One of the more popular stories of the old testament is the one in which Jacob cheats his brother Esau out of his birthright (Many think Esau deserved what he got but that’s really not what this post is about).
Having lost his inheritance to his younger twin, Esau was in a murderous mood and Jacob had to skip town to keep his life. On his way into exile, he had a dramatic dream in which God appeared to him and promised to bless and establish him in the land he was leaving.
For some reason at that stage of Jacob’s life, he tended to view things on a mostly transactional level. Just as he had gotten Esau to trade his birthright for a plate of food, he viewed this encounter from a trade by barter lens.
Genesis 28:20-22 (NLT)
Then Jacob made this vow: “If God will indeed be with me and protect me on this journey, and if he will provide me with food and clothing, and if I return safely to my father’s home, then the lord will certainly be my God. And this memorial pillar I have set up will become a place for worshiping God, and I will present to God a tenth of everything he gives me.”
Just as Jacob predicates his worship of God on whether God prospers his way, too many of us believers today consciously or unconsciously give conditions for worshiping God. “If you do this, then I will do that”.
Thankfully, God is patient with his children and gives us room to outgrow our childishness.
Fast-forward 20 years, 4 wives, 11 sons, and great wealth later, Jacob decided to return to the land that God had promised him. However, there was the problem of how to deal with Esau, who by then had also prospered to the point of having a fighting force of 400 men.
Afraid for his life, Jacob promptly turned on his transactional mindset. His strategy was to do his penance by sending herds of livestock ahead to appease Esau, but God had other plans.
After sending his servants ahead with gifts for Esau, he made to retire for the night but he he found no rest.
Genesis 32:22-31 NLT
During the night Jacob got up and took his two wives, his two servant wives, and his eleven sons and crossed the Jabbok River with them. After taking them to the other side, he sent over all his possessions. This left Jacob all alone in the camp, and a man came and wrestled with him until the dawn began to break. When the man saw that he would not win the match, he touched Jacob’s hip and wrenched it out of its socket. Then the man said, “Let me go, for the dawn is breaking!” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” “What is your name?” the man asked. He replied, “Jacob.” “Your name will no longer be Jacob,” the man told him. “From now on you will be called Israel, because you have fought with God and with men and have won.” “Please tell me your name,” Jacob said. “Why do you want to know my name?” the man replied. Then he blessed Jacob there. Jacob named the place Peniel (which means “face of God”), for he said, “I have seen God face to face, yet my life has been spared.” The sun was rising as Jacob left Peniel, and he was limping because of the injury to his hip.
Jacob came to the point where he surrendered all and faced God alone. The same man who promised God only 10% (at the Bethel encounter) if He prospered his way had now came to the point where he let everything go because he realized he couldn’t hold on to any of them afterall.
At Bethel, God was far away on a ladder that reached to heaven, at Peniel, Jacob had a face to face encounter. At Bethel, Jacob was negotiating terms and making promises, at Peniel he held on for dear life and asked only for a blessing. Now the blessing of Peniel was not of things like it was at Bethel: it was a blessing that changed his very essence. God changed his name from (Jacob) trickster to Israel (the one who prevails).
Many of us believers are still at Bethel, cutting deals with God. We are still at the transactional level of asking for things and promising to return 10%. We need to move on from Bethel to Peniel; from the transactional to the transformational. We, like Jacob must come to the point where we let go of everything and latch unto God until he helps us deal with those deep character flaws hindering us from having a prevailing, victorious Christian life.