September 1, 2017
READ: Gen. 28:10-22, 35:9-14
God blessed him, saying, “Your name is Jacob, but you will not be called Jacob any longer. From now on your name will be Israel.” So God renamed him Israel (35:9-10).
“Fear is not a Christian habit of mind,” the novelist Marilynne Robinson has remarked. Yet fear is one of the most powerful and consistent forces in human behaviour. Even outward obedience can be driven more by fear than love. What does it even mean, we might wonder, to live without being motivated by fear?
The story of Jacob can help point the way. When I read his story, I see a person who seems driven by fear. He’s so afraid of missing God’s blessing that he’s willing to do almost anything to obtain it—even if it means tricking his feeble, elderly father (Genesis 27:27-41). But throughout Jacob’s story, God points him to a different reality—one where he is loved by God and chosen for a purpose.
When God first reveals His promises to him at Bethel (28:10-15), Jacob wonders if it’s too good to be true. “If God will indeed be with me,” he says, he would serve Him and make Bethel a place of worship (vv.20-22). And God was with him, though Jacob struggled to believe it. Later, when he’s on the road again, fearing for his life from his brother Esau (32:3-5), God appears to him in the form of a stranger. Jacob, still desperate for a blessing, wrestles with Him all night (vv.26-30). At the end of their struggle, God blesses him—this time changing his name from Jacob (“deceiver”) to “Israel”—which probably means “wrestles with God”.
Through a long and difficult struggle, God taught Jacob to bring his fears to Him, to wrestle with Him and cling to His promises. And it seems Jacob finally ‘got it’, returning to Bethel once more to obey his promise to worship God there (35:6-7). There God reminded Jacob who he really was—not a trickster, but someone who’d learned to wrestle with and follow God (v.10).
365-day-plan: Mark 11:20-33
Read 1 John 4:9-19 to see the relationship between fear and love.
In what ways does fear motivate your life and your beliefs about who you are? What fears might you need to wrestle through with God?