The Illusion of Control
Let’s see now…how can I get ahead in life. This is, of course, my interest. This was pre-figured at my birth. I was a twin. When my brother was born first, from inside the womb I reached forth my hand to grasp his heel. It was as though I would have pulled him back inside so that I could be first. The favoritism that my mom and dad revealed (dad favoring my brother…mom favoring me), set up the contest. Who would be first? I was determined it would be me. I schemed. I jockeyed for position. I kept my finger on the pulse of things. I was always ready to spring into action in order to gain my purpose. I deceived my brother, who actually made an easy target. I deceived my nearly blind father. As I fled from my vengeful brother, I actually even schemed with God. I played “Let’s make a deal” with God. If You will take care of me…feed me, clothe me, protect me…and bring me back to this place safely one day, why then You will be my God. And I’ll even pay You a tenth of all I own. Sound like a good deal? That’s what Jacob thought. He ran to Mesopotamia where he met his match in scheming. And for the next several years he and his father-in-law tried to out-do one another in scheming. All of this while a tremendous contest was going on inside his own home as his competing wives vied for his affection and attention.
The interesting thing is that Jacob seemed very effective in reaching his goals. His possessions had increased significantly. His family, flocks and servants had grown very large. But, as we follow the story, we learn that it wasn’t really Jacob’s cleverness nor his talents, nor even his hard work that caused him to get ahead in life. And Jacob himself will come to realize this.
Listen to Psalm 44:3-4…It was not by their sword that they won the land, nor did their arm bring them victory; it was Your right hand, Your arm, and the light of Your face, for You loved them. You are my King and my God, Who decrees victories for Jacob.
What was true of the nation of Israel had also been true of their forefather, Jacob. Jacob was enriched because God wanted it so. And Jacob’s breakthrough moment came at the ford of the Jabbok River where God engaged him in the contest of his life. God, in the form of a representative surprised Jacob with a wresting match. When Jacob is confronted in the night, he no doubt thinks that his brother has finally found him and is trying to kill him. So Jacob wrestles for his life. He really is wrestling for his life, but not his physical life. Now, does anyone think they could do well in a wrestling match against God? Of course not! But God keeps Jacob struggling, until, finally, He wrenches Jacob’s hip. Now the trickster has been tricked. Now Jacob can no longer wrestle. He can only cling. And this he does until daybreak nears. That night, face to face with God, as it were, he finally admits the truth about himself. God wants to know his name. Again, God isn’t in the dark about this…but Jacob must come clean. My name is “Cheater,” he admits. I have cheated my whole way through life. I have schemed and lied. I have taken advantage of others. I did nearly anything in order to maintain control and get my own way. Now God has shown him the truth. Now God has changed his heart. Now Jacob has a new character evidenced by a new name and a brand new relationship with God. Now his name is Israel. Now the God of his fathers, Abraham and Isaac, was his God too. Now he is not only content, but ecstatic to surrender “control” to the God Who really had always been in control and Who had always had Jacob’s best interests at heart.
Now…what are we going to do about our need to always be in control?