When The Sun Comes Over the Hill

Gustave Doré [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Gustave Doré [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

When Jacob braced himself for the presumed final showdown with his angry brother Esau, he rose up to institute his strategy (Genesis 32:22) because that is what Jacob does.

His life was characterized as a man who remained in control.  He kept others off balance, a bent of his personality that focused on getting what he wanted.

At birth, he came forth clutching his older twin’s heal and was thus named Jacob or “one who snatches by the heal”.   He became the person who trips others up, who gets others off balance, the one whose words appear perfectly sound but somehow fuel a self-serving interest.

He tricked his older brother Esau out of his birthright and inheritance.  He stole the patriarchal blessing meant for the older twin.  He managed the work-for-wives and work-for-cattle program with his uncle Laban to always come out ahead.  Now it seems he had manipulated himself into a corner.  Esau was charging towards him and that could only mean bad news.  Even here he employed a strategy to cut his losses.

“Do not fear, thou worm Jacob!”  (Isaiah 41:14).  For God must have seen in Jacob a heart that wanted the things that God valued.  To Jacob, His calling mattered.  God’s inheritance mattered.  His sacrifices to God mattered.  God’s blessings mattered.  God Himself mattered.

Jacob was left alone on the mountain to face himself and think.  At this point, a man appeared out of nowhere (Genesis does this) to wrestle with him – perhaps an angel  some say or perhaps a preincarnate appearance of Christ others say.

The match was a lesson in prevailing but not in a way we might think.  Jacob didn’t overthrow his opponent.  Rather this mysterious man deadened Jacob’s thigh (the strongest muscle in the body symbolizing the best of our strength) so all Jacob could do was cling and hold on.  All night, where God went, Jacob went, clinging in utter dependence.

The picture isn’t suggesting that strategy, taking action, and working towards our goals are bad or that we should resign ourselves to a life of passivity.  But what it does suggest is that the best of our strength is not the means to prevail before God.  Rather, it is in our dependence,  our trust, our clinging to God in need, and our leaning upon Him.   We pray not because we are overcomers to stir up the flesh to action.  We pray because we are the helpless widow who would be lost if God didn’t intervene on our behalf.  (Luke 18:3).

Jacob didn’t walk away perfect.  Later in life, he was prone to self-pity – another form of manipulation.  Nevertheless, he was different.  In this realization of weakness, limitation and true humility, his name was changed from Jacob, the heel-snatcher and manipulator, to  Israel, the one who prevails with God.

The story began with Jacob rising up the hill to accomplish his plan.  Now, as Jacob limped down the hill, interrupted, stripped of his control, and leaning on his staff, it was the sun that rose upon him.  (Genesis 32:31)  The sun had finally come over the hill.


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The Dogs of Rage

By Jose Rocha from Rio de Janeiro, Brasil (Flickr) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By Jose Rocha from Rio de Janeiro, Brasil (Flickr) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Each morning in the darkness, a very large dog and a mid-sized backup dog stare me awake for their trip to the doggy park.    One of us grabs coffee and the rest pile into the car.

I jog the perimeter of the park and do mild attempts with a twenty-five pound kettlebell.  The dogs do dog things prancing in the morning mist lit by a lone street lamp.

Soon two headlights creep up the gravel road along side the park putting the dogs into high alert.  The dogs of rage have arrived.  Nothing is said.  The hour has come.

The dogs of rage burst into the small, secluded puppy area, a mere chain link fence away.  They are kept in isolation.  They cannot socialize.  They give off an aura that incites confrontation and outburst of emotion.

The dogs on both sides of the fence thrust into attack running up and down along side the barrier, mouths foaming spewing a thick volley of doggy trash talk.  It is a battle yet a game.  It is a struggle for dominance fueled by anger of the deepest innermost rage to accomplish a seemingly sublime goal that in the end is insignificant and offers no benefit to the world about them.  Kind of like football, come to think of it.

We let it play out and I thought about a man who always seemed to be contentious and on the attack.  I saw him harshly confront a young lady over an innocent side comment she made the week before reducing her to tears.  When I asked about this man people rolled their eyes and said he was just this way.  A thoughtful brother told me that there was a part of this man that the Lord was working on that has merit and beauty.

I don’t know what made the man the way he is.  But I did see him once break down and weep at the thought that he was reading the very words of Jesus.  And another time I saw his generous spirit helping someone in need.

The dogs reached their cardiovascular limits.  They lost interest in the fight and breathed heavily in the morning air.  The big dog and the mid-sized backup dog followed me as we jogged down the hill to do another lap around the perimeter.

I’ve thought of the many times over the years where my mind fell into a bad place resulting in an abusive burst of angry rage hurting those about me and shaming myself.  I thought I would be beyond this after all these years.  I’ve explored various helps from physiological to psychological to spiritual and certainly have found some help in self-management, identifying triggers, trusting God’s benevolence, and realizing the broken pathways in my thinking.

Nevertheless, when Jesus freed the demoniac, the demons fled into the pigs and tumbled over the side of the cliff with a sense of finality.  I think my demons still hide in the bushes waiting for an opportune time when I have my guard down.

I chatted with the owners of the dogs of rage, two sweet women.  They rescued these two black dogs from abusive situations.  The trauma was so bad that they will never be normal dogs.  The insecurity and harsh reactiveness is, at least for now, hard wired.  Yet each morning, the women look beyond the obvious exterior and see the beauty in two of God’s creatures.

That Sunday as we brought our broken and contradictory selves to the communion table, I heard this:

How deep the Father’s love for us
How vast beyond all measure
That He should give His only Son
To make a wretch his treasure

Behold the Man upon a cross
My sin upon His shoulders
Ashamed I hear my mocking voice
Call out among the scoffers

Why should I gain from His reward?
I cannot give an answer
But this I know with all my heart
His wounds have paid my ransom