We continue our excursion into the dynamics of the life of the man popularly known as Jacob. If you’ll recall, last week we caught up with him at a place called Padam Aram, or the field of Aram.
Syria essentially. Padam Aram was a place of roots for Jacob. He had historical roots there stretching back hundreds of years. And he had prospered there, working as a semi autonomous entrepreneur under his uncle Laban.
God had instructed him to leave Padam Aram for a place formerly known as Luz but now named Bethel. “And God said to Jacob, Arise, go up to Bethel and dwell there and make there an altar to God Who appeared to you in a distinct manifestation when you fled from Esau your brother.” Genesis 35:1. If you recall history, Jacob through deception had stolen his brother’s blessing. Esau swore to kill him in consequence. Our focus this morning is not to unearth the dirty dealing of Jacob or the vengeful plan of Esau.
Our focus is the relay instruction of Jacob to his family. Genesis 35:2-3: “Then Jacob said to his household and to all who were with him: Put away the images of strange gods that are among you, and purify yourselves and change into fresh garments. Then let us arise and go up to Bethel, and I will make there an altar to God Who answered me in the day of my distress and was with me wherever I went.” We must put away the “strange gods” in our lives. A strange god is whatever we substitute God for, that which we worship instead of the true God. That which we look up to for sustenance, and protection. That which we trust instead of God. That is a “strange god.” A “strange god” may therefore be human – say a benefactor; it can be money; it can be power; it can be self. As long as we substitute it for God, put our trust in it, it’s a strange god. We must not be involved in neo idolatry. This is what the Bible says: “So kill, deaden, deprive of power, the evil desire lurking in your members, those animal impulses and all that is earthly in you that is employed in sin: sexual vice, impurity, sensual appetites, unholy desires and all greed and covetousness, for that is idolatry- the deifying of self and other created things instead of God” Colossians 3:5.
Neo idolatry is the deifying of self and other created things instead of God. Jacob told his household to sanctify and purify themselves, to change into new garments. Likewise we must “strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us.” Hebrews 12:1 “Put away and rid yourselves completely of all these things: anger, rage, bad feeling toward others, curses and slander, foulmouthed abuse and shameful utterances from your lips! Don’t lie to one another. You’re done with that old life. It’s like a filthy set of ill-fitting clothes you’ve stripped off and put in the fire. Now you’re dressed in a new wardrobe. Every item of your new way of life is custom-made by the Creator, with his label on it. All the old fashions are now obsolete” Colossians 3:8-11 MSG.
Jacob spoke of a God “who answered me in the day of my distress and was with me wherever I went.” In the life of every man there is a “day of distress” – a season of trial, a time of trouble. In those moments we must “rejoice in hope; be steadfast and patient in suffering; be constant in prayer” Romans 12:12. Our consolation is 1 Peter 5:10 – “The suffering won’t last forever. It won’t be long before this generous God will have you put together and on your feet for good.” My prayer is that the Lord will “make you perfect, establish, strengthen and settle you.”
The problem with human memory is that it suffers from bouts of amnesia. We tend to forget the mercies of God, even for mercies as fresh as yesterday. But Jacob refused to forget. He spoke of the God “who answered me when I was in trouble and has stuck with me everywhere I’ve gone since.” In going to Bethel to build a memorial to God in commemoration of mercies, he was consonant with the Psalmist: “Let all that I am praise the Lord; may I never forget the good things he does for me” Psalms 103:2 NLT. And the Psalmist enjoins us to particulate: “Forget NOT ONE of all His benefits” he admonished. The Psalmist then gives us a list of categories: “Who forgives EVERY ONE of all your iniquities, Who heals EACH ONE of all your diseases, Who redeems your life from the pit and corruption, Who beautifies, dignifies, and crowns you with loving-kindness and tender mercy, Who satisfies your mouth (your necessity and desire at your personal age and situation) with good” Psalm 103:2-5. With this the Psalmist shatters our theology. God is not just interested in supplying our NEEDS, our DESIRES too! And his supplies are not just age appropriate; they are based on our situation and context! Custom!
This same God promised never to leave or forsake us, especially in our troubles. God is not a fair weather friend. “I’ll never let you down, never walk off and leave you” Hebrews 13:5 MSG. “For God Himself has said, I will not in any way fail you nor give you up nor leave you without support… I will not, I will not, I will not in any degree leave you helpless nor forsake nor let you down. Assuredly not!” Hebrews 13:5 AMP. In this passage we see God staking the metrics of his Trinitarian divinity on a promise to us. Three times he repeated “I will not, I will not, I will not” (in any degree leave you helpless, nor let you down). In essence God became a notary public to himself, swearing an oath by the fullness of himself to himself by himself. What more assurances can we ever need! If that oath fails, God cannot be God!
God is with you in whatever situation you are in right now. That you don’t see him doesn’t make his word untrue. That you don’t “feel” God is with you doesn’t make him a liar. You don’t “feel” God; you trust his word!