A Mysterious Alchemy

It’s hard to appreciate God’s future until we’re sick of our present.

Reginald III, Duke of Guelders, was so obese that after being captured in war, he was imprisoned in a room built around him.  His captor (who was his own brother, Edward) told Reginald he could leave whenever he wished.  However, the door was conventionally sized, and there was no way Reginald’s bulk could fit through it.  Each day his cruel brother sent him sumptuous treats, which the Duke feasted upon, and for many years the poor man remained a prisoner, not of lock and key, but of his own appetites.

We are our own worst enemies.  You can blame others, the devil, or even God.  Yet, inside our hearts lie the seeds of our destruction—sinful appetites and natural propensities—a volatile brew that always brings misery.

Our greatest blessing will be transformation into the image of Jesus Christ.

It is precisely this work that we see established from the beginning of God’s people in the book of Genesis, at the very “root” of the olive tree (Rom. 11:18).  Since you are now a branch in this family tree of faith (Rom. 11:24), God will not fail to operate in you according to these same principles.

With Abraham, God makes clear the great overarching idea that “Without faith it is impossible to please Him” (Heb. 11:6).  In Isaac, He accentuates grace, emblematic of the Son of God.

But the life of Jacob primarily focuses on transformation, the significant work of the Holy Spirit (2 Cor. 3:18).  For we begin with a man who is heir of Abraham’s faith and Isaac’s grace, but who is clever, ambitious, and manipulative, ignorant of God’s way and bankrupt of His image.

And so Jacob will unknowingly embark on a trajectory into slow metamorphosis.  Inside the mysterious alchemy of divinely ordered and allowed environments, he will change by no less than the Holy Spirit’s quiet work.

The outward appearance of Jacob’s saga gives no clue of such wonderful or deep dynamics.  In fact, it looks much to the contrary.  The hapless man experiences family strife as his brother seeks to kill him (Gen. 27:41), marital strife with two bickering spouses (chap. 30), and the vexation of misbehaving adult sons (chap. 34).  He broils in the frustration of an unrighteous employer (29-31), fears unpleasant, if not fatal confrontations with people (31-32), and grieves the tragedies of a raped daughter and the loss of his favorite son (34, 37).

However, it is not all lament along the way.  Jacob’s stormy life is punctuated with more visions of God than Abraham and Isaac combined.

And at the end of his life, he blesses Pharaoh (47:7), demonstrating a Spirit-elevated status above the king of that ancient world.  When he blesses the twelve tribes of Israel, it is a word spoken in veritable oneness with the Holy Spirit (chap. 48), carrying the weight of the ages, and shaping the destinies of God’s people.

The Holy Spirit modeled His irresistible work at the root of the tree long ago, and will find you, an unchristlike little branch.  He will humble, smooth, strengthen, and temper you, while depositing the glory of the unique Son of God within.  And He will use His omnipotent power to arrange the circumstances of life itself around this goal.

The unfading, glorious image of Christ is coming.



  1. This reminds me of a poem I have on the wall in my office. No one seems to know the exact origin of this poem, but I like it very much and I think it speaks to the point you are making about Jacob:

    When God wants to drill a man,
    And thrill a man,
    And skill a man
    When God wants to mold a man
    To play the noblest part;

    When He yearns with all His heart
    To create so great and bold a man
    That all the world shall be amazed,
    Watch His methods, watch His ways!

    How He ruthlessly perfects
    Whom He royally elects!
    How He hammers him and hurts him,
    And with mighty blows converts him

    Into trial shapes of clay which
    Only God understands;
    While his tortured heart is crying
    And he lifts beseeching hands!

    How He bends but never breaks
    When his good He undertakes;
    How He uses whom He chooses,
    And which every purpose fuses him;
    By every act induces him
    To try His splendor out-
    God knows what He’s about.

    1. Thanks for this, Dan! I first heard it quoted by Ravi Zacharias. Can’t remember who wrote it, either, and I think it might even be an anonymous author. I actually adapted a slice of this poem a couple weeks back for use in a message.

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