It’s hard to beat Jacob’s relationship with Yahweh. The beloved of God’s heart from the womb, Jacob actually wrestled with the Father; something that would not happen again for two thousand years; until the coming of Jesus allowed his disciples to playfully wrestle their rabbi to the ground.
But Jacob was different. Having captured the deepest places of the LORD’S heart, Jacob refused to let go of God until he had won a blessing. And when he overcame God by his strength, God not only blessed Jacob, but gave him a new name, Israel: the man who wrestles with God.
Most importantly, the LORD promised Jacob that He would be with him, wherever he went.
“I am Yahweh, the God of Abraham your father, and the God of Isaac: the land whereon thou liest, to you will I give it, and to your seed;… and in you and in your seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed. And, behold, I am with you, and will keep you in all places where you go, and will bring you again into this land; for I will not leave you, until I have done that which I have promised you.”
But how things changed! As Jacob walked through life, there were many tragic events. He had to flee his home to escape the murderous Esau. Rachel, the love of Jacob’s life, was barren for much of their marriage. Rachel kept secret idols, and Jacob watched her die in childbirth with their second son, Benjamin. Later, Rachel’s firstborn, Joseph, would apparently be eaten alive by wild animals.
Jacob, the beloved of God’s soul, the man who wrestled face to face with Yahweh, finally came to a place where he no longer trusted God. When told by Judah that Benjamin would have to go with him into Pharaoh’s court, in order to win Simeon’s release, Jacob refused to go; telling Judah he could not bring himself to return to Egypt, “lest something worse befall me.” The only way that God was able to get Jacob to continue was to afflict him with a fierce famine.
In the book of Ruth, we find a Jewish woman, Naomi, who faithfully followed her husband into Moab. Soon thereafter, her two sons married demon-worshipping Moabites and, within a short time, both her husband and sons were dead. Alone, in an enemy nation, Naomi looked at her future and saw nothing but loneliness and poverty. In response, Naomi declared she had been abandoned by the LORD and changed her name to Mara, which means bitter.
But God has thrown down a gauntlet. “Be not afraid,” Yahweh pleads, “for I am with you. Be not dismayed, for I am your God.”
In the face of bitter experience, we have only God’s promise to turn to. He declares that we are safely in His hands. In fact, The LORD tells us that our names are carved into those same hands. These are the hands that our enemies pierced with nails, hands that were surrendered so that our future would be eternally secure.
Not only did a living Joseph await Jacob on his arrival at Pharaoh’s court, but the redemption of Judah’s heart lay within that journey. The man who conspired to kill his brother Joseph, sold him into slavery, and broke his father’s heart, became the man who agreed to take Benjamin’s place as a slave for the rest of his life, in order to protect his father’s fragile heart. Although many in the story sought evil, Yahweh had designed it, from the beginning, for his children’s’ good.
Naomi had a heritage, not only of a grandchild, but of an offspring whose life saved all of Israel and gave life to billions.
So what do we do with a Father who commands the Egyptians to attack His own people, with their backs to the Red Sea? A Father who tells his children not to fear, but to stand still and see the salvation of their God; even as their enemies thirst for their blood? Wouldn’t it have been easier, and a lot less troubling, if Yahweh had simply left the Pharaoh alone, defeated and mourning in Egypt, as He opened the Red Sea before His triumphant people?
Why not give Jacob a life of rest and relaxation? Why not let Naomi marry a nice Jewish guy who stays in Israel, bearing sons who marry nice Jewish girls? Doesn’t this story make far more sense, since Naomi was called to produce both King David and Jesus?
God says that He gives beauty for ashes. But He also declares, “My ways are not your ways, and my thoughts are higher than your thoughts.” Maybe the price of beauty is ashes.
Perhaps it requires trials and tribulations to take the life of God and knead it deeply into our souls. Maybe these heartbreaks, unbelievably, produce hope. Could it be that the torments of life are the very things that squeeze the love of God into every crack and crevasse of our hearts? Could it be that God produces ashes, at times, so that we possess the currency to receive beauty at His hand?
Jacob and Naomi, their hearts broken and redemption unimaginable, stopped dead in their tracks. It seemed as if the road had ended, that the story was over. But the dry bones that had become their lives would take on flesh and rise again. The Spirit of God would come from the four winds and bring a new kind of life. Resurrection life, the kind of life that only comes from death.
HaShem declares, “O the depth of the riches, both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!
34 For who hath known the mind of the Lord? Or who hath been his counsellor?
35 Or who hath first given to him, that it shall be recompensed unto him again?
36 For from him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory forever.”
When we encounter the inexplicable, the hardships and sorrows of life, we must remember we are part of a larger story, that the way of redemption is a path never taken before. It is not always possible to see, or even to take, the next step.
The Exodus is celebrated as a great deliverance for Israel, but after more than one million Jewish adults followed God out of Egypt into the desert, only two entered the promised land. The rest, to a man, died in the desert. And yet, God promises, “All Israel will be saved.”
What we know is this: “Those who sow in tears shall reap in joy. And he that goes forth weeping, bearing precious seed, will doubtless come again, with rejoicing, bringing with him his sheaves.”
Yes, all Israel will be saved, in every way that it is possible to be saved. And so shall each of God’s children be saved, if we wait on our God; at times doing nothing but standing still in a desert, with the oncoming enemy raging against us; watching in hope for the salvation of our God.