Surely Jehovah is in This Place – 2nd Sunday in Lent

“Surely Jehovah is in this place – and I did not know it!”  Genesis 28:1

I had spent many years working on my Covenant study and finally was determined to get it finished and published.  One day, at an assisted living facility where I worked as chaplain, I was talking to a resident’s son, who had charismatic leanings.  He paused and mentioned that I was working on publishing a book, and seemed to indicate that it was something the Lord had revealed to him.  I do not think that I had ever told him about my aspiration, and it quite took me by surprise.  We never had a chance to talk further before he had to leave and sheepishly I must confess that I no longer remember what he said.

But what did hit me like a ton of bricks was the realization that I was noticed – God noticed me!  Here I am this little person buried away here on planet earth and I was noticed.  The irony of it is that this is a theme that I frequently bring in in sermons, writings, and other things, and suddenly here it was right in my face.  It is the kind of thing where you know something, and yet you do not really realize it.  It was interesting in its effect on me.  In a sense I had been drifting along on different levels, but now I felt I needed to sharpen up and have renewed effort.  It was not as if I was going to try to impress God, it was just that I became conscious of the fact that I needed to be serious about what I was doing and being.

In many respects, this was also the situation with Jacob.  Up to this point he had been going about his own business, and what a sordid business it had been.  He had cheated, lied and deceived.  As an opportunist, rather than helping to protect his brother’s birthright, he took it for himself.  Then, even though God had promised it to him from birth, yet in conspiracy with his mother, he deceived in order to get the Covenant blessing, and in essence tore apart his family.  Now he was on the run for his life from his brother.

It could be that he may have felt that he was in control of his life and had felt pretty successful – after all, in two important areas he had “won,” and, besides these two really big “scores,” probably there were many other not-as-notable successes where he had gotten his way.  Although he had to “keep his head down” as he was running away, it is not hard to imagine him gloating over how he had been able to “pull it off” and had gotten what he wanted.  Who knows – maybe he was contemplating going on the “talk circuit” to teach others how they also could become the success like he was.

Yet Jacob’s life was a mess.  He was playing little five-and-dime games, while he never realized just what the stakes truly were.  Yes, the Covenant blessing was important, but it was not merely some trophy to be won.  This blessing was to reach down through generations and affect the whole world, and perhaps on one level he knew this, yet at the same time he just did not have a clue as to what it all was really about.  Most of all, he did not realize that not only was this not a five-and-dime operation, this wasn’t even the minor leagues – he was playing in Jehovah’s big league.  And this God would be not be deceived nor manipulated.

The vision of the stairway to the throne of God and of angels going about their business must have left Jacob’s eyes wide open in astonishment.  He had felt pretty important in his little deceptive maneuverings, but now he was like a small five-year-old clutching his stuffed teddy bear, looking up at angels who were surrounding him as they went about their God-given tasks, angels with real power and with real significance.  They were linked to the God of the Universe – just what was he connected to?  They were involved in something that had eternal consequence – just how did his successes compare to that?

And then God stood next to him.  How he must have realized that he was not some hidden nobody who was just drifting along doing his own thing.  God was looking directly at him.  And God was talking to him.  By now, how absolutely foolish he must have felt with God standing right there.

Possibly what Jacob was amazed at was what God did not say.  The Lord did not threaten nor condemn him, which Jacob must have fully expected by now.  After all, God had every right to do that, but was it really necessary? It seems that everything else which Jacob was experiencing was enough to bring this self-centered man to his knees.

What must have been most astonishing was what Jehovah of Covenant did say: not only was He not speaking words of condemnation, instead He was speaking words of promise.  Did you ever have a time where you realized that because your being bull-headed, rebellious and foolish, everything should have fallen in on you, and yet the Lord still made it all turn out all right?  That probably was Jacob in the midst of the angels swirling around him on God’s business, realizing that everything should be collapsing in upon him, and yet here was God speaking words of comfort and hope.

Yes, it was quite apparent that Jacob was not worthy, yet here was God affirming the promises of the Covenant blessing which Jacob had so unnecessarily taken by deception, the Covenant blessing that God would have given in a far more peaceful way.  What was more was that God was pledging His companionship through everything that was to come.

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Moses also had a similar experience to this [Exodus 3].  No, he wasn’t the deceiver that Jacob was; however, although he had grown up in Pharaoh’s court and had royal training, he never forgot that he was an Israelite and he had a heart for his people.  Like Jacob, he had tried to take matters into his own hands; and it equally ended badly, where, like Jacob, he also had to run for his life.  Forty years later, like Jacob, he also was drifting aimlessly in his life when suddenly, at the burning bush, he came to realize that God was looking directly at him.

Moses’ bewilderment would echo in the best of us: standing in the presence of God, he was very conscious of how unworthy he was.  But most of all, he really did not want to have a place in God’s plans.  He was content with the five-and-dime type of life, herding sheep – but now the Lord indicated that as part of God’s People, there was no choice: he was in God’s big league and he was part of God’s plans.  And like with Jacob, God promised to be with him throughout the whole coming process.

Of course, you know the rest of the story, how he had gone down to confront Pharaoh, how God was indeed with him, and how he led the rebellious flock of Israel through the wilderness to the very gates of the Promised Land.

However, with Moses’ successor, Joshua, things were a little different.  He was named and groomed to be the next leader of Israel.  It was not as if he were unfamiliar with the Lord and His Word.  However, as Israel faced the fabled walls of Jericho, which was the door-opener to the Promised Land, and this event would set the tone for the coming conquering of the Land, it is no wonder that “the Commander of Jehovah’s Army” stood before this leader of Jehovah’s People [Joshua 5:15].

Although it was no new experience, Joshua realized that God was looking directly at him.  Truly he was not merely drifting through life, and he knew that this was no penny-ante game, he knew he was in God’s big league and this indeed was part of God’s eternal plan.  Nonetheless, the Lord now stood before him: Jehovah was paying attention; Joshua was not lost somewhere in the cracks.  There was affirmation of Jehovah’s promise in the first chapter “as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you nor forsake you” [v 5].

Many others, like Gideon, Samuel, and David, also discovered that God noticed them. The unknown Nathaniel had been noticed by Jesus, even before Philip had called him [John 1:43-51].  He had merely been sitting under a fig tree, probably drifting along, yet now he realized that God in Jesus had been looking at him all along.

Yes, these were all famous people with important roles, however, there are countless others.  We catch sight of some, such as the Corrie ten Booms; the martyrs like Polycarp and Perpetua; faithful prisoners-of-war under the Nazis, the Japanese, and the Vietnamese; and even those among the common people around us, who have discovered that God has been looking at them.  No matter who they are, no matter how insignificant they may seem to be, each has their place in God’s great plan.

As we look at these various people, perhaps we find that we also are drifting, like Jacob, or reluctant, like Moses, or simply in need of reassurance, like Joshua.  Today we stand before the altar, and especially at the foot of the cross, and discover all over again that “surely Jehovah is in this place!” as we realize that God is looking at us, and He has a place in His plan of salvation for us.  Standing with Jacob, Moses and Joshua, perhaps it is with surprise that as the Holy Spirit speaks God’s Word into our hearts, and as we receive Jesus’ own Body and Blood, that we find we are surrounded by words of promise and hope, words of forgiveness and life, words of assurance and comfort, words of strength and purpose.  And in the midst of it all, to each one of us God powerfully declares that He will be with us every step of the way until He has accomplished everything that He has been promised.

Indeed, “surely Jehovah is in this place!”


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