20181117 Parsha Vayetze
4 Things to Remember in Uncertain Times
This week’s Parsha is one of the most well known of all. Every child with any kind of religious training knows this story. Who has not sung that little ditty from our early years, (sing) We are climbing Jacob’s ladder ladder 3x Children of the Lord.
Today I would like to offer a little different take on this classic tale. I read the following illustration in an old sports magazine.
Willie Mays began his major league baseball career with only one hit in his first 23 at-bats. Though he went on to hit 660 home runs (third on the all-time list), and steal more than 300 bases, his debut was so unimpressive it seemed unlikely he would last more than a few weeks as a big-leaguer, let alone become one of the greatest to play the game. He had a very uncertain future in baseball.
The turning point for Mays occurred when his manager, Leo Durocher, found him crying in the dugout after yet another miserable performance at the plate.
The coach put his arm around Mays and said, “What’s the matter, son?” Mays said, “I can’t hit up here. I belong in the minor leagues.”
Durocher said this to Willie Mays: “As long as I’m manager of the Giants, you’ll be my centerfielder.”
You know how the story ends. The very next time Willey Mays came to bat, he hit a home run and he was on his way to becoming a legend of the game.
Fortunately, there was someone there to encourage him and tell him, “I am behind you, this will work out
We also will face times in our life when we are discouraged and despairing because our future seems so uncertain. Life may be falling apart as a result of our own wrong decisions or through no fault of our own, just as a result of living in a fallen world. Doubt, discouragement, and uncertainty can affect varied aspects of our lives. We might be uncertain about our ability to fulfill ministry obligations. We might be uncertain about our material needs be met. We may be uncertain about our personal relationships, our physical health, or some other area of our lives.
During those times of uncertainty and discouragement we need the same thing that Willie Mays needed. We need a word of encouragement. We need to know that the “coach” is behind us. We need to know that things will work out. The good news is that we can have this need for encouragement and assurance met because God, through his word and Spirit, reminds us of what we need to remember in uncertain times. In fact, this particular passage of Scripture contains four things we need to remember in uncertain times.
The four things we need to remember in uncertain times.
1. In uncertain times remember God’s promises.
2. In uncertain times remember God’s presence.
3. In uncertain times remember God’s protection.
4. In uncertain times remember God’s provision.
Jacob was facing a very uncertain future. He was far from home and could not be sure of ever coming back. He had no assurance of finding a wife, a job, a home to stay in, or even having his basic needs met. He was seemingly all alone in a hostile world with no guarantee that he would not be hunted down and killed by his brother Esau or that he would not be harmed by a bandit or wild animal. Jacob was living in very uncertain times and needed a word of encouragement and assurance from God. Jacob did not deserve anything from God, but God in his mercy came to Jacob anyway.
Jacob had traveled about 70 mi. of his 500 mi. journey to Haran. He needed to rest for the evening and so he set up camp in a “certain place.” This place is not especially noteworthy, it did not even have a name. It was not known as a place for Divine visitations. There was nothing particularly holy about this place. It was just a place of dirt and stones, so Jacob had no reason to expect anything unusual. Soon after Jacob went to sleep with this head on a rock, God came to Jacob in a dream.
God sometimes shows up at unexpected times and unexpected places. It may be in the shower, during the drive to work, or when you’re cooking dinner. God is not limited to showing up at so-called spiritual places, such as the church building. Now of course God is everywhere, but I am referring to God showing up or manifesting himself to us in a special way. In this case, God visited and encouraged Jacob through a special dream.
In the dream Jacob saw a ladder going from earth to heaven, with angels going between the two realms, and Adonai at the top. Jacob would have understood the dream’s symbolism as the ladder being representative of a place where there was access to God. The main point of the dream being to affirm to Jacob that the Lord and his angels were present and active even though he’d been unaware of them, as verse 16 attest. Most of us will not have special dreams like Jacob did, but it has been revealed to us through the Bible that God is present and active even when we are unaware of him.
Keep in mind these two principles. First, God sometimes shows up at unexpected times and unexpected places. Second, God is present and active even when we are unaware of him.
In verses 13-15 The Lord speaks to Jacob, and it is from that speech we learn the four things we need to remember in uncertain times.
Genesis 28:13-15 Surprisingly, Adonai was standing on top of it and He said, “I am Adonai, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac. The land on which you lie, I will give it to you and to your seed. (14) Your seed will be as the dust of the land, and you will burst forth to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south. And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed—and in your seed. (15) Behold, I am with you, and I will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land, for I will not forsake you until I have done what I promised you.”
1. First, in uncertain times remember God’s promises.
The first thing God reminds Jacob of is the promises he had made. He basically says, “I made a promise to your father Isaac and your grandfather Abraham to give you the very land where you are now asleep as a stranger and to bless the whole world through your offspring and I am going to do it.” When you consider that Jacob was leaving the Promised Land and that he had not one descendant at this time, this is a very reassuring promise. At this point in Jacob journey, his return to the land and future offspring are very uncertain, so this promise is very encouraging.
This principle is not true only for Jacob, but for us also. When we are facing hard or uncertain times, we need to open up our Bibles and let the Ruach HaKodesh remind us of what God has promised. You can pace back and forth, worry, and focus on the problem or you could be strengthened by focusing on the promises of God; the choice is yours. Now let’s look at the second thing we need to remember in uncertain times.
2. Second, in uncertain times remember God’s presence.
We must know that God is with us if we’re to face the uncertain and fearful future with confidence. Jacob needed to know this also, so in verse 15 God said very clearly, “I am with you!” Jacob may have felt alone, but he never was alone and neither are we! God is with us. Remembering his presence has been a source of encouragement in uncertain times for all the saints. King David said in Psalm 23, “I will fear no evil for (because) you are with me.” Yeshua encouraged his disciples in Matthew 28 by assuring them, “Surely I am with you always.” Hebrews 13:5 says, “God will never leave us nor forsake us.” God’s word to us is the same as his word to Jacob, “I am with you.” This does not mean we will escape the storms of life but the knowledge of his presence in those storms can give us peace and confidence in uncertain times.
Have you ever comforted your children in a storm, when the power goes out? A simple hug and an assurance that all you are there calms a lot of fear.
Now to the third thing we need to remember in uncertain times.
3. Third, in uncertain times remember God’s protection.
God’s protection is the next thing that the Lord reminds Jacob of. He says in verse 15, “I am with you, and I will watch over you wherever you go”. In other words, I’m going to protect you on this perilous journey. This did not mean that nothing hurtful or bad would ever happen to Jacob but it did mean to him and it does mean to us that God will protect us so that his plan, which is good, comes to fruition. Jacob did not have to worry about his brother’s anger, bandits, or wild animals. God would protect him.
In the same way, we do not need to fear the dangers we face in today’s world such as: terrorist, disease, crime, wicked people, etc. God has promised to watch over us and certainly that is enough.
4. Fourth, in uncertain times remember God’s provision.
The promise in verse 15 to “watch over you” had a dual meaning. The Hebrew word שמר ,shamar, meant to protect and to provide for or to take care of. The Hebrew word is first used in Genesis 2: 15 where God instructed Adam to “take care” of the garden i.e. provide for its needs. This means God was also promising to provide for Jacob’s needs in addition to promising to protect him from harm. Jacob clearly understood this because he expects God to both watch over him on his journey and provide food and clothing for him as we see in verse 20.
God has promised to provide for all the needs of his people. Yeshua reminds us that the Father knows we need these things and that since he provides them for the birds of the air, certainly he will provide them for us. We need to remember the promise of God’s provision because even in America, where we are materially blessed, there can be times when we are uncertain as to how our needs will be met. This can cost a lot of unnecessary and harmful anxiety in our lives, but it doesn’t have to do this because God has promised to provide for us.
Let’s recap the four things we need to remember in uncertain times:
God’s Protection, and
Let’s look at Jacob’s response to God’s gracious encouragement and assurance.
Read Genesis 28:16-22
In verse 16 we see that Jacob recognizes that God has intervened in his life in a very special way and that such a Divine visitation should elicit a special response. Jacob then proceeds to set up a stone pillar as a memorial of worship. We also should worship God, especially when he reveals himself to us in special ways.
Then in verses 20-22 Jacob made a vow or commitment to the Lord. This vow could be seen as conditional, “If God does what he promised, I will follow him.” The vow could also be translated as, “Since God has promised these things, I will follow him.” In either case Jacob’s response is to serve Adonai as his God and King and to worship him. We also should respond to God’s assurances to us with worship and commitment.
Often, the miraculous things that God has called us to, or done for us, becomes a dusty memory, or even a point of pain because it has not yet born fruit. It’s at these moments that there is an active component on our part in response to God’s promise.
Recognize. Psalm 119:71 It is good for me that I was afflicted,
so that I may learn Your decrees.
Receive Hebrews 11:6 If a person does not believe God, he cannot please him. Anyone who comes to God must believe that God is real. And he must believe that God will bless those who try to find him. God will reward a person, if he really tries to find God.
Recall Psalm 145:4-7, One generation will praise Your works
to another and declare Your mighty acts.
5 I will meditate on the glorious splendor
of Your majesty and Your wonders.
6 They will speak of the might of Your awesome deeds,
and I will proclaim Your greatness.
7 They will pour out the renown of Your great goodness,
and sing joyfully of Your righteousness.
Recommit. Galatians 6:9 So let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we don’t give up.
Conclusion: Each of us will face uncertain times but we can be encouraged because God is with us and for us.