El Elohe Israel
K.C. Tsai—Toronto, Canada
When Lazarus was ill, his sisters
sent for the Lord Jesus, saying, “He whom You love is sick.” This simple
message did not mention Lazarus’ name or ask for healing. Why? Because Lazarus’
sisters were certain that the Lord Jesus would know those whom He loved (Jn
11:5) and that He would show His love to them.
Likewise, when we come before the
Lord, it is as simple as this: let the word of God work in us and shape us to become
a person loved by Him. As long as we are His beloved, we can entrust ourselves
to Him and allow Him to love us according to His will. It is through the
ordinary events in our lives that we behold God’s countenance (Ps 42:5) and
feel His love for us. It is in this way that we learn how to love Him and be
His beloved people.
In Malachi 1:2–3, God said, “Was
not Esau Jacob’s brother? … Yet Jacob I have loved; but Esau I have hated.” God
loved Jacob! His words were sure and right! What Jacob had wanted were the
blessings that came with the birthright. However, besides these blessings, he
received God’s love: Jacob’s simple resolution to supplant the firstborn won
him God’s favor, which would change his life forever.
When Esau and Jacob were born,
Abraham was 160 years old. Abraham lived to the age of 175 and died when his
two grandsons were fifteen years old. Fifteen years would have sufficed for
Esau and Jacob to know the covenant and relationship between God and their
grandfather. Fifteen years was also long enough for them to understand why
their grandfather had sent his eldest son, Ishmael, away (Gen 21:14) and dispatched
his six other sons to the country of the east, away from Isaac (Gen 25:6).
Abraham had done all this for the sake of preserving God’s covenant and
blessings for his “only son” Isaac (Gen 22:2) and to prevent any dispute over
the division of the inheritance. This inheritance was extremely precious
because God had promised Abraham and his descendants everlasting possession of
the land and that He would be their God (Gen 17:8).
Since Jacob was born after Esau, Jacob
knew there was a possibility that he might be sent away and be separated from
God’s covenant and promise, like his uncles. Although unsure of the consequences
of being a second child, he yearned to become the firstborn. He knew that his
father and grandfather believed in the one and only God in an otherwise polytheistic
world. They had had numerous encounters with this God and were greatly blessed.
He wanted to have a part of this blessing and to be connected with this God. It
was this dream that changed his life.
After Isaac had blessed Jacob,
Esau returned from hunting and approached Isaac with the savory food that he
had prepared in order to receive his father’s blessings. When Isaac realized
that the person whom he had blessed earlier was not Esau, he trembled at his
grave mistake. However, when Esau wept bitterly and revealed to Isaac that his
birthright had been lost through a deal made with his brother (Gen 27:36), Isaac
knew he had made no mistake. His older son had not valued the honor of being
the firstborn. Hence, when he blessed Jacob for the second time, before Jacob’s
departure for Haran,
he willingly gave him “the blessing of Abraham” and “the land ... which God
gave to Abraham” (Gen 28:4). Thus, Isaac recognized Jacob as his firstborn.
After Jacob had departed from his
father’s house, God appeared to him in a dream saying, “I am the God of
Abraham, and the God of Isaac,” referring to Himself as the God whom Abraham
and Isaac had known, experienced, and served diligently with faith in various
places and under various circumstances. There is a hint of yearning in God’s
declaration: although He did not expressly say it, God also wanted to be the
God of Jacob. He wanted to be Jacob’s. God promised to be with him wherever he
went, just as He had been with Jacob’s father and grandfather. God would be
Jacob’s inheritance and wished for Jacob to be His special possession (Deut
32:9). Similarly, God was the inheritance of the Levites who were set apart for
Him. The Bible describes that the Levites had no material inheritance, unlike
their brothers of the other tribes. Instead, they had God—the ultimate
inheritance (Num 18:20; Deut 18:1–2).
Today, true believers are likened to the Levites, set apart for God. The Lord
wants us to look forward to no other goodness, apart from Him (Ps 16:2). The Lord is our inheritance, just as He would be Jacob’s.
Awakened from his dream, Jacob
made a vow to God: “If God will be with me, and keep me in this way that I am
going, and give me bread to eat and clothing to put on, so that I come back to
my father’s house in peace, then the Lord
shall be my God” (Gen 28:20–21). Jacob’s last phrase “then the Lord shall be my God,” reveals that he
had yet to treat God as his own God. He thought he could negotiate with God.
Twenty years later, Jacob fled
from his uncle’s place with all his possessions (Gen 31:20). He crossed the
river, and headed toward the mountains of Gilead
en route to his father’s home. When Laban overtook him in the mountains of Gilead after a seven day pursuit, Jacob told his uncle:
Unless the God of my father, the God of Abraham and the Fear of Isaac,
had been with me, surely now you would have sent me away empty-handed. God has
seen my affliction and the labor of my hands, and rebuked you last night. (Gen
Throughout the twenty years that
Jacob stayed with Laban at Padan
God was always with him (Gen 31:5). Even Laban could attest to this (Gen
30:27). However, from his conversation with Laban, we
can see that, in his heart, God was still the God whom his father feared, the
God of Abraham (Gen 31:42). Even though God had always been by his side during
those twenty years away from home, he still saw God as the God of his father
and grandfather but not his own.
It was only when Jacob arrived at the
ford of Jabbok (Gen 32:22) and wrestled with God that
he truly met God face to face. When the Lord saw that He did not prevail
against Jacob, He touched and disjointed the socket of his hip. God said to
him, “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob (supplanter), but Israel
(Prince of God, or “one who wrestles with God”), for you have struggled with
God and with men, and have prevailed.”
How did Jacob prevail over God? Did
Jacob not suffer a hip injury that left him crippled? Wouldn’t that be
considered a defeat? No, Jacob did not prevail over God. Or did Jacob prevail
over Esau? Did he not flee to Padan Aram, haunted by fear that Esau
wanted to kill him? No, Jacob did not prevail over Esau. In a physical sense,
he did not prevail at all.
But if we go beyond the ordinary
to look at Jacob’s life journey, he did prevail. He prevailed over his mother’s
heart, for she willingly helped him receive the blessing of the firstborn. He
prevailed over his father’s heart, for Isaac willingly blessed him with the
blessing of Abraham from God (Gen 28:3–4). He had also won over God’s heart,
for God gave him all that He had promised Abraham and Isaac (Gen 35:11–12).
Yes, Jacob received all these
because he had resolved not to give up on himself. He was born a second child,
taking hold of his brother’s heel. As a second child, he was unsure if he would
end up like his uncles, excluded from the blessing Abraham had received from
God and from inheriting the land God had promised. However, being a second child
was not his own choice. He struggled and grasped any opportunity to prevent the
blessing of Abraham from passing him by. Eventually, God granted him the
birthright (Ex 4:22). This was what his name Jacob meant: heel catcher, or
supplanter. He grabbed the birthright and supplanted the firstborn.
As the sun rose and Jacob limped
across Penuel―“the face of God”—he saw why he could safely pass through
his tumultuous life: it was not his own strong will to supplant or grab, but it
was the mercy of the Lord who had been silently accompanying him. Now, he was
to meet his brother who had been a primary threat to his life. At this crucial
moment, when the strength of his legs was most needed, he limped. Nevertheless,
now being Israel,
the prince of God, he knew he had nothing to fear and none other than his God
to lean on. Jacob had finally learned to let go and to look no further. God purposely
took away the strength in his legs. Now, God would carry him wherever He wanted.
When he returned to Canaan, Jacob
erected an altar and called it “El Elohe Israel,” which
means “God, the God of Israel” (Gen 33:20). God had become his own God! The
Lord was no longer his grandfather’s or father’s God, but his. He is the God
who led Jacob to personally discover, encounter, and acknowledge Him in his
I too want God to be mine. I too
want to be one whom He loves.