What is God playing at? (Part 2)
The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field” (Matthew 13:44).
In Part 1 we discovered that at perhaps the darkest time of his life Jacob encounters God at Bethel. And like the man who stumbles on the hidden treasure in Jesus’ parable, Jacob is now full of hope that this treasure of a personal God can become his own special possession. Of course, we cannot “own” God, yet we can “have” a friend. To have a friend is to have a real relationship with that person. So, in Jesus’ parable, buying the field to possess the treasure of the kingdom of God is a metaphor for moving beyond knowing that God is wonderful—a treasure—to relating with God, in the same way, we would speak of having a friend.
Jacob keeps “playing the game” of divine hide-and-seek for the next 20 years—now with hopefulness and expectancy in God because he has his Bethel story. He has seen the treasure. He has hidden the treasure in his heart. Could it be that this treasure can truly become his? What does he discover is the true purpose of this game of divine hide-and-seek?
We pick up the story where Jacob has left Bethel to live with his uncle Laban. Jacob works hard. He is motivated. Jacob deals in love and marries twice. He makes deals with Laban to grow his flocks and herds so that he can realise what his God has promised, and he complains to Laban about the 10 times Laban has changed his pay arrangements. Finally, Jacob learns what it feels like to be tricked rather than be the trickster. I am sure that every challenging situation Jacob encountered in these 20 years brought to mind the deal he made with God. Was God’s promise of the treasure he found in Bethel a sure thing? Or was God a trickster like his uncle Laban and like what he had once been? How Jacob longed for the promised treasure to be his own.
Then in another dream, God calls out to Jacob, saying, “I am the God of Bethel, where you anointed a pillar and where you made a vow to me. Now leave this land at once and go back to your native land” (Genesis 31:13). Just as in the parable of the hidden treasure in Matthew 13, it is time for Jacob to make the hidden treasure his own. It is time for Jacob to “purchase the field with all he has”. Remember that the cultural understanding at this time was that the boundaries of a country marked the jurisdiction of the god of that country. “Thus, the location of temples of the god of the land often designated the boundaries of the national territory. For example, as recorded in I Kings 12:29, King Jeroboam built temples at Dan, the northern border of Israel, and at Bethel, the southern border of Israel. And it was evidently believed, before the ascendancy of monotheism, that to leave the native land of one’s nation and dwell in another was to worship the god of the land of one’s new residence, as seems to be implied by I Samuel 26:17–20.”1
So, for Jacob to truly make the relationship with his God real, he needs to go back to the land his god had promised to him—to the land of his God!
Right here is a beautiful part of the story I do not want you to miss. It is an insight I missed for years! Jacob knows that he needs his wages from Laban to have the means to return to the land God has promised to him and his descendants. So he makes a deal for his wages. He says to Laban, “Let me go through all your flocks today and remove from them every speckled or spotted sheep, every dark-coloured lamb and every spotted or speckled goat. They will be my wages” (Genesis 30:32).
How did this deal work out? It worked out very well indeed, but not in the way we might think. Laban was a trickster, a characteristic that evidently ran in the family. Laban agreed to the deal, then “that same day he removed all the male goats that were streaked or spotted, and all the speckled or spotted female goats (all that had white on them) and all the dark-coloured lambs, and he placed them in the care of his sons. Then he put a three-day journey between himself and Jacob, while Jacob continued to tend the rest of Laban’s flocks” (Genesis 30:35,36).
Things do not look good for Jacob. How deflated Jacob must have felt. But, to everyone’s surprise, Laban’s flocks nevertheless “bore young that were streaked or speckled or spotted” (Genesis 30:39).
So the angel of God first reminds Jacob that it’s time to claim the promise and head back to the promised land. And here’s the insight I had missed for years—the angel then reminds Jacob that the surprising results of the livestock breeding program that thwarted Laban’s actions were God’s actions and not Jacob’s. So, the hiding God sets up an opportunity for Jacob to find the treasure at Bethel, then acts to provide the purchase price Jacob needs to make the promised land his own—the land of his God. How awesome is that!
There remains one last obstacle: Jacob’s brother, Esau. Jacob must pass through his brother’s land but remembers the situation that caused him to flee his home in the first place. Jacob divides his herds and people and gives them instructions about what to say when they encounter Esau. “When Esau asks: ‘Whom do you belong to, and where are you going, and who owns all these animals in front of you?’ you are to say, ‘They belong to your servant Jacob. They are a gift sent to my lord Esau, and he is coming behind us'” (Genesis 32:17).
Then the story comes to a surprising climax:
That night, Jacob got up and took his two wives, his two female servants and his eleven sons and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. After he had sent them across the stream, he sent over all his possessions. So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak. When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man. Then the man said, ‘Let me go, for it is daybreak.’
But Jacob replied, ‘I will not let you go unless you bless me.’
The man asked him, ‘What is your name?’
‘Jacob’, he answered.
Then the man said, ‘Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome.’
Jacob said, ‘Please tell me your name.’
But he replied, ‘Why do you ask my name?’ Then he blessed him there (Genesis 32:22-29).
For 20 years, the memory of Bethel had encouraged Jacob to make the treasure of relationship with his God his own. Now Jacob was ready. The kingdom of heaven had always been ready. God’s call acted like falling dominos that triggered a beautiful pattern of blessing that was to ripple outwards through humanity for eternity. Twenty years was long enough. Jacob now knew what he wanted. Jacob had sent all he had ahead of him to “buy the field that contained the treasure”. Once again Jacob was alone. At Bethel, Jacob marvelled and wondered. This time Jacob wrestled. He wrestled with God until he received the blessing. His name was changed from Jacob to Israel. Why? Because Israel means “Wrestles with God”, or “Triumphant with God”. Why? Because Jacob now has experiential knowledge of how to deepen relationships.
Like Jacob, have you run from the consequences of stupid things you have done that have caused you and your family great pain? I have. There is good news! God is not hiding from you or me. God is eager to play a divine game of hide-and-seek with you so that you indeed find the treasure, first to inspire hope, and then the adventure continues until you wrestle to make the treasure of relationship with the creator God yours to keep—forever.
Such a treasure will bless you in ways you never thought possible and will overflow to bless the lives of all those with whom you come into contact.
Are you courageous enough to play this game of Divine Hide-and-Seek? Then why not shout out, “Yes, God I am willing! Let the game begin!”
Read Part 1: “Look who is hiding” published in the July 30 issue of Adventist Record.
Craig Mattner is a teacher of mathematics and photography at Prescott College Southern, Adelaide, SA.
1. Grosby SE. Once Again, Nationality and Religion. Genealogy. 2019; 3(3):48. https://doi.org/10.3390/genealogy3030048, cited 21/03/2022.