One of my favorite lines of worship is to sing to the “God of Jacob”. It always puts me in my place before the Lord.
Jacob was the second-born twin of Rebecca and Isaac. From the moment he was born, he wasn’t satisfied with being second. Even though he was his mother’s favorite, he wasn’t satisfied. He took his brother’s birthright and stole his father’s blessing.
Even when he fled to his mother’s family he wasn’t happy with second best. He ended up working for fourteen years for his uncle Laban and marrying both of the man’s daughters to get the one he really loved. With two wives, a few children, and a prospering business, life should have been good. But Jacob’s success made his cousins jealous. So Jacob fled with his family and livestock back to his homeland.
If he were a man of this century, we’d probably call him a businessman. He knew what he wanted, and he went after it. His methods weren’t godly. He certainly lacked contentment, but God had plans for him. He’d be the one whose name God’s people would choose. They may be the sons and daughters of Abraham but they were the people ‘Israel’. And I always wondered why him? Why the one who just couldn’t accept his lot in life? Why would he be the one to be renamed ‘Israel’ and bear the sons that became the fathers of the twelve tribes? (and on the whole they weren’t much better).
I believe God chose Jacob precisely because we wouldn’t. If you read carefully through scripture, you will find God calls men out, not in their most devoted moments, but in His own timing. I can’t think of a single instance except for the prophecy about the birth of John the Baptist where a man was in the midst of worship when He was given a life altering call from God.
But back to Jacob. You see, he was in the midst of running from his brother when exhausted he fell asleep. And God gave him a vision of heaven in a dream. When Jacob woke, it wasn’t his brother that was first on his mind but God. He named the place Bethel and set up a memorial stone and poured oil over it to signify its holiness.
God intervened, but it didn’t change the man Jacob was. He didn’t become some devout man of God, but Jacob couldn’t deny God’s hand in his prosperity either. He matured over the next two decades but he was still a businessman. Finally he became too successful for the likes of his wives’ kinsmen and once again he ran away. This time he was stuck between the fear of his father-in-law and the fear of his brother.
He had nowhere to run and God came down and wrestled with him. It seems that moment comes in every life where we have to wrestle with God. It is Peniel, the place where we see God face to face. It is where we stop living for ourselves and start living for Him. And He changes our name. Jacob became Israel. But we don’t sing ‘Oh God of Israel’, We sing ‘Oh God of Jacob’ and rightly so. Because we have to acknowledge Him. We have to wrestle with Him until He breaks the strongest part of us.
Then our lives become vessels to Him. Then we start to do His will. We stop running and start reconciling. We stop fearing men and fear God. We don’t become perfect, but we become willing to be molded and shaped and used by God. Sometimes it costs us what we love the most. Jacob loses Rachel in childbirth at the gates of Bethlehem. He loses his favorite son Joseph because of the jealousy of his brothers. He loses his country to famine. But in the end God uses it all to create the nation of Israel.
So next time you say or sing ‘Oh God of Jacob’ remember you are calling upon the God who calls us not because we earned His affection but because He loves us and has a plan for us. The God who isn’t stumbled by our mistakes or our sin. The God who desires to use us anyway and in the process sanctify us.