Of course, the journey of faith will be different for each one of us, but there will be many crossover points of shared experiences, trials, temptations, and joys on the road map of life. One common experience for many is that after a significant ‘mountain top’ experience of encounter with God or personal breakthrough, we can then experience a ‘valley’ or ‘trough’ caused by unexpected loss, challenge, temptation, trial or simply the circumstances of life. Sometimes even leading to a ‘desert’ experience where our connection with God suddenly seems to go down. We can’t get hold of him.
We see something of this contrast for Jacob in today’s passage. He experiences the presence of God, is given a new name and receives further clarification on God’s covenant promise given in Genesis 15:5; 17:1 and 28:3. But, his new name and identity is precisely born out of his struggle with God. It is often in our struggles, our losses, and our battles that our character is honed into a beauty that reflects His image. Jacob’s breakthrough moment is immediately followed by the death of his beloved wife, Rachel; the dishonour of his son, Reuben (Reuben’s action costs him – see 49:4) and then the death of his father, Isaac – and all this of course after the disgrace of Dinah. There is more about the story of Jacob to follow in the rest of Genesis – plenty more tests yet await him.
But through it all Jacob knows the faithfulness of his God. He is the one who has answered him in the day of his distress – remembering particularly the time around his estrangement from his brother Esau – and his God is the one who has been with him wherever he has travelled. What a great assurance to build our life upon: Jesus, Emmanuel, is with you wherever you go.
Stay with this thought, though: wherever you go Jesus is with you. In every conversation, in every room of the house, in every place you enter, when you’re on your own with no one looking and when in the midst of a crowd. On the one hand it should lead to an appropriate fear of the Lord. Jacob issues the call for people to rid themselves of foreign gods, be purified and change their clothes. For us this means: having nothing that takes the place of first love: e.g. wealth, possessions, other people, worldly ambition; and always wearing the clothing of character that is in line with being holy and chosen.
On the other hand, though, wherever you go Jesus is with you equalises the highs and the lows because in it all our God is present and supreme. It assures us that whatever we face today: whether our day is empty or full; has challenge or comfort; is marked by mourning or rejoicing – God is with you!
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Praise God for his faithfulness and thank him for his patient work in our lives one step at a time.