By Mike Baird
Faculty, College of Theology
The Jacob Journal is a reflection on the life and times of the biblical character of Jacob, son of Isaac and Rebekah.
A Dream Come True
I was born after my grandfather, Abraham, passed away. I never saw his face. I never heard his voice or was able to speak with him.
But now, as I come to my more mature years, his image is impressed on my soul.
He was a man who lived by a promise. His life was motivated and guided by a deep sense that God had something good for him to do, something good for him to be.
Now I can see that my life has become the same kind of journey – a journey toward a destiny, a promise made by God that guides and motivates. That became clear to me when I returned to Bethel on my way back from Haran to our family home in Canaan.
God was the one who told me to leave Haran. At that time, He reminded me that He was “the God of Bethel.” I knew then that I would one day stand in that spot again where I had dreamed of heaven and walked away from God.
On that day when I, so many years later, stood at Bethel, I finally understood what grandfather must have known from the beginning of his journey: Life is the story of a promise being fulfilled.
That sounds too good to be true and, of course, it is not true for many people. Many people never get off the treadmill to pursue the promise. Many others are too busy fighting their own battles in their own strength to move on to the Promised Land. Remember, these are the various ways of living that my ranch hand friend shared with me.
But because there is a God, because He made us from the dust of the earth (a very ancient story my father used to tell me), because He wrote the script for the journey of life, life is not the thing itself but a journey to discover. The “thing itself” is the promise, the purpose God has given to every human life, even to all living and non-living things.
A Return to Bethel
I can explain this much more clearly if I simply review my own life up to the time I arrived back at Bethel. I have already clearly indicated that I made vows as a child, as a young adult leaving home and as a pilgrim trying to find God in the darkness and desert. These vows were promises to myself.
I will be blessed.
I will succeed.
I will get rich.
I’ll do what it takes.
Promises. About the only promise I didn’t take seriously was the vow I made to God at Bethel. There I promised I would tip my hat to Him if He would get me out of the mess I had gotten myself into.
So as I stood at Bethel the second time, I found myself going about the task of doing what I had promised God I would do. I set up a stone pillar and built an altar to Him. There, I worshipped Him as my God, my savior, my provider and my friend. On that altar, I wrote the name of the place, Beth-El, house of God. There, God reminded me of my new name, my new relationship to Him: “Your name is Jacob, but you will no longer be called Jacob; your name will be Israel.”
What was missing now, at my second Bethel, was all the conditions I had formerly set on God – bless me, prosper me, protect me, cover all my mistakes and clean up behind me. It was not lost on my consciousness that the weakest, most insincere vow I had made in my entire life was the very one I now fulfilled as a mature adult. The hollow vow I had made to God was the only one that had gotten me through, the only one I had been able to fulfill.
Why were all my many vows useless, or even worse, misleading and damaging? Because they were not based on the promises of God. They were promises to myself. They were not given as a part of the journey of life toward God – they were made out of my own selfish desires and struggles. They were my own self-formulated solutions to the problems life had thrown at me. They were not promises that honored and reflected God’s purpose and plan for me.
As I stood there in front of that altar at Bethel, God reminded me of the promise He had made to me at my first Bethel. God had spoken to me the same promise He had spoken to Abraham when he was a young man just starting out: “I will give you this land. I will make of you a great nation that will bless all the nations of the earth. I will not leave you until I have done what I promised you.”
These were not my plans. They were the purposes and plans God had for me. I hope you understand what I am trying to say. You can make plans all you want to, but you will still be on the treadmill or fighting a losing battle until you discover and embrace God’s script and His promise. That’s the way God has made life, as a journey toward discovering Him.
A skeptic who reads this journal might object that I was only worshipping God at my return to Bethel because I had indeed gotten rich and returned safely home just like I had planned in the beginning.
I will admit God did indeed provide, protect and enrich me. If I had come back to Bethel as a poor, lonely man, would I have worshipped God like I did?
A Skeptic Point of View
There is a report going around about a man named Job. I hear he has lots of sheep and goats and a big family just like I do. The report is that he wasn’t always comfortable and successful. I hear he lost everything he had and that God was the one who took it all away. But when the disaster fell, Job stayed true to God – never cursed him or spit in his face. I do hear that he got a little impatient at times, but he always brought his problems to God. He never made a vow to handle things in his own way or the way everyone around advised him to do.
If disaster fell upon me, would I still trust God?
My word to the skeptic is this: I can’t tell you with 100 percent certainty what I would do if I lost everything. I would probably get quite perturbed like Job did. I would have questions and doubts.
You need to know that life since my return to Canaan hasn’t been exactly the heaven I saw at my first Bethel. Several members of my household have passed on. My beloved wife Rachel died in childbirth. I never look at Benjamin without my heart hurting – a lot. I miss her.
My sons have wandered from the path and done some hurtful things to the family and to me. I have no idea what might be ahead but I know troubles will come. But I also know that God has been faithful to His promise through difficult times. I have no reason to believe He will not remain true to His word.
You see, this is life lived by a promise – God’s promise. This kind of life is not based on what I can or cannot envision or accomplish in my own wisdom and power. It is based on what God wants to do and what He is fully able to fulfill.
I walked away from the dream I dreamed at Bethel. I made plans for myself that I pursued as I left Bethel. But it wasn’t my plan that came to pass – it was God’s. My blessings have not come from my own hand, but from God’s. Life is more fun when it is lived by faith in such a faithful God.
A Belief in God
Bethel is a sacred place. Do you know what a sacred place is? It is a place where you and God have met – a place filled with the presence of God. If I have learned anything about God through all these years, it is that everyone has or will have a Bethel. God will not leave His creation alone. If you are far from Him, He will hunt you down and give you a dream. He will offer His promise or meaning and life. There is a Bethel for you.
I just can’t tell you why. I cannot explain why God did the things He did in my life. Why has He kept appearing to me, calling me to Him? It isn’t because I deserve it. Why has He protected and enriched me? The answer, I think, is that He has a plan much larger than my little life, but which my life fits into and which gives it meaning.
In the end, you can’t explain mercy, patience, love and grace. But as I think about it, God would never get His plan done in my life and in this world without a lot of patience and grace. Especially, if He wants to get it done through Jacobs like me.
Life is not a treadmill, nor is it one losing battle after another. It is a journey toward a promise, God’s purpose and end.
It’s worth it. I promise.
Questions for Reflection:
- Are you the skeptic or the believer? What would it take for you to be open to the promise which the life of Jacob reveals to us? Discuss it with God.
- Are there some vows you are dealing with that are hurting you and holding you back? Discuss it with God.
Thank you for reading the Jacob Journal! We hope you enjoyed this series, proudly written by a retired faculty member of the College of Theology. To learn more about this college, please visit our website or request more information.
About the Author
The 21st century author of this journal is Mike Baird, PhD, retired professor of Christian studies. The ideas and insights found here come from a life lived, not from a fantasy world. It is his prayer that you will see yourself mirrored in some of Jacob’s struggles and decisions, and that you will discover the timeless spiritual resources which Scripture and the Holy Spirit speaking through it have made available to us.
Dr. Baird originates from Glendale, AZ. He received his BA at Grand Canyon College (now GCU). His MDiv and PhD were completed at Southwestern Baptist Theology Seminary, Fort Worth, TX (Go Cowboys!). He and his wife have three children and five grandchildren.
He has enjoyed teaching college students for the last 35 years. He is a member of First Southern Baptist Church, where he teaches a Bible study class on Sunday mornings and sings in the choir.
What he has enjoyed greatly over the years is participating in the Ethington Theatre Series as a guest actor. He has been in 27 productions, his favorites being the Shakespeare productions.
He encourages students to use their time at GCU to clarify and sharpen their sense of calling. You are here to equip for the work of the Kingdom. Don’t squander the opportunity.