Tuesday, January 18, 2011

How Powerful is a Promise?

Reading: Genesis 31—34  
Biblical faith is about where we turn with our fears! When Jacob left the land of promise and went to Haran in order to avoid the fury of his brother Esau, and to find a wife, he had a promise. It was a promise of grace (Genesis 28:3-4). Unlike the blessing given to Adam and Noah, “be fruitful and multiply” (Genesis 1:28; 9:1), this was the blessing given to Abraham, “God will bless you and make you fruitful and increase your numbers...” (see Genesis 12:1-3; 17:2, 6).
This is a promise of grace because God is the decisive character. He will bless, He will make Jacob fruitful and increase his numbers. He is the one who will establish the covenant! Thank God it is on God and not Jacob. If it rested on Jacob to make it happen it would have been as unsuccessful as Adam's accomplishments.
In Genesis 31—34 we discover that the God who promised was also present and powerful. When Jacob left the promise land to go, he was told, “I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go...” (Genesis 28:15). Genesis 31 begins with God now sending Jacob back to the land. And what do we find? He needs to know that same truth now, just as much as he did then.
Then the LORD said to Jacob, “Go back to the land of your fathers and to your relatives, and I will be with you.”
When Jacob left the land, he was fearful as he fled Esau, whom he feared, and fled to the unknown. He left the land, he left his parents, he left all that was familiar and went to a strange land with strange gods, and with only a promise. He had plenty of reasons to be afraid. He needed to know God would be with him. Now, twenty years later, God is telling him to return. Now he has to face the fear of Esau, the one who was bent on killing him. So God reminds Jacob why he need not fear. “I will be with you.”
God's presence matters when we are afraid. Knowing His promise, and knowing His presence are vital when we face our fears. Living in a fallen world, we are going to have fears. Biblical faith is about where we turn with our fears. Do we turn to what others can do for us? Do we try to implement the philosophies of the world? Do we look to credit cards and money to rescue us? Is it the government's job (either to provide our needs, or our freedom)? Or, do we turn to the Living God who has promised to be with us and promised he will bless us and make us fruitful? What do we trust in when we are afraid? Scripture repeatedly calls us, in differing words, to “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:7)
The God who promises, and is present, is also powerful. We see that in this reading in a few ways. First, God had prospered Jacob even though Laban repeatedly deceived him and tried to cheat him. In chapter 31, we see a contrast between the power of Laban's idols, and the God of Abraham, the fear of Isaac. The God of Abraham was with Jacob, and saw his hardship, and his hard work, and even rebuked Laban when he was in pursuit of Jacob (Genesis 31:42). In contrast, the idols of Laban were not only powerless to prevent Jacob from obtaining the wealth of Laban, they were powerless to keep themselves from being taken, and powerless to reveal to Laban that they were right in the room under his daughter's seat!
Now Jacob isn't really a picture of faith and trust. But that's okay, remember how grace works. It isn't Jacob's faith that will win the day, it is God's grace. So when Jacob approaches the promise land we read, “In great fear and distress Jacob divided the people who were with him into two groups, and the flocks and herds and camels as well.” (Genesis 32:7) But, faith isn't about our strength, it is about our weakness. And Jacob's faith is seen in Genesis 32:9-12. Jacob prayed. In his fear and distress, he turned to the Lord and clung to a promise. His prayer ends with, But you have said, 'I will surely make you prosper and will make your descendants like the sand of the sea, which cannot be counted.'”
Just as we saw in Abraham's servant, and Isaac, (see How Vertical is Your Life?) here, Jacob also prays because of what God had promised to do. And while the events that follow don't reveal that Jacob is convinced yet of God's answer, they do show that God is powerful enough to conquer Esau's bitterness, and powerful enough to conquer Jacob's doubts!
This section ends with an odd story about Dinah and the Shechemites. But it leaves us seeing the need for trusting God with our fears once again. After Simeon and Levi had slaughtered all the men of Shechem, Jacob is fearful that they will be destroyed.
Then Jacob said to Simeon and Levi, "You have brought trouble on me by making me a stench to the Canaanites and Perizzites, the people living in this land. We are few in number, and if they join forces against me and attack me, I and my household will be destroyed."  But they replied, "Should he have treated our sister like a prostitute?" (Genesis 34:30-31)
The life of faith is one of constantly needing to be reminded that God's promises are true, that God is present with us, and that God sees all and is powerful over all. We can trust in Him, and go to Him in prayer, casting all our anxiety on Him for He cares for us!
How powerful is a promise? As powerful as the God who stands behind it!

Love the Gospel, Live the Gospel, Advance the Gospel,


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