For the week of December 9, 2006 / 18 Kislev 5767
Torah: Bereshit / Genesis 32:4 - 36:43
Haftarah: Hosea 11:7 - 12:12


Facing the Impossible

In great fear and distress Jacob divided the people who were with him into two groups, and the flocks and herds and camels as well. (Bereshit / Genesis 32:7)

This week's Torah portion contains Jacob's prayer of distress. Taking a close look at this prayer will help us to better express our needs to God. The passage begins with a description of Jacob's emotional state:

In great fear and distress Jacob divided the people who were with him into two groups, and the flocks and herds and camels as well. He thought, "If Esau comes and attacks one group, the group that is left may escape." (7,8).

Jacob was very scared. Here is a man who has always been able to take care of himself, but now he was in great distress. It is too bad that, for some, it takes being in an apparently impossible situation before we call out to God. Still, some lessons are worth learning no matter how we learn them.

The first thing Jacob does is attempt to do whatever he can to minimize his losses in case his worst fears are realized, and his brother attacks him and his entourage. Doing what we can to help ourselves is not a bad thing necessarily. But note, Jacob's plan does nothing to alleviate his fears.

So he prays.

Then Jacob prayed, "O God of my father Abraham, God of my father Isaac, O LORD, (9)

That he prays at all is an important first step. For many to express a need like this is a big deal, since it is so difficult to admit weakness. While praying should be the easiest thing in the world to do, doing so for the first time for some of us may be one of the hardest things we may ever do.

Jacob prayed. He didn't wish. He didn't think. He prayed. Praying is not something done with the mind and heart only. It includes the mouth. Jacob was talking to God.

When he prays he doesn't address God as "my God," but rather as the God of his father and grandfather. This shows us where he was at in his relationship to God. No hypocrisy here. He knew he was not in right relationship with God, but that didn't stop him from asking God for help. You don't need to wait to get right with God before praying.

Jacob then recounts that it was God who led him into this situation:

who said to me, 'Go back to your country and your relatives, and I will make you prosper (9)

By mentioning God's prior communication, he is both acknowledging the reality of God in his life and expressing that God is the initiator of his circumstances. This is not blame as much as it is putting things in proper perspective. God is involved in our lives whether we acknowledge it or not. It would do us well to acknowledge his presence sooner than later.

Then Jacob expresses humility:

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. (10)

While this may appear to be simply a form of address to a kingly figure, he means it. He realizes that the blessings that he received had actually come from God and that he doesn't deserve them. He realizes that even though he strove so hard to be successful, it was actually God who provided for him.

Then he comes to his request, admitting his fear and asking God to save him. Being honest with God is key to effectively communicating with him.

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. (11)

His prayer ends with a most important statement:

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.' " (12)

God had promised Jacob that he would bring him back safely to the land of his birth, yet by doing what God wanted, he found himself in a most dangerous situation. The situation appeared to contradict what God had promised him years before. But instead of neglecting what God had promised, it spurs him on to confront God with God's own words.

Yeshua taught his followers to pray, "Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven" (Matthew 6:10). Knowing that God's will is not always done on earth, we need to confront the way things are, so that they will be what they should be. This begins with prayer. This is what Jacob did, whether he realized the process or not.

We should not be surprised by the impossible situations we find ourselves in. For it is God who leads us into these things, so that we would seek him in order that his will would be accomplished. These impossible things might be in our hearts or in our circumstances or both, which seems to be the case with Jacob. But whatever is going on, don't be surprised when God brings you to the end of yourself just so that you will truly seek him.

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