What Does Thankfulness Lead To?
Thankfulness begins when you see where you’ve been. Sometimes it’s good to look back and see where God has brought you. As a pastor over the years one of my favorite parts of visiting with the people of my congregation is to hear those stories. I loved hearing the story of the lady who looked forward to Christmas. For, at Christmas, she got a new pair of shoes and a new dress. And that’s all she got. And, then years later, she could say to me, “Now I got so many shoes I have no idea what to do with them.” Thankfulness begins when you see where you have been. Our words this morning reflect that same fact. In Genesis 32, we read: “9 Then Jacob said, “God of my father Abraham and God of my father Isaac, the Lord who said to me, ‘Go back to your land and to your family, and I will cause you to prosper,’ 10 I am unworthy of all the kindness and faithfulness you have shown your servant. Indeed, I crossed over the Jordan with my staff, and now I have become two camps.” (Genesis 32:9–10 CSB17)
In these words we meet a man names Jacob. Jacob was the sort of guy who was smart. But his intelligence wasn’t always his friend. Throughout his life, instead of humbly trusting his Lord and placing his faith and lift in the Lord’s hands, he had to think his way out of problems. And his life was a series of disasters. In fact, his life was so bad that he had to run away from his own family because his brother, Esau, wanted to kill him. But the Lord appeared to him and told him that he would surely bring him back to this land. And now twenty years later, there he was, at the river Jordan. And he has the opportunity to look back and thank God. He says with all sincerity and simplicity, “All I had when I went away was this staff. Coming back, I have not one, but two camps.” And when Jacob sees where he was then and then was now, he thanks the Lord God saying that he is unworthy of all the kindnesses he has received. And today we pause, like Jacob, to do the same. Thankfulness begins when we see where we have been. It begins when we see how we brought nothing into this world with us, but, out of his love for us, the Lord blessed us with much. But my dear friends in Christ, that fact is not the end and conclusion of these words. No, it’s just the beginning. For the real question is not where thankfulness begins. Instead, the real question is: What does thankfulness lead to? We read: “11 Please rescue me from my brother Esau, for I am afraid of him; otherwise, he may come and attack me, the mothers, and their children. 12 You have said, ‘I will cause you to prosper, and I will make your offspring like the sand of the sea, too numerous to be counted.’” 13 He spent the night there and took part of what he had brought with him as a gift for his brother Esau: 14 two hundred female goats, twenty male goats, two hundred ewes, twenty rams, 15 thirty milk camels with their young, forty cows, ten bulls, twenty female donkeys, and ten male donkeys. 16 He entrusted them to his slaves as separate herds and said to them, “Go on ahead of me, and leave some distance between the herds.” 18 then tell him, ‘They belong to your servant Jacob. They are a gift sent to my Lord Esau. And look, he is behind us.’” 19 He also told the second one, the third, and everyone who was walking behind the animals, “Say the same thing to Esau when you find him.” (Genesis 32:11–16, 18–19 CSB17)
In these words Jacob reminds the Lord of a promise he had spoken. He says to the Lord, “I will make your offspring like the sand of the sea.”1(Genesis 32:13 BHS-T)}} And so Jacob takes a very intersting action. He divides and subdivides his camps up and sends them on ahead of him, knowing that that last time he saw his brother, his brother wanted to kill him. In an amazing display of faith he sends them all ahead, holding God to his promise that he would prosper them. For how could his offspring be like the sand of the sea if Esau killed every man, woman and child?
And my friends in Christ, that’s where thankfulness leads: Confidence. Confidence in future days. Each of us is able to say to ourselves, “God promised to be with me. And he has been with me. Therefore I can be confident in future days.” But each of us also has to say to ourselves, “Do I have this sort of confidence?” Do I have the sort of confidence to send my family away and trust that God will work things out? Years ago, our girls reached that milestone that they got to go onto the bus by themselves for school. And I still remember this sort of crushing fear I had inside of me: Will the bus driver kidnap them? Will her classmates make fun of her? Will she be safe at school? All these fears and so many more were there. And the small task and challenge I had was to just let my little girl get on the school bus.
But, my friends in Christ, thankfulness leads to confidence. For each of us can look back at the promises that God made. And those are promises that he kept. And if he kept them in the past, he will keep them in the future. And so, Jacob sends all his family and all his flocks ahead of him. For thankfulness leads to confidence in future days. But there’s more to these words. We read: “24 Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. 25 When the man saw that he could not defeat him, he struck Jacob’s hip socket as they wrestled and dislocated his hip. 26 Then he said to Jacob, “Let me go, for it is daybreak.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” 27 “What is your name?” the man asked. “Jacob,” he replied. 28 “Your name will no longer be Jacob,” he said. “It will be Israel because you have struggled with God and with men and have prevailed.” 29 Then Jacob asked him, “Please tell me your name.” But he answered, “Why do you ask my name?” And he blessed him there. 30 Jacob then named the place Peniel, “For I have seen God face to face,” he said, “yet my life has been spared.”” (Genesis 32:24–30 CSB17)
Thankfulness leads to confidence in future days. But notice the emphasis here: Thankfulness leads to confidence on our final day. Look at the context. Just before this, Jacob’s brother-in-law, Laban was trying to kill him. And Jacob had this real and perfectly logical fear that Esau was out to kill him and every man, woman, and child that he had. But what about his God? Was the Lord out to get him too? And so, in this amazing part of the bible there is a man that shows up and strives and struggles with Jacob. And Jacob asks for a blessing. But we quickly see that this is a blessing of mercy instead of a blessing of merit. But what kind of blessing was this? We find out at the end of the words. For Jacob says, “I saw God face-to-face, and yet my life was rescued.”2(Genesis 32:31 BHS-T)}} Our english versions translate the phrase as “I was spared.” But there’s more going on here. The verb means to rescue from a dangerous situation. All of us, each of us, yearns to meet our Maker. And yet we fear it too. Laban was out to get Jacob. Esau looked like he was out to get Jacob. Was God out to get him too? Where would Jacob stand when he died? Would he be forgiven or put to death and put into hell? Jacob needed to know where he stood with God. And in this amazing show of care and concern for Jacob, he allows Jacob to wrestle with him to show to him and prove to him that his sins were forgiven and his soul would be saved.
And my friends in Christ, this too is where thankfulness leads. It leads to confidence in future days. But it also leads to confidence on our final day. All of us, each of us, can be confident when we meet our Maker. Why? For just as there was a God-man who wrestled with Jacob, so also, there was also a God-man who wrestled for Jacob. Jesus wrestled against Satan in the desert. He wrestled against temptation in the garden of Gethsemane. He wrestled and struggled against death itself on the cross so that Jacob and us could meet our Maker with every confidence of forgiveness.
So, as you soon wake up in the morning and gather together around the table with turkey and stuffing and pie, be thankful. Yes, that thankfulness begins with looking at where you have been. But also look at where it leads to. It leads with confidence as you look at future days and confidence as you look at your final day. Amen.
1 ”וְשַׂמְתִּ֤י אֶֽת־זַרְעֲךָ֙ כְּח֣וֹל הַיָּ֔ם“
2 ”רָאִ֤יתִי אֱלֹהִים֙ פָּנִ֣ים אֶל־פָּנִ֔ים וַתִּנָּצֵ֖ל נַפְשִֽׁי“