by Brittney Chan
“A broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise.”
In the Spring of 2018, I spent a few weeks in Warm Springs, GA completing an internship at Roosevelt Warm Springs Rehabilitation Hospital. I fell in love with this small town in southwest Georgia and how it is drenched in a rich history. Every spare second was consumed by exploring and trying to soak it all in. I learned from some of the best therapists in my profession and formed many lasting friendships. So of course, when a coworker invited me to his church’s midweek service, my answer was “Yes!”
Later that afternoon, I followed my GPS to a little rural church tucked away in the back of Pine Mountain. I parked my car and walked into the sanctuary to join a 5 to 6 member congregation for Bible study. The pastor spoke up and directed our attention to Hebrews 11: The Hall of Faith. How did each person listed gain their spot in this passage? Sure, they had displayed a great faith; but what had actually happened in their lives to inspire that kind of faith?
The night concluded with the pastor assigning each of us a verse to study and we made plans to give our reports the following week. I was given Jacob.
Hebrews 11:21 says it like this: “By faith Jacob, when he was a dying, blessed both the sons of Joseph; and worshipped, leaning upon the top of his staff.”
In studying the context of this verse, I noticed that Jacob thought it important to do two things before he died. First, he made a bold statement to include Joseph’s Egypt-born sons into his lineage and second, he worshipped God.
Oh, y’all! That’s some good stuff right there! We could talk about how these outsiders were grafted into Jacob’s family and therefore received both a heritage and a future that had already been blessed by the Lord. Or we could liken Ephraim and Manasseh’s experience of adoption to our own as we forsook our Gentile identities to become a part of the family of God. But what I want to focus more on is Jacob’s second act: his worship.
The Bible clues us in to Jacob’s body language as he began to offer up worship to God. He leaned on his staff. Now, historians say that Jacob was 147 years old when he passed, so I get it if you chalk up his posture to the fact that he was old and feeble. You could very well be right, but what if his actions were meant to symbolize a greater awareness? If we pay close attention to this adverbial clause, I think the how of his worship will reveal the why of his worship.
Genesis 32 records Jacob’s struggle with God. See, up to this point in his life, Jacob had been fighting for all the things he wanted. Even his name suggests that he would be one to follow after another’s heel. He would always come in second place. He’d always be the kid chosen last for the basketball team. He’d never be anybody’s first choice. Can you imagine? Was it really “stealing a birthright” if you’re just trying to make a name for yourself? No wonder his insecurities grew into a man who was conniving, bribing, and deceitful. Should I even mention that it sounds like these traits ran in the family? Mom inspired his dishonesty and Uncle Laban wasn’t the best mentor either! I think it’s safe to say that Jacob had issues!
That night on the southern banks of the Jabbok River, Jacob came to his “crossroads.” His dramatic life had left him emotionally drained and anxiously wondering if his brother would rather reunite with him or murder him. This moment was monumental. When God Himself took on the form of an angel to visit Jacob, it wasn’t just another fight. It was a life-changing experience. Afterwards, Jacob said, “I saw God face-to-face and my life was saved!” (Genesis 32:30)
You know what I like best about this scene? It was God and Jacob. All. By. Themselves. It wasn’t about the toxic influences, his past full of mistakes, or all the lies that led him to flee his homeland. It was a chance for Jacob to know God personally and intimately and to be known by Him.
The angel left Jacob with a lifetime reminder of that encounter; he touched Jacob in a way that would change how he moved for the rest of his life. It wasn’t a time with God that he could easily deny or cover up. He could no longer have a “closet religion.” No...from that point on, people would look at him and ask, “What happened to Jacob?” “Where’d he get that limp from?” Every step forward spoke of the moment his character was forever changed.
In this sacred occasion right before his death, I believe the simple act of leaning upon his staff was Jacob’s way of recognizing his dependence on God throughout his life. Think about the worship that was generated as Jacob remembered the times in his youth when he felt insignificant, insufficient, and like he would never be enough. Can you imagine the praise that erupted as Jacob reminisced on just how far God had brought him? How one night in His presence left him feeling chosen, qualified, and loved.
See, Jacob needed that run-in with God to be able to walk the rest of his life’s road. Little did he know, he would go on to lose the love of his life, lose his favored son, and suffer as a drought famished his land. How different would his life have played out if he had not first had this experience?
My friend, the truth is that there are things that happen in our lives that can be absolutely debilitating. They break us down. They can forever change how we move throughout this world and our relationships we form with other people. Yes, bad things happen to good people and it isn’t fair. But it is an opportunity. A chance to exchange our prideful, self-sufficient tendencies for the security that comes from fully trusting and depending on God.
We have to first allow God to break us of our self-destructive habits before He can bless us.