“I Am” so you can be!
I remember it well, one day not long after I was baptized as a child. My mom said after one of my outbursts, “For somebody who just became a Christian, you sure are acting like the devil!” She was right, and really, I don’t think I was a Christian then, because baptism does not a believer make. Jacob had been changed by God, though. He was humbled with a limp, called to a different way of living, and given a new name, “Israel,” after the wrestling match at Peniel. But the reality of his covenant position was clouded by his actions. Israel was living a lot like old Jacob. I can relate.
Jacob should have gone straight back to Bethel as soon as he left Esau, but he took a disastrous detour that resulted in a daughter defiled and a murderous response by Simeon and Levi. God tells Jacob to go to Bethel, and now he obeys. Notice the actions he took for himself and his whole household before they left Shechem. He essentially said to them, “We will leave Shechem, and we will bury Paddan-aram before we go.” He tells his family to put away their foreign gods, purify themselves, and put on new clothes. We are going to Bethel, the place where God met with me and has never left me since then. And we will bury Paddan-aram and everything associated with it first, right down to the garments we wear from there. The whole tribe responds, as people bring their foreign gods and their earrings to him, and Jacob buries them under a terebinth tree outside of Shechem. Was Joshua thinking about this scene when he gathered all of Israel in Shechem years later and says to them, “Put away your foreign gods that are among you and incline your heart to the Lord, the God of Israel”? And the people said to Joshua, “The Lord our God we will serve, and his voice we will obey.” Joshua made a covenant with the people that day, wrote down the laws and statues for them, “And he took a large stone and set it up there under the terebinth that was by the sanctuary of the Lord.”
The Lord God calls us forward as his children, and he walks with us, but he also tells us to leave behind everything that has kept us from fully obeying him and his word. And we do this together, as a community, like Jacob and Joshua did with the people following them. Maybe that’s why the book of Hebrews says, “Let us lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith…” (emphasis mine)
“God appeared to Jacob again” in Bethel and reminded Jacob that he had a new name. Hey, son, remember when we wrestled at Peniel? You lost, but you also won. I broke you in order to bless you. I took away your name in order to give you a new name, a new identity, a new purpose, a new calling.
God says to you and me, “Do you remember when I saved you and you died to your sins and were raised to live again in Christ? I gave you a new name then, ‘child of God.”’ I gave you a new identity: no longer a slave but adopted as a son or daughter in Christ. I gave you a new purpose and a new calling: ‘the life you now live in the flesh you live by faith in the Son of God.’” We may say, but how can we do this, Lord? How can we live in that new identity and for that new purpose?
God told Jacob how when he said, “I am God Almighty.” El Shaddai. I am the God who provides for you in every way. Not just with sunshine and rain and flowers and good food. I provide all that you need to live your new life as a son or daughter and no longer a slave. I am so you can BE!