For the week of November 20, 2004 / 7 Kislev 5765
Torah: Bereshit / Genesis 28:10 - 32:3
Haftarah: Hosea 12:13 - 14:10 (English: 12:12 14:9)

Testing God

Then Jacob made a vow, saying, "If God will be with me and will 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, then the LORD will be my God" (Bereshit / Genesis 28:20,21).

This week's portion begins with Jacob's journey to his mother's household in far away Mesopotamia. He is running away from his twin brother Esau, who was waiting for the opportune time to murder him, due to Jacob's deceitful and successful scheme to steal away from their father the blessing of the first born, which by right belonged to Esau.

That was not the first time that Jacob strove after Esau's place in the family. In fact this striving began in their mother's womb (Bereshit / Genesis 21:22), was illustrated through how Jacob was clutching at Esau's heel at birth, which is how Jacob got his name (25:26), and was evident in his purchasing of Esau's birthright for a bowl of stew (25:29-34).

Getting what he wanted no matter what it took was a way of life for Jacob. This is seen later in his business dealings with his uncle, and years after that when it all comes to a head in his encounter with God as he anticipated his reunion with his brother.

Jacob's approach to life is also evident in an earlier recorded encounter with God that prompted his vow quoted above. Jacob was a person who took nothing for granted. He knew what he wanted and strove after it. He didn't seem to be aware of the fact that God has already decided to give him many of the things that he desired. I don't know if his parents ever told him what God had said, or if he didn't believe what they told him. What he knew prior to this encounter we don't know, but it is clear that he did not fully accept what God said to him.

Note that he has no doubt that it was indeed God who had spoken to him:

When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he thought, "Surely the LORD is in this place, and I was not aware of it." He was afraid and said, "How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven" (28:16,17).

Yet this clear revelation was not sufficient for Jacob to enter into the kind of relationship with God that both his father, Isaac and his grandfather Abraham had. As quoted above, he vowed that if God was true to his word to bring him safely back to Canaan, then God would be his God.

It might be strange to think that someone could truly believe in the reality of God and not be in right relationship with him. But, in fact, this is far more common that we would care to admit. Many people believe that God exists, while at the same time they neglect to follow him. It is too bad that we tend to lump all so-called believers together by accepting simple acknowledgements of God as true faith.

Knowing God is more than accepting his existence, appreciating his attributes, and engaging in spiritual activities such as worship, prayer, and good deeds. Jacob understood that. He was no atheist or agnostic. Though being a self seeking deceptive striver, there was something very real about him. He didn't pretend to be a follower of God. When God himself spoke to him Jacob didn't pretend to have confidence in God when he didn't. But what he did do was promise that if God would really do what he said he would do, then Jacob in turn would give himself wholeheartedly to God.

I wonder how many people claim faith in God without ever really testing his reality. I am not referring to cynical challenges from those who have no real desire to know him. I am not suggesting we ask God to bend spoons, send lightening or to perform other kinds of carnival-like spectacular displays to prove himself. What I do mean is that maybe we should be a little more like Jacob.

If you are uncertain about who God is, then ask him. He is not trying to hide himself from you. If he answers prayer at all, then certainly that is a prayer he will answer. As he reveals himself, respond with an honest heart. Don't pretend to believe him when you don't. Grapple with what he is saying, until it becomes real to you. Then as he and his word become real, live as if it is real. Only then will he truly be your God.

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