There is no one like the God of Jeshurun, who rides on the heavens to help you
and on the clouds in his majesty. The eternal God is your refuge,
and underneath are the everlasting arms.
- Deuteronomy 33:26-27a
This passage contains one of the most comforting promises in all the Scriptures: “underneath are the everlasting arms.” We may sometimes feel that we are in “free-fall” heading rapidly toward a hard landing. In the first Superman movie starring Christopher Reeves, “Lois Lane” is falling from a tall building, hurtling toward the ground. Suddenly she is scooped up by Superman. Superman says, “Don’t worry, I’ve got you” and she replies, “You’ve got me but who’s got you?!” The arms of God, the Bible says, are underneath His people. God holds up everything in the universe but He needs no one to hold Him up. He offers strong protection to everyone who trusts in Him.
He is the “God of Jeshurun”. That was one of the names of Israel and it means “one who is upright”. As you may recall, Israel’s original name was Jacob which meant “the schemer” or “the supplanter” and indicated someone who achieves his ends by devious and even unethical means. Certainly that was the case with Jacob. First he extorted the right of the firstborn from Esau who was faint with hunger and then he stole through subterfuge his father’s final blessing, something that should have gone to Esau. Jacob had to flee for his life to escape the wrath of his brother. And it was in that flight and the years of his exile that God re-made Jacob and gave him a new name, Israel, which means “one who prevails with God”, for as the angel said to Jacob, “you have striven with God and with men and have prevailed.” (Genesis 32:28)
Jacob had been cheated multiple times by his father-in-law over many years so he had slipped away secretly with his wives, children, servants, flocks and herds. His irate father-in-law came after him and caught up with him. It was only God’s warning in a dream to Laban that saved Jacob from destruction. Still, Laban made Jacob swear never to return to the land of Ur as he had done before to escape his brother. Having escaped his father-in-law he soon after learned that his brother was coming to “greet” him with hundreds of men on horse-back and he had no means to defend himself. He was, as the saying goes, “between the devil and the deep blue sea”! What was he to do?
Jacob decided to send several of his servants with gifts of animals from his extensive herds. They were staggered at intervals so that Esau would receive an ever-increasing quantity of valuable gifts. Jacob reasoned, “I will appease him with the present that goes before me.” Then Jacob divided his family and remaining flocks and herds into two companies so that if Esau attacked one, the other would have the chance to escape. But that did not give Jacob ultimate peace of mind. Jacob was left alone. This is where God met him. Times of aloneness with God are what all of us need! So while alone, a man approached Jacob and began to wrestle with him. In fact, this man was a “theophany”, God appearing to Jacob as if He were a man. This foreshadowed the time, long afterward, when God really did “become flesh and dwelt among us.” (John 1:14)
They wrestled all night and as dawn was breaking, the man asked Jacob to let go of him. Jacob refused and said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” So God gave Jacob the name of “Israel”, for the reason already given: he had wrestled with God and men and prevailed. God was giving Jacob the assurance that his “prayer” was answered. And so it turned out that when Jacob met his brother Esau it was all smiles and hugs.
Why are we reviewing this probably familiar story? It is because in Deuteronomy 33:26-27, Jacob and his descendants are given a new name: “Jeshurun” or as it would be pronounced in Hebrew, “yeshooroon”, meaning as we’ve noted already, “one who is righteous” or “upright”. Jacob became a more upright man through what God allowed him to suffer. He started off as a conniving schemer and while he always remained a clever man, he learned what it was like to be on the receiving end of somebody else’s shrewdness and dishonesty. More than that, he learned to lean on the Lord and to go to Him for refuge in times of peril, rather than depending upon his own clever schemes. This is why Moses calls God, “the God of Jeshurun, who rides on the heavens to help you and on the clouds in his majesty.” In other words, God is swift to help one who is “an Israelite indeed”, that is, someone who trusts in Him and is willing to do His will. For such Jeshurun people, the eternal God becomes their refuge, and they grow increasingly assured that “underneath are the everlasting arms.”
We all start off pretty rough-hewn. To be plain about it, we are all sinners, as the Bible declares (Romans 3:9-23) and as human history overwhelmingly testifies. God wants to help us and does things to get our attention. For Jacob, it was when he had begun to reap some of what he had sown. Having fled his home and family he was sleeping in the desert with a rock for a pillow when God gave him a dream which we now know was a vision of Christ, the Redeemer, represented by a ladder that reached from earth to heaven. (Genesis 28:10-12; John 1:51) In the dream, God renewed the promise he had made to his grandfather, Abraham and father, Isaac, that his descendants would have the land of Canaan, would be as many as the dust of the earth and that through him and his descendants all the families of the earth would be blessed. When Jacob awoke, he made a vow that he would serve God if God would take care of him and, at the end of his journeys, bring him safely back to his home. This was his watershed moment, the beginning of his real relationship with God. As we saw, God had to lead Jacob through hard times to shape his soul into something that more closely resembled the God he served. And so it is with everyone who surrenders his or her life to God. In the midst of our problems, God shows up. He becomes our refuge and His mighty arms support us. We learn and grow through our trials and though, like Jacob, we may walk with a limp thereafter (Genesis 32:31-32), our confidence will no longer be in ourselves but in “the God of Jeshurun.”