[Jacob] blessed Joseph, and said, “The God before whom my ancestors Abraham and Isaac walked, the God who has been my shepherd all my life to this day, the angel who has redeemed me from all harm, bless the boys; and in them let my name be perpetuated, and the name of my ancestors Abraham and Isaac; and let them grow into a multitude on the earth.”
Who is God to you? If you were to summarize your personal knowledge of God, what would you say? I’m not asking at this moment about your doctrine of God, your articulated theology. I’m wondering more about your relationship with God, your experienced theology. (Of course, in the end, what we believe about God and what we experience should converge. But, on the way to meeting God face to face, they are often distinct.)
If, like Jacob, we experience God as one before whom our ancestors, both literal and spiritual, walked, then we will see ourselves as part of God’s greater work, as members of God’s greater family.
You can find an example of what I’m talking about in Genesis 48. In this chapter, Jacob was coming to the end of his life. One of the last things he did was to bless his sons, including Joseph’s sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, whom Jacob had adopted as his own children. Jacob began his blessing of Ephraim and Manasseh by focusing on Joseph, referring to God in a particular way. He said, “The God before whom my ancestors Abraham and Isaac walked, the God who has been my shepherd all my life to this day, the angel who has redeemed me from all harm, bless the boys . . .” (48:15-16).
In these three phrases, Jacob summarized his experience of God. Perhaps Jacob’s profession of experienced faith can help us understand and grow in our own relationship with God. Today, we’ll examine Jacob’s first description of God. We’ll pick up the next two descriptions on Thursday and Friday.
Jacob began by identifying God as the one before whom his ancestors walked. Why did this aspect of God matter so much to Jacob? He had known his whole life that God chose his grandfather, Abraham, entering into a covenant relationship to bless him, his family, and the whole earth through him. Jacob did not invent God or create God in his own image. Rather, a covenantal relationship with God was something passed down to him from those who had gone before him. Jacob’s faith was anchored, not only in his own experience of God, but also in that of his family, his community of faith.
As Christians, we are like Jacob, many times over. Some of us were raised in Christian families where we were encouraged to have a personal relationship with God. Others of us did not first experience God through our families, but our faith has been nurtured and shaped by those who have gone before us. This is true whether we recognize it or not. But if, like Jacob, we experience God as one before whom our ancestors, both literal and spiritual, walked, then we will see ourselves as part of God’s greater work, as members of God’s greater family. We’re set free from the “Jesus and only me” version of Christianity that permeates much of Christian culture today. We have been prepared to accept, with gratitude and humility the legacy of faith passed on to us, so that we might learn and be encouraged.
QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER:
If you were to describe God in terms of your experience of God, what might you say?
Were you raised in a family that helped you to know God? If so, how did your family shape your experience of God?
Does it matter that Christian faith has been passed down to us from those who walked with God in the past? If so, why? If not, why not?
Gracious God, you are indeed the one before whom our ancestors walked. Thank you for those who have gone before us in relationship with you, helping us to know you truly and intimately. Thank you for making yourself known to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Thank you for making yourself known to us through their experience of you, through what you did with them and for how you revealed yourself to them.
Thank you also, Lord, for those who helped to encourage my faith. For me, this surely includes my parents and grandparents, my Sunday school teachers, youth leaders, and pastors, my wife and children, my brothers and sisters in Christ. Thank you for those who have shared their knowledge of you through writing, for people like Dallas Willard and Henri Nouwen.
Help me, Lord, to receive well the faith passed on to me. Help me to pass it along faithfully to the next generations. To you be all the glory. Amen.