Random Blog Clay Feet: April 29, 2008
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Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Jacob's False god

I read Isaiah 43 this morning listening for what God wanted to tell me. But as I read I noted that there was the familiar resistance embedded in my heart to really believing that these words apply to me personally. I want to believe them but I have to be honest and admit that there is yet a lot of unbelief inside of me discounting many things God wants to implant deep into my heart.

God is trying to answer my prayers to know my true identity. But then when He says things to show me my true identity I feel unable to receive them fully. That is what is going on as I read this chapter. It reminds me very much of Jacob (mentioned at the beginning of this chapter) who spent a great deal of his life grasping for a sense of value, desiring to be respected and loved but usually going about it the wrong way and ending up in deep relational troubles.

The poor guy – he started out with this reputation from before he was even born. He was found to be fighting with his brother inside of Rebekah's womb. His mother couldn't understand what all the commotion was about so she went to God and asked Him what was going on inside. God shared with her some insights as to the future relationships between her two sons as well as their future descendants. Unfortunately later on both her and Isaac allowed their personal preferences to aggravate the situation and caused a great deal of grief and pain for their whole family.

When Jacob was born he was still having it out with his brother. The Bible says that as Esau was being born Jacob was hanging on tightly to his ankle. He wouldn't even stop struggling long enough to allow his brother be born normally. The tension continued for the rest of their lives and can even be seen yet today in their descendants.

The name Jacob means supplanter and deceiver. How would I like to have a name like that? Talk about a weight to carry around emotionally all your life. With a name and reputation like that it is real hard to feel a sense of positive identity, of being valued by the family or by God. Jacob seemed to have the odds stacked against him from the very get-go and the story of his life demonstrates his life-long struggle to overcome this disadvantage.

But even though Jacob lived many years under the curse of a negative sense of identity, God had implanted a desire in his heart that he pursued, a desire to overcome this curse and discover something better for himself, his real destiny. To the outside world it appeared that he was messing up repeatedly and simply demonstrating the truth of his negative identity embedded in his name. But if one could see inside his heart, even past what he himself could see most of the time, it would be seen that he was really in pursuit of His parent's God and his Creator. What he craved was to replace this false sense of identity with the real truth about himself as seen from God's view. He wanted to feel respected, loved and valued instead of being a person who had to fight with others all the time to get what he needed.

Every time Jacob came to a crisis of identity he tried to figure it out for himself. Many times he resorted to sheer deception, which really was one of his supposed “natural” attributes ingrained in his flesh. Sometimes he would try religion and ask God to help him be successful. He would strike deals, try harder, get mad and be take advantage of. But all through the story one can sense a longing emanating from deep within for fulfillment and a better identity.

But it always appeared that the deck was somehow stacked against him. While his brother seemed to enjoy a wild sense of freedom and could seemingly do anything he set his mind to with abandon, Jacob's life seemed to be one comic tragedy after another. The harder he tried to make things work out right for him the worse things seemed to get in many ways. And always on the inside he was struggling to understand and make sense out of his distorted picture of God.

Why was it that his father could seemingly have such a straightforward, simple, confident relationship with his God while Jacob seemed to bumble from one crazy experience to the next? And while his brother could hardly care less about God while Jacob had an unusually sensitive heart that attracted the sympathy of his mother, his father Isaac always seemed to favor Esau over Jacob. This only added to the confusion in his heart. Isaac seemed enthralled with the wild spirit and adventurous escapades of his reckless and irreligious brother Esau while Jacob increasingly yearned for the blessing of his father that he so much needed but seemed so far away. And all of this in the face of the prophecy given to his mother before their birth that the older would serve the younger. That only seemed to add fuel to the fire.

Jacob inherently knew that he needed a blessing from his dad like every man needs it. He felt shamed and worthless when compared to the bold and macho accomplishments of his obviously masculine, tough brother. How much worse could a person feel? His brother only aggravated the tension by playing up their differences and basking in the favors of their father. Jacob became jealous, fearful and desperate and his mother shared to much in his perspective. As the years of his youth passed, Jacob felt the pain of rejection and fear and worthlessness deepen. He turned to his growing skills of manipulation, enhanced by the shared feelings of his mother who allowed her sympathy for him to separate her somewhat from her husband. The family became divided and the tensions continued to mount. But inside his heart Jacob yearned ever more intensely for that coveted blessing that would impart to him a valuable identity, and he yearned for it with a passionate hunger as intense as the instinct for life itself.

Jacob spent most of his life striving, working, manipulating, cutting deals in his attempt to find his real identity. But time after time, relationship after relationship, he was met with frustration, shame and deceit. As he tried to manipulate others he found himself manipulated. As he attempted to use deceit to get what he needed he was caught in others deceptions. He made bargains with God and with men only to have them come unraveled or circumvented. And by the time he found himself running away from his uncle with a house full of dysfunctional wives and crying children, facing the wrath of a powerful brother who could not let go of his grudge from Jacob's conniving tricks from their youth, Jacob felt he was at the very end of his rope. He had exhausted all of the tricks he could pull out of his bag. He had tried God, tried psychology, tried every means possible to look out for his interests, but inside his heart he was still an empty little boy yearning for the blessing that would impart a positive destiny and identity to him. He craved a dad's affirmation and approval but could never be good enough to earn it. And even though he had stolen what was supposed to be his father's blessing right out from under the nose of his profligate brother, he still could not feel the effects in his heart of that blessing that he wanted more than anything else.

Now he found himself facing all the results of all his messed-up attempts to establish his identity, all coalescing on him at the same time. His brother was coming to get even and potentially kill him. His uncle who could never be trusted and had tricked him out of one of the greatest desires of his heart, the father of his two wives (which was due to his uncle's trickery against him) was not far away after an ugly confrontation. His family was terrified of the mess Jacob had gotten them into, his children were fighting, whining and crying and Jacob's heart was still screaming out for something he just couldn't secure for himself. How much worse could it get?

Jacob had lived his whole life with a skewed picture of God just like I have. He had assumed like most people that he had to earn God's favor, respect and love. Like every male created by God, his greatest need was to feel respected and honored by others, but that was the least that he had ever accomplished. And like every human being he wanted to know that someone valued him, cared about him and believed in him even when the chips were down. But by this time in his life he had tried everything and absolutely nothing had worked out as he wanted it to. His conscience had tormented him for many years, his mind was exhausted trying to come up with yet another workable solution and his heart was amping up the decibels until he could hardly think of anything else.

Why did he still crave the blessing when supposedly he had gotten what he wanted from his father many years ago? Why was his brother so angry about that fiasco when Esau had ended up with all the material possessions of the family anyway? What did Esau care about the spiritual birthright that was part of the blessing? He didn't even care about God and was bold in flaunting a lifestyle in opposition to God's instructions.

Why was everything collapsing in Jacob's life all at the same time? Where was God right now anyway? Was that ladder that he had seen in his dream years ago now broken and out of commission? Had God failed him too? Was it his time to throw in the towel and give up the fight and surrender to death? A sense of immense hopelessness likely filled his mind as he begin to make preparations for the end.

He mentally prepared a list and made instructions to his family and servants to implement tactics to minimize the damage that was likely about to occur. He split up his family into groups and sent them off in different directions based on his own favoritism and preferences in hopes of avoiding losing all of them. He did the best he could to prepare the externals for the worst and then went off alone in the dark to find out where God might be hiding. It was his last, desperate attempt to reach out to God in hopes that God's faithfulness would be more reliable than his own.

Jacob's image of God in his mind and heart was reflective of the beliefs and choices that he had made throughout his own life. His mind believed that one had to earn the love and blessing of God just like he had been treated by his own father. And since Jacob could never even approximate the abilities and charisma that his brother possessed with their father he could never attract the heart attentions of his dad to fill the deep emptiness that haunted his own heart. And this same tension and distance between himself and his dad seemed to parallel how he was sure God felt about him. Everything he had tried to do to earn God' approbation had come apart and now it looked like there would be no more chances. This was likely the last night he would be alive and the last chance to get whatever it was that his heart could not rest without. He wanted a blessing, he needed a better identity, he craved a sense of belonging and value that he had never felt and he wanted it desperately.

As he stumbled through the dark agonizing in fear, in confusion, in loneliness and regret, in longing for someone to love him and just be with him, he suddenly felt arms wrapping themselves around him something like an embrace. Startled, his mind recoiled in terror and alarm and he instantly whirled around in a stance of defensiveness. All of his senses, muscles and emotions came to full alert and he launched himself into the fight of his life. He had no idea who this person was or what their intentions were but he was not about to let them take him out without a fight. He was surprised that he had even allowed them to sneak up on him like this. Why had he let his emotions become so distracting that he had not watched his back more carefully? Once again he had failed to protect himself and this time he threw everything he had into the battle.

If this “enemy” thought Jacob was a wimp he would find out very differently. Maybe it was Esau coming up with a surprise gorilla attack in the dark to get revenge. He assumed Esau still viewed him as the sniveling, weakling little brother who couldn't stand up for himself and was too chicken to fight like a man. Well, if that was the case then Esau would find out what all the years of hard work had done for Jacob's muscles. Jacob was toned and fit and had become a man's man now. He would show this intruder that he had learned to fight and was not afraid to show his stuff. And so the fight was on.

Being a very dark night Jacob could never get a glimpse of who this attacker was. While his emotions of fear pumped his body full of adrenaline and his mind moved quickly to come up with wrestling moves to outsmart this person, his heart was still screaming out in the background with desperation for the recognition and love that it wanted. But his external danger precluded taking time to pray and feel sorry for himself and he battled on all through the night. This guy was tough though, and Jacob seemed to make no headway in tiring him or out-maneuvering him. While Jacob tried every tactic of fighting known to him this stranger seemed to almost enjoy himself while tangling with Jacob's strong body. Something was very strange about this fight. This stranger was not fighting like anyone Jacob had ever encountered. He seemed to ignore Jacob's missteps and vulnerable moves that would have given a normal aggressor opportunity for advantage. And he seemed to be almost choosing to measure his strength to Jacob's and there was something else happening that was extremely strange.

All through the night as they wrestled, rolling around in the dirt and breathing in gasps and grunts, it seemed to Jacob that his heart was somehow dialogging with someone in a parallel fight to something similar with the external fight going on. He could almost hear internally a voice speaking to the assumptions in his soul and his heart arguing back. The inner fight was just as intense as the outer one and by morning Jacob was covered with sweat, dirt and blood while his inner fight was taking on a perspective of its own. Suddenly the two struggles merged into one as the faint light of dawn threatened to reveal the face of this stranger that intrigued Jacob's curiosity so much. With one simple light touch of His finger the Stranger dislocated Jacob's hip and suddenly Jacob's dislocated heart knew that this was God Himself that he was trying to man-handle.

But what Jacob later came to realize was that the real fight going on that night was Jacob's fight against the false picture of God in his heart and mind. He was rebelling against his perception of God as one who based His love on a person's performance that Jacob could never achieve. It was a fight against a god who refused to bless Jacob until he could get his act together and prove himself to be a real man worthy of God. It was a fight against a god who seemingly held grudges like his brother and threatened punishments for past mistakes. Jacob was fighting against a god that he could not bring himself to believe would forgive him, would bless him, would honor him and value him even though his heart craved all those things.

Jacob didn't realize that night that the real God of his fathers, the God that they had learned to know and appreciate, had come to give Jacob a hug and reveal His love and Jacob's value to him. He hadn't realized that God had not come to attack him but had come to be with him in his fear, his shame and his danger. God had come to him to fill that deep and intense, aching void in his heart that had increased over the years. God had come to personally impart to Jacob the blessing that his father had failed to relay so many years ago. God had come to become Jacob's real father but Jacob had reacted in fear due to his false image of God and so God had allowed him to fight it out all night long to exhaust all his attempts to earn love and respect. When Jacob was completely finished with his attempts to impress God, then God was ready and eager to be Jacob's father and impart the blessing, value and identity that Jacob wanted the most.

When Jacob realized who this was, his heart latched onto his God physically and emotionally with more tenacity than he had fought with throughout the whole night. Even with the pain of a freshly dislocated hip, Jacob knew it would be better to die than to lose this chance to receive the blessing he so deeply craved. As his false picture of God began to evaporate in the light of dawn and the Messenger pleaded to get away, Jacob refused to let Him leave without first giving him The Blessing. This was the chance of a lifetime and Jacob was not going to blow it again. He suddenly saw that the real God was one full of mercy and compassion and love, not a God who demanded performance and self-effort to receive His recognition. In the light of this fresh revelation of God he threw himself on the newly discovered mercy of his God and begged for a new identity. And that is exactly what he received.

Then the man said, "Let me go, for it is daybreak." But Jacob replied, "I will not let you go unless you bless me." The man asked him, "What is your name?" "Jacob," he answered. Then the man said, "Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with men and have overcome." Jacob said, "Please tell me your name." But he replied, "Why do you ask my name?" Then he blessed him there. (Genesis 32:26-29 NIV)

(rest of story)