“And the Lord said unto Jacob, ‘Return unto the land of thy fathers, and to thy kindred; and I will be with thee.’”
Genesis 31: 3
King James Version
“The God of Our Past:
What It’s Like to Have a Clean Slate
“Even though you’ve given up a past it hasn’t given you up. It comes uninvited – and sometimes half welcome.”
Is there something that happened in my past that hinders me from moving forward?
“Sometimes a person has to go back, really back – to have a sense, an understanding of all that’s gone to make them – before they can go forward.”
“I will instruct thee and teach thee in the way which thou shalt go: I will guide thee with mine eye.”
Psalm 32: 8
King James Version
We all have a past. In fact, it seems that immediately after we take our first breath, we begin laying the bedrock of what, years later, becomes our history. If you don’t think your past matters, just listen to the charges and counter-charges politicians and pundits level at one another as they try to dredge the waterways of another individual’s past history.
Just yesterday, I asked my husband, Jim, how he would feel if someone were allowed to rummage through his past like a hungry person going through a garbage barrel. Jim looked at me and said, “Are you kidding?!” And I know his past looks pretty clean compared with most.
We all have made mistakes. There are people we’ve wounded. Things we’ve done. And for some of our actions, we have paid a huge price. But what’s more, sometimes our past rears its head and affects our present and future. The other night there was a special television program about an unsolved murder that happened over 30 years ago in a California city. Through new crime solving techniques, the murderer was found. He had never committed another crime in his life. He was married with children and for over 30 years had lived a completely “normal” life. None of his co-workers or neighbors could believe he had or would ever do anything wrong. He was loved and admired. Yet one day, the police came to his door and asked to speak with him. Without any hesitancy, he admitted to a vicious crime that indeed, had been part of his life. His past had come back to haunt him.
Now just imagine for a minute you were Jacob. Your wives, Leah and Rachel, seemed to be getting along better. Your work in your father-in-law, Laban’s, business had helped produce abundant wealth and prosperity for the entire family. Then one night, God comes to you in a dream. He reminds you of your past – both good and bad. He tells you that He is the God of your father Isaac and your grandfather Abraham. He reminds you that as He was with them, so He will be with you. This is the good part of the remembrance of Jacob’s past. But then God continues, “I want you to go back home.” If we recall, the reason Jacob left home was because his brother Esau let it be known that once his father died, he was going to kill his sneaky brother, Jacob. Esau’s death threat was also part of Jacob’s past. And going home, meant Jacob had to confront his past behavior, head-on!
Has this every happened to you?
Have you burned some bridges in your past and you know that if you “go back” you’ll have to repair what you broke apart? I think we can all relate to the fact that sometimes when we use a scorched earth policy in our treatment of others, going back can be very difficult. Jacob knew this. But with God instructing him to make a move, Jacob knew he could either disobey and say, “no,” or he could move forward, extremely fearful that his past might kill him and his family.
Jacob did obey God. He did move forward as God requested. And here’s why he was able to go ahead, even with the remembrance of his past weighing on his mind. There are four reasons and they are all found in Genesis 28: 15. When Jacob, with a terror filled heart, running for his life left his parents home, he stopped to sleep in a place he called Bethel. During the night God came to him in a dream and promised:
1. “I am with thee.”
2. “I will keep thee in all places whither thou goest.”
3. “I will bring thee again into this land.”
4. “I will not leave thee, until I have done that which
I have spoken to thee of.”
Genesis 28: 15
King James Version
Let me put this in God’s 21st century language:
“I’m here now. I’m watching you wherever you go. And since I gave you this place, if I lead you away from here for a time, I’ll see that you get back. And, by the way, I’m going to stay by your side until my purpose in your life is totally complete.”
No wonder when Jacob told his wives and children it was time to follow God, they obeyed as well.
Basically, what God said to Jacob was: “Your past can be faced when I’m walking with you. I’ll help you over the mountains and down through the valleys.”
When we, as failing humans, look back over the past landscape of our lives, we all see patches we wish weren’t there. But God comes to each of us, as he did to Jacob, and promises, “I’m with you; I won’t leave you. Best of all I have a purpose for you. And I will never leave you until my plan for your life is completed.”
God knew Jacob had a past. But like He does for us, God wiped the slate clean. God didn’t want Jacob to dwell on a past that He had already forgiven. Yes, Jacob would need to mend fences and help repair relationships he had broken apart, but God assured Jacob that He would be there every step of the way. I love the statement: “Where the grace of God leads you, the grace of God will keep you.”
This is exactly what Jacob and his family found out about the God Who Can Handle Our Past.
Henri Boulard wrote: “I don’t need someone to repair my past; I need someone to transform me – to transform is to recreate.” During the next two days we will see how the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob not only took care of Jacob’s past but filled him with courage for his present life and yes, transformed him into a new creation as he followed God’s guiding hand in the future.
May you and I, in the words of Francois Fenelon, “Let gratitude for the past inspire us with trust for the future.” We can look at our past, with the hope of God in our hearts, when we remember whom we have chosen to guide our lives – a Heavenly Father who will never leave us or forsake us.
“One faces the future with one’s past.”
Pearl S. Buck
“If every part of my life is with You
and in You, Lord,
then everything is made good;
even the things I struggle not to resent,
even the draining and hurtful encounters.
Let every moment of my life be Your moment,
whether or not I consciously remember You,
and make me more open
to the pulse of Your life
and the breath of Your love.”
Dorothy Valcárcel, Author
When A Woman Meets Jesus
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