For the week of December 17, 2005 / 16 Kislev 5766
Torah: Bereshit / Genesis 32:4 - 36:43
Haftarah: Hosea 11:7 - 12:12 (English: 11:7 - 12:11)
The Tension of Faith
Then Jacob prayed, "O God of my father Abraham, God of my father Isaac, O LORD, who said to me, 'Go back to your country and your relatives, and I will make you prosper,' I am unworthy of all the kindness and faithfulness you have shown your servant. I had only my staff when I crossed this Jordan, but now I have become two groups. Save me, I pray, from the hand of my brother Esau, for I am afraid he will come and attack me, and also the mothers with their children. But you have said, 'I will surely make you prosper and will make your descendants like the sand of the sea, which cannot be counted.' " (Bereshit / Genesis 32:9-12)
Jacob had a God-given destiny, yet it was many years before he came to a right understanding of God. He spent much of his life successfully striving for the things he wanted. God was actually both pursuing him and caring for him, yet he did not fully reckon with God's reality until facing the crisis which prompted his prayer above.
Years earlier when his twin brother, Esau, vowed to murder Jacob because of his deceptive tactics, Jacob ran off to the land of their ancestors and lived there for 21 years. During that time he had a family and became quite wealthy working for Laban, who was both his uncle and father-in-law. Jacob managed to get the upper hand over Laban and his finagling. God eventually spoke to Jacob, telling him to return to Canaan, the land of his birth. On his way, word came to him that Esau was coming to meet him along with four hundred men.
Facing that which prompted Jacob to leave in the first place, terrified Jacob. For the first time in his life he could not think of how he could overcome his situation. So he prayed. This is the first time we read of Jacob praying to God. Like many of us, it is not until we find ourselves in the most hopeless of situations that we turn to God.
Maybe you find it strange that a man of Jacob's heritage (he was the son of Isaac and the grandson of Abraham), and spiritual experience (God had appeared and spoken to him on more than one occasion), would be so typical. Most of us would assume that Jacob's heritage and experience would automatically make him a spiritual person, but it doesn't. Having a right relationship with God is a very personal thing. While his heritage and experience would greatly influence him, Jacob would still need to deal with the reality of God for himself, which is what is happening here.
Jacob's prayer is an example of what faith really is. While Jacob had not yet reckoned with God, he was aware of God's promise to him. He knew God had told him, "I will surely make you prosper and will make your descendants like the sand of the sea, which cannot be counted." Yet he was facing his greatest fear: the wrath of his brother Esau. Jacob was caught between two supposed realities: his promised destiny and his current predicament. God had said one thing, but his circumstances were shouting another.
As this contradiction churned in his heart and mind, he turned to God. Realizing he himself was powerless to resolve his predicament, he cried out to God to save him. But this was not just a cry of a man in trouble, it was the cry of one who possessed promises from God, promises whose fulfillment were being threatened.
It was soon afterwards that Jacob met God in a most dramatic and life changing way. God came to him in human form and wrestled with him. True to Jacob's character, he held on to God even through injury until God blessed him.
This encounter is similar to his prayer in that it illustrates the essence of faith. Faith is our bridge between seemingly conflicting realities. When we encounter God we are exposed to heaven's version of life. This perspective very often appears contrary to what our daily circumstances try to tell us. Those who are sensitive to this conflict find various ways to cope with it. We might deny the conflict by pretending it is not there. We might choose to run away from it, which is what Jacob had originally done. We might compartmentalize our lives by relegating to each realm what we think are the different aspects of life.
True faith is what Jacob finally expressed in his prayer. It is when we face the reality of our circumstances, while at the same time holding on to God's promises. It is in the midst of that tension that we most often meet God.
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