Our world is full of human schemes. This is what we are good at. We look for ways to get ahead in the world. We use reason and hard work to plow ahead. This is the way of the world. The Tower of Babel was built in just this way!
Our scheming, all so often, is for us. We do it for ourselves. Sometimes we even scheme against other people. And this, too, is for ourselves. And our schemes can be complex.
The stock market last week was rattled by investors who artificially drove up the stock price of a company called GameStop, the video game version of Blockbuster Video – a company that failed because its business plan had run its course. GameStop sells video games from brick-and-mortar stores when most people now buy them online. The company is expected eventually to fail.
But investors drove up the stock price of GameStop, not because they believed the company was a good one but instead to cause massive losses to the hedge funds that were betting on the company’s failure. On Wall Street, it turns out, you can make a lot of money by wagering on the failure of others. And some smaller investors don’t like this kind of thing. As it turns out populist uprisings can put a dent in a hedge fund’s bottom line.
These are our schemes, and they can be complicated schemes. We can devise elaborate plans, both legal and illegal, to achieve the victory we desire. And these plans can work, and these plans can fail. And in our winning, we may say, “God’s favor is upon me.” And in our losing, we may say, “Surely God has forgotten me.”
Rachel had her mandrakes, and Jacob had his peeled poles and his sudden flight out of the country and his extravagant gift to his brother. Rachel also had her father’s household idols – but this is another story. These are pictures of our human schemes, our striving in the world to secure our place within it.
And all the while, God is calling us to walk with him.
It isn’t surprising Jacob found himself one night in a wrestling match with a strange man. At times in our scheming, we may find ourselves scheming against God. We try to fight off both God and his ways – as did Cain and like all the peoples under the flood. In all of our scheming and striving, we wrestle against the ways of God. Jacob was a picture of the man who wrestled against God.
The people of God are not to scheme. They are to cling to him.
Jacob learned this. His own wrestling match with God gives us a picture of what the man of God is to look like. Jacob started out wrestling against God and, over the long course of the night, his wrestling in some mysterious way turned into a wrestling for God. Jacob would not release him. “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” Jacob was clinging to God.
God’s ways are foreign to our elaborate schemes. We work so hard to get ahead in life, to build wealth, to secure our retirements, to keep our jobs, to build our families, to care for our children and grandchildren, to keep ourselves healthy, to keep ourselves safe. Sometimes, the long list of COVID-19 protocols can feel a little like a human scheme: “This will keep you healthy, which is the most important thing of all!”
And we wrestle against God as we scheme and plan and work. Only the grace of God changes things.
The prophet Hosea wrote about Jacob, who was a man of striving and schemes: “In the womb he took his brother by the heel, and in his manhood he strove with God. He strove with the angel and prevailed; he wept and sought his favor. He met God at Bethel, and there God spoke with us – the Lord, the God of hosts, the Lord is his memorial name: ‘So you, by the help of your God, return, hold fast to love and justice, and wait continually for your God.’” (Hosea 12:3-6).
We should not try to shake God out of our lives and do things “our way.” We are to make room for God in our lives. We are to wait continually for him.