For the week of November 28, 2009 / 11 Kislev 5770
Torah: Bereshit / Genesis 28:10 - 32:3
Haftarah: Hosea 12:13 - 14:10
Acknowledgment vs. Faith
Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, "Surely the LORD is in this place, and I did not know it." And he was afraid and said, "How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven." (Bereshit / Genesis 28:16,17; ESV)
Jacob's understanding of and relationship with God is fascinating. These days we tend to equate acknowledging God's existence with believing in him. In Jacob's case, he seemed to fully accept the reality of God's existence but didn't really believe in him. Believing in God is not the same as simply believing that he exists. Believing in him means to trust in him. It would be many years before Jacob came to trust in God.
The context of the verse I read is the beginning of Jacob's journey to Mesopotamia, the land of his relatives. His primary reason for this journey was to escape the wrath of his twin brother, Esau. As he set out, he spent the night in the place he would name "Beth-El" (the House of God). It was there that he dreamt he saw a ladder that reached heaven with the angels of God going up and down on it. In the dream God spoke to him, giving to him the promises he originally had given to his grandfather, Abraham. Jacob's response upon awakening was that if God looked after him, then upon his return, in his words, "then the Lord shall be my God" (Bereshit / Genesis 28:21). So we see here that Jacob clearly acknowledged God's existence without trusting him.
Jacob's reaction to God's appearance had nothing to do with the question of God's existence. Rather Jacob said, "Surely the LORD is in this place, and I did not know it." What surprised him was that God was there without him realizing it. This sounds as if he thought that God was in Beth-El in a way that he wasn't in other places. Perhaps this is an indication of a lack in Jacob's understanding of God. He didn't know as yet that the God of his father and grandfather was the Master of the Universe and that there was no place where God's presence was not.
That God would appear to Jacob at all didn't seem to faze him. One might think that this experience would motivate him into a life of utter devotion to God, but it didn't. He was just surprised that God was there and he didn't know it.
I wonder if we realize how present God really is. There's a wonderful story in the second book of Melachim (Kings), chapter six, where the army of Syria was surrounding the city where the prophet Elisha was. When Elisha's assistant anxiously reported this to him, Elisha prayed that his assistant would see with his physical eyes the heavenly power that was with them. Elisha was aware of this, while his assistant was not. I cannot say that God's help is with his people to this extent at all times, but certainly God is present and at work everywhere in so many ways that we are not aware of.
How often is the presence of God with us and, like Jacob, we don't know it? If God would open our eyes like Elisha's assistant would we not be surprised to see the heavenly reality that surrounds us? Unlike Jacob we claim to trust in the God who is everywhere, yet we think we are alone. We may not say that God is not with us, but how often do we act as if he is far, far away? Perhaps we don't believe in him as much as we think we do.
We may be more like Jacob than we are willing to admit in that we readily acknowledge God's existence without actually trusting him. We should stop confusing acknowledging his existence with true faith. Accepting God's existence is an essential starting point, but we need to let him take us much deeper - to the place of trust he took Jacob. That's what we will look at next week.
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