord, and he said: “I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac. 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. I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you. (Genesis 28:12-15)
When Jacob awakens he renames Luz to Bethel, which means “house of God.” He is no longer separated from the Lord. In addition to His presence and fellowship, God also provided confirmation of His promise to Abraham and offered safety to Jacob: “I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go.” Even in the midst of our sins, God gives Himself to us fully and completely. Jacob was literally running for his life, because of his own mistakes, and yet God still offered His provision. Not because of Jacob’s sin, but in spite of it. A few thousand years later we see this again. God met all of us in our place of separation, and he offers companionship, safety, guidance and assurance through the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. In spite of our shortcomings. Just as a new believer experiences a growth of character that begins at the conversion experience, Jacob’s experience with God set him on a path toward character redemption. It wasn’t an immediate transformation. As a new believer, Jacob set up an alter and made a vow to give to God and devote his life, but even then Jacob did not fully trust the promise. God promised him a nation and protection “wherever” (Gen 28:15) he goes. Jacob’s focus was narrower and involved only safety for the journey: “God will be with me and watch over me on this journey I am taking and will give me food to eat and clothes to wear so that I return safely to my father’s house.” But that’s okay. God wasn’t done with Jacob yet. Jacob’s first step was to respond, and he did so with awareness:
When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he thought, ‘Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it’. (Gen 28:16)
And then he was in awe and fearful:
He was afraid and said, ‘How awesome is this place!’ (Gen 28:17)
Jacob’s initial reaction of awareness and fear is reminiscent of Adam and Eve in the garden, when they became cognizant of their sin. Adam and Eve dealt with this new awareness by trying to cover up their shame. Jacob took a more positive approach by embracing this new mindfulness and the provision of God’s presence. He became aware not only of his own sin, but of God’s grace. He set up an alter and accepted God as his own. God was no longer just the God of Jacob’s father and grandfather; he was now Jacob’s God:
The Lord will be my God. (Gen 28:21b)
It is a wonderfully beautiful thing when we become aware of God’s grace, but so many of us choose to cover our shame and turn from God. If we instead choose to embrace God’s presence and provision we invite him in to mold and strengthen our character. If a lump of clay could feel it would probably hate the assault of the potter’s hands, but you can’t get to the finished vessel without it. Jacob’s initial response was to accept this experience as the water to his lump of clay, which then allowed God to mold him throughout the rest of his journey outside the borders of the promise land. When God meets you in this way, when you enter into relationship with him, you embark on a journey where your character is fine-tuned. This prepares you for relationship with others, which we will cover in depth next time when we discuss the second pillar of relationship: service. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Abigail Easton is the author of Prodigy and Heart of Grace. Download Prodigy or purchase the paperback at amzn.to/Nkf8pT Pre-order Heart of Grace at amzn.to/1utOC Click here to see the Prodigy book trailer.