Day 28, Chapter 28 (Part 1): The Heel-Grabber
When I was born my dad was a traveling evangelist. Those were the days when many evangelical churches had annual two-week revivals. Dad preached mostly on hellfire and brimstone. It worked, too. The preaching scared people to the “mourners bench,” the name used by many back then for the altar or kneeling bench. Dad could describe the fires of hell so well I would break out in a sweat.
Because of this I was saved at a very young age - several times, just in case! I think I may have been born again before I was even born! Because of this fear-based gospel, and the works-based lifestyle it generated, a religious existence was all I knew growing up. A Christian was what I was and going to church was what I did, so I could one day go to heaven. When asked if I knew God, the answer was an immediate and unequivocal yes.
I knew who God was, and I was certainly born again. Nevertheless, for my first 20 years, I didn’t know Him in a personal way. I attended “the house of God,” as we referenced the church building, but I had never connected with “the heart of God;” tragically, I had known the practice of religion but never the pleasure of His company. In my family, one simply had to be a Christian. My dad was a preacher – I served my father’s God. Period.
When Dad quit the ministry, left home, divorced Mom, and married someone else, all of my worlds crashed: My family world was shattered, my religious world lost all credibility, and my personal world had a head-on collision with cynicism and rebellion. The two things that had brought me identity – faith and family – we’re gone. Without these moorings I began drifting in the murky waters of pain, bitterness, and sin.
Looking back, I realize my personal faith simply wasn’t strong enough to sustain me during this ordeal. I didn’t know Yahweh experientially as my God; rather, He was my father’s God. Consequently, when Dad failed and left me, so did his God. A secondhand, generation-removed God might get you to heaven, but He won’t get you through much here on earth. When the going gets tough, He’d better be your God.
God is not satisfied, however, with just being our God. His ultimate goal is to be our Father and Friend, and through this relationship allow us to partner with Him in overseeing our home, planet earth. That is the plan He began in Genesis, and it is what Christ restored at the cross. If God had wanted more creatures just to serve Him, He could’ve made a billion more angels. His desire was for family, however, so the Lord made us in His image and likeness, then breathed His very Spirit and nature into us.
Adam’s fall robbed us of this family and friend relationship with God. And sadly, even on this side of the Cross, religion often blinds us to it. If anyone had told me in my early years that I could be God’s friend and partner, I would’ve thought they were insane. Sadly, most Christians partner with religion, not with God.
One of the great Hebrew patriarchs, Jacob, a grandson of Abraham, is a great biblical example of a “He’s my father’s God” kind of guy. He, too, had only a superficial relationship with Yahweh in his early years. It may surprise you to know that for the first 40 years of Jacob’s life, Yahweh was never referred to as his God. During that time-frame, the Lord was referenced as “the God of Abraham and Isaac;” never as “the God of Jacob.”
Jacob, means “heel-grabber,” and one of its figurative meanings is “circumventing, as if holding the heels; also to restrain, as if holding by the heel.” Jacob was given this name because he was born clutching the heel of his twin brother, Esau. This humorous aspect of his name, heel-grabber, became more than just a name for Jacob, however. It was actually a play on words, a prophetic picture of Adam’s fall, manifesting itself in Jacob as a conniving tendency toward holding back or taking from others in order to advance himself. The Amplified Bible uses four words to summarize what Jacob became: supplanter, schemer, trickster, swindler (see Genesis 32:27). (For all of you actually named Jacob, take heart. The problem wasn’t Jacob‘s name but his nature. Jacob is a name associated with honor and greatness in the eyes of God and man. In the end, Yahweh actually chose to call himself “the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.”)
Jacob’s journey with the Lord began in Genesis 28, where Jehovah extended the same covenantal offer of blessing and partnership to him He had originally made to his grandfather, Abraham in Genesis 12. When Yahweh called Abraham and gave him his dream of a family and land, the passage makes clear that He, too, had a dream - and that His and Abraham’s dreams were connected. Also, with the incomprehensible ability God has to paint and hide pictures of future events in the lives of people, Abraham’s dream would picture His. God’s dream also included a family - the one He had lost; and it involved land - all the earth. “We are going to be partners, Abraham,” the Lord was saying, “and will share a similar ‘dream-journey.’ I’ll bless you with family and land; you are going to bless Me with the Messiah who will redeem My family back to Me, and restore their dominion over the earth.”
The Lord gave essentially the same promise to Jacob in Genesis 28:
Then Jacob departed from Beersheba and went toward Haran. He came to a certain place and spent the night there, because the sun had set; and he took one of the stones of the place and put it under his head, and lay down in that place. He had a dream, and behold, a ladder was set on the earth with its top reaching to heaven; and behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. And behold the Lord stood above it and said, “I am the Lord, 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 descendants. Your descendants will also be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and in you and in your descendants shall all the families of the earth be blessed. Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it.” He was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven. So Jacob got up early in the morning, and took the stone that he had placed as a support for his head, and set it up as a memorial stone, and poured oil on its top. Then he named that place Bethel [house of God]... (Genesis 28:10-19)
Incredibly, after this dramatic dream encounter with the Lord at Bethel, “the house of God,” Jacob was still only willing to relate to Yahweh as Dad’s and Grandpa’s God, not his own. He actually told the Lord he still wasn’t sure whether or not to make Him his God. He would decide later, based on Jehovah’s performance.
Then Jacob made a vow, saying, “If God will be with me and will keep me on this journey that I take, and will give me food to eat and garments to wear, and I return to my father’s house in safety, then the Lord will be my God.” (Genesis 28:20-21)
Can you imagine such audacity? “If you perform well enough, Jehovah – give me wealth, land, protection, and favor – I’ll choose you over Baal and the other gods of Canaan.” Six times over the next twenty years the Lord is referenced in Jacob’s life but is always referred to as the God of Jacob‘s fathers; never is He called Jacob's God (see Genesis 28:13; 31:5, 29, 42, 53; 32:9.) Amazing. Jacob’s “house of God” (Bethel) relationship with the Lord wasn’t enough. Even after receiving such a powerful encounter with Him there, Jacob still had no personal walk with or commitment to Jehovah, and a partnership with Him was nowhere on his radar. And as far as God’s dream was concerned, Jacob still had no idea it even existed.
Godly parents, divine encounters, angelic visitations, supernatural dreams, and a visit to “God’s house” weren’t enough to transform Jacob’s surface relationship with the Lord to a heart relationship. And they will not be for us, either. The heart can only be transformed through intentional, personal decisions and time spent with God. I realize that though the correlation between Jacob and a born again Christian cannot be exact, I still believe God was painting a picture for us. How many Christians go through life and, like Jacob, never become intimately acquainted with God. Surface relationships abound in “the house of God.” Deals similar to Jacob’s are cut all the time: “You bless me and take me to heaven one day - I’ll be a Christian.” And as far as knowing Him as Papa and partnering with Him to save the world, the thought never enters their mind.
What a tragedy.
Yet, for each of us who are willing, God has a plan to deliver us from our heel-grabbing ways of religion and draw us into His heart. It took 20 years with Jacob - God is patient - but it need not take that long. Tomorrow, we will look at this process.
Pray with me:
Father, the fall that we humans experienced when Adam ate the forbidden fruit, along with our propensity to turn relationship with You into religion, hinders our ability to know and trust You. And like Jacob, we tend to focus more on our desires and dreams than we do Yours.
We are asking that You give us great revelation of Your passion to relate to us as family and friends. Awaken the church to this profound truth. May the coming revival be marked with incredible passion for You and be completely presence driven.
We boldly declare that You will have Your dream...that You will have people in Your family from every tribe, tongue, kindred and nation on earth. And we pledge to partner with You in this amazing endeavor.
In Christ’s name we pray and decree these things. Amen.
Today’s post was taken from my book The Pleasure of His Company.
Dutch Sheets, The Pleasure of His Company (Grand Rapids, MI: Bethany House Publishers, 2014), pp 235-240.
Watch the prayer here: