Pt. 1: The Lord Was in This Place
If the nation of Israel had a Mount Rushmore, Jacob’s face would almost certainly be carved there. Regularly mentioned alongside fellow founding fathers Abraham and Isaac, Jacob was an integral part in his country’s formation. But he did not start that way.
In Genesis 28, Jacob is a fugitive fleeing his home in fear of Esau, his twin brother. Esau was born first, and in that custom, he should have received the majority of the family’s inheritance. However, Jacob disguises himself as Esau and tricks Isaac, their father, into granting Jacob the portion promised to Esau. Because this ceremony was binding, Esau could not receive what was rightfully his, and Genesis 27:41 says that he is so angered that he resolves to kill Jacob after Isaac’s death. Jacob is forced to leave his family, his home, and everything familiar to survive.
During his escape, Jacob stops to rest in the wilderness. There, he falls into a deep sleep and dreams of a staircase extending from earth to the sky. Suddenly, God appears on it and says to Jacob, “I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac…I am with you now, I will protect you everywhere you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done everything that I have promised you” (Genesis 28:13b, 15)
When Jacob wakes up, he thinks, “The Lord is definitely in this place, but I didn’t know it. . .It’s none other than God’s house and the entrance to heaven” (28:16-17).
A similar situation occurs in Exodus 20. After Moses delivers the Ten Commandments, the power of the Lord shakes Mount Sinai, and the Israelites are afraid of Him. The believe that any contact with God will kill them because of their sin.
Moses responds, saying, “Don’t be afraid, because God has come only to test you and to make sure you are always in awe of God so that you don’t sin” (Exodus 20:20). The Bible says that the people still keep their distance, but Moses “approached the thick darkness where God was” (Exodus 20:21).
We are not so unlike the people of Israel. Often without thought or explanation, we cheat and trick and lie and steal and sin. It is as if selfishness is our natural language, and even though we have accepted God and now speak the language of the new creation, we find ourselves slipping back into our native tongue.
Sometimes, these old habits and addictions overwhelm us. Doubts about whether we are still members of God’s family creep in and wreak havoc in our souls. It is a wilderness of the spirit, mind, and body.
In these times, it is crucial that we do not follow the Israelites’ pattern of thought. Like Jacob and Moses, we must realize that our sin does not result in God’s absence or rejection. In our personal wilderness, God stands upon heaven’s grand staircase, beckoning us ever back to Himself.
In fact, the very struggles that lead us to feel shame may very well be by design. God uses our failures to build our awe in and love for Him by reminding us of the deep fulfillment we have when we obey His commandments. Rather than feeling shame, we must realize that our guilt comes from the Holy Spirit within us, convicting us and pulling us back to the Father’s love.
When feel that our sin and addiction push us into darkness, we must remind ourselves that is not the darkness of despair but the darkness where God is. We must remember, as Jacob did, that the Lord is there, and we must approach Him “with confidence so that we can receive mercy and find grace when we need help” (Hebrews 4:16).