I must make a confession.
I’ve never read the Bible all the way through.
All told I’ve probably read a good 80-90% over my lifetime, but never cover to cover. Some books I’ve spent months at a time doing in depth study and research. Other books have gotten hardly more than a quick skim as I’m looking up one particular verse.
But with the new year I’ve set a goal for myself. I’m going to read the Bible completely and thoroughly. Not because I feel obligated in any way. But because we may never know what hidden gems are buried in Holy Scripture – those treasures hidden in a field, those pearls of great price, those fresh-air insights. As I read I am going to try to keep track of some of the bigger ones I’ve never noticed before.
And no, I’m not following any reading plan. I’m reading at the same pace I would any other book. I don’t set out to read so many chapters a day of the latest Dean Koontz novel. So why would I treat the Bible differently? But I have made this part of the goal – I’m not reading any other book until I’ve completed the last chapter of Revelation.
Anyway, on to one of those interesting tidbits in Scripture I’ve never noticed before. I’ve read Genesis more times than I can attempt to count. It’s one of the richest books, in my opinion, as far as plot, character development, and so on. Each character is so real, so vivd, so relatable. There are layers upon layers of personality.
This time through the book, the character of Jacob really stood out to me. Jacob didn’t want to believe in God. He didn’t want to follow God. He didn’t want anything to do with God. But God had other plans.
In his early years Jacob was not a nice guy. He was that character you love to hate. He was wimpy, whiny, manipulative, and heartless – especially towards his own family.
He knew his father, Isaac, served the God of his grandfather, Abraham. But early on Jacob didn’t want anything to do with this God. In what was his darkest hour Jacob steals the blessing from his older brother. I don’t have time to go into detail about what the blessing was or why it was significant, but this was a BIG deal.
Anyway, Jacob, posing as Esau, brings Isaac some stew. When Isaac asked how he got back so quickly, Jacob said “The LORD your God gave me success” (Gen. 27:20). He knew the God of Isaac, but he didn’t even pretend to claim him as his own God.
After Jacob stole the blessing away from Esau, he left home on the run from his brother. You can add “coward” to the list of descriptors. But while he’s on the run from his brother after deceiving his father and stealing what was not his – in the middle of all THAT – God appeared to him in a vision. God revealed himself to Jacob and promised to bless and protect him.
Even though Jacob had no interest in pursuing God, God pursued Jacob. God didn’t wait for Jacob to confess his sins and repent. He didn’t wait for Jacob to realized what he had done. He didn’t wait for Jacob to call out to God for deliverance.
God pursued Jacob.
And he wouldn’t take “No” for an answer.
After that vision, Jacob is still hesitant. He tries to strike a deal with God. “If God take care of me, meets my needs, and keeps me safe, THEN he will be my God.”
Even after that Jacob is quite the fence-sitter. He still tries to manipulate people to get what he wants and he still allows idols in his household. Finally, God had enough. He actually came down and had a physical altercation with Jacob. They fought and wrestled until Jacob finally learned his lesson – God is not to be toyed with. You’re either in or your out.
It took seeing God face to face and hours of wrestling with him, but Jacob finally committed. And his name was changed to Israel.
Jacob never pursued God. But God never quit pursuing Jacob.
And perhaps that’s one of the most hope-filled lessons in all of Scripture. God pursues man.
Jesus would tell similar stories about a shepherd who would not give up on his lost sheep, a woman who would not give up on her lost coin, and a father who would not give up on his lost son. God doesn’t give up on lost people.
God will pursue us, even when we don’t pursue him.