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Aug 30, 2023

I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you (Genesis 28:15).

These words are part of the promise God made to Jacob as Jacob flees from his brother’s wrath. The Bible is full of promises like these: from God’s promise to Adam and Eve to bring redemption all the way to Jesus promise that he is coming back. The Bible’s narrative, one might say, is propelled forward by these promises.

The Bible does not portray Jacob as morally or even spiritually upstanding in any way. Throughout his story, his faults are front and centre. It is important to see this because the Bible is not about upstanding people we should emulate. Rather, it is the story of God’s faithfulness to unfaithful humans. These are the kinds of promises percolating throughout the Bible. Promises that God will prosper people who are particularly unworthy of God’s attention.

Let’s look at the promises God made to Jacob and hear them as promises made to us, who are very much like Jacob. We need to hear them in the messiness of life, some of it, of our own making. These promises are not reserved for those on the spiritual mountain top but for those sloshing through the valleys.

The first part of the promise is that God will be with Jacob as he flees. In Jacob’s day, most people believed that the deities only had power in local areas, not able to influence events beyond their territory. Thus, it is remarkable that God can go with Jacob wherever he ends up. David explores this truth in Psalm 139, finding comfort in the reality that he cannot escape God’s presence.

Jesus leaves his disciples with the same promise before he returns to heaven (Matthew 28:18-20). He gives this promise even though some of them still doubted (17). He makes good on his promise by sending his Holy Spirit. This Spirit reminds us that we are the children of the heavenly father.

The second part of the promise to Jacob is that God will watch over him. Again, it is a promise that Israel as a whole, comes to claim. Psalm 121 is probably the most well known and it places this promise into the liturgy of Israel and the church. It became part of our worship because it is so difficult to believe. We sing it to each other to shore up our faltering faith.

Jesus reworked this promise when he said, “I will build my church” (Matthew 16:18). We know it is part of this promise because Jesus is quick to add, “And the realm of the dead will not overcome it”. The church is up against the worst kind of enemy, but Jesus will keep his church. He makes this promise to his disciples who probably would not be permitted to members in our churches. They just didn’t get who Jesus was, yet the promise is made. And to this day, he has kept it.

Again, it is important for us to consider to whom God makes these promises. Jacob is a schemer and deceiver. He does not act out of faith, but doubts that God is able. Yet, God goes with him. This is God’s mercy. Consider this in the context of your own doubts and waywardness. If the promises of God are dependent on our worthiness, none would ever be fulfilled. They are dependent on God’s faithfulness to his own Word. That is good news indeed.

Consider this promise also in the context of Christ’s church which seems to fail more often in holiness and grace then she succeeds. In the messiness of Christian community, we rely not on ourselves but in the promises of Jesus. This is the good news of the gospel.

 Journey on with God’s blessing,

May God himself, the God who makes everything holy and whole, make you holy and whole, put you together—spirit, soul, and body—and keep you fit for the coming of our Master, Jesus Christ. The One who called you is completely dependable. If he said it, he’ll do it! The amazing grace of Jesus Christ be with you!