The story of Jacob is one that we should all be familiar with from Scripture. A younger brother who rises up to rule over his older brother. Inspiring right! Well… not exactly.
What do we know about Jacob?
Deep-seated family hostilities characterized Jacob’s life. He was a determined man; some would consider him to be ruthless. He was definitely a con artist, a liar, and a manipulator. I find it interesting that we see stories that paint this picture of the man we know as Jacob, but his name also tells a lot about him. In ancient times a name often carried a meaning or purpose for your life. If Jacob’s name was his purpose then he surely accomplished it… the name Jacob not only means “deceiver,” but more literally it means “heel grabber.”
From birth Jacob exhibiting greed and a desire to take what wasn’t rightfully his.
Genesis 25:19-28 paints this picture,
These are the generations of Isaac, Abraham’s son: Abraham fathered Isaac, and Isaac was forty years old when he took Rebekah, the daughter of Bethuel the Aramean of Paddan-aram, the sister of Laban the Aramean, to be his wife. And Isaac prayed to the Lord for his wife, because she was barren. And the Lord granted his prayer, and Rebekah his wife conceived. The children struggled together within her, and she said, “If it is thus, why is this happening to me?” So she went to inquire of the Lord. And the Lord said to her, “Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you shall be divided; the one shall be stronger than the other, the older shall serve the younger.” When her days to give birth were completed, behold, there were twins in her womb. The first came out red, all his body like a hairy cloak, so they called his name Esau. Afterward his brother came out with his hand holding Esau’s heel, so his name was called Jacob. Isaac was sixty years old when she bore them. When the boys grew up, Esau was a skillful hunter, a man of the field, while Jacob was a quiet man, dwelling in tents. Isaac loved Esau because he ate of his game, but Rebekah loved Jacob.
Now is we follow along in Genesis we see how Jacob is cunning and manipulative beginning early in his life. You’d have to be to trick your older brother out of his birthright in trade for a bowl of soup! But… in my opinion there comes a point in Genesis 27 where Jacob is at the crossroads. He can dive all in and live up to his name or he can attempt to straighten his life out. Let’s read what happens. Genesis 27:1-35 says,
When Isaac was old and his eyes were so weak that he could no longer see, he called for Esau his older son and said to him, “My son.” “Here I am,” he answered. Isaac said, “I am now an old man and don’t know the day of my death. Now then, get your equipment—your quiver and bow—and go out to the open country to hunt some wild game for me. Prepare me the kind of tasty food I like and bring it to me to eat, so that I may give you my blessing before I die.” Now Rebekah was listening as Isaac spoke to his son Esau. When Esau left for the open country to hunt game and bring it back, Rebekah said to her son Jacob, “Look, I overheard your father say to your brother Esau, ‘Bring me some game and prepare me some tasty food to eat, so that I may give you my blessing in the presence of the Lord before I die.’ Now, my son, listen carefully and do what I tell you: Go out to the flock and bring me two choice young goats, so I can prepare some tasty food for your father, just the way he likes it. Then take it to your father to eat, so that he may give you his blessing before he dies.” Jacob said to Rebekah his mother, “But my brother Esau is a hairy man while I have smooth skin. What if my father touches me? I would appear to be tricking him and would bring down a curse on myself rather than a blessing.” His mother said to him, “My son, let the curse fall on me. Just do what I say; go and get them for me.” So he went and got them and brought them to his mother, and she prepared some tasty food, just the way his father liked it. Then Rebekah took the best clothes of Esau her older son, which she had in the house, and put them on her younger son Jacob. She also covered his hands and the smooth part of his neck with the goatskins. Then she handed to her son Jacob the tasty food and the bread she had made. He went to his father and said, “My father.” “Yes, my son,” he answered. “Who is it?” Jacob said to his father, “I am Esau your firstborn. I have done as you told me. Please sit up and eat some of my game, so that you may give me your blessing.” Isaac asked his son, “How did you find it so quickly, my son?” “The Lord your God gave me success,” he replied. Then Isaac said to Jacob, “Come near so I can touch you, my son, to know whether you really are my son Esau or not.” Jacob went close to his father Isaac, who touched him and said, “The voice is the voice of Jacob, but the hands are the hands of Esau.” He did not recognize him, for his hands were hairy like those of his brother Esau; so he proceeded to bless him. “Are you really my son Esau?” he asked. “I am,” he replied. Then he said, “My son, bring me some of your game to eat, so that I may give you my blessing.” Jacob brought it to him and he ate; and he brought some wine and he drank. Then his father Isaac said to him, “Come here, my son, and kiss me.” So he went to him and kissed him. When Isaac caught the smell of his clothes, he blessed him and said, “Ah, the smell of my son is like the smell of a field that the Lord has blessed. May God give you heaven’s dew and earth’s richness— an abundance of grain and new wine. May nations serve you and peoples bow down to you. Be lord over your brothers, and may the sons of your mother bow down to you. May those who curse you be cursed and those who bless you be blessed.” After Isaac finished blessing him, and Jacob had scarcely left his father’s presence, his brother Esau came in from hunting. He too prepared some tasty food and brought it to his father. Then he said to him, “My father, please sit up and eat some of my game, so that you may give me your blessing.” His father Isaac asked him, “Who are you?” “I am your son,” he answered, “your firstborn, Esau.” Isaac trembled violently and said, “Who was it, then, that hunted game and brought it to me? I ate it just before you came and I blessed him—and indeed he will be blessed!” When Esau heard his father’s words, he burst out with a loud and bitter cry and said to his father, “Bless me—me too, my father!” But he said, “Your brother came deceitfully and took your blessing.”
Jacob went all in. A life of deceit…. of misinformed identity is what he chose. Now obviously Esau didn’t take the news of the theft well. Genesis 27:41 says,
Esau held a grudge against Jacob because of the blessing his father had given him. He said to himself, “The days of mourning for my father are near; then I will kill my brother Jacob.”
As we continue through this story of Jacob, a story of lost identity and reconciliation, let’s find some application together.
- Your sin will always catch up with you.
Following this threat on his life Jacob had to flee his own family because of his sinfulness. He had to begin a life on the run in order to try to “outrun” his sin. But… we know that you can’t outrun sin and your decisions will always catch up to you in one way or another.
In Genesis 27:43 Rebekah sends Jacob away to save his life. That passage says,
Now then, my son, do what I say: Flee at once to my brother Laban in Harran.
Jacob’s life was built on a foundation of deceit. He made a “dog eat dog” world for himself. Jacob most definitely lived by the motto: “every man for themselves.” That motto comes back to bite him when he himself is deceived or “conned.” Genesis 29:18-30 says,
Jacob was in love with Rachel and said, “I’ll work for you seven years in return for your younger daughter Rachel.” Laban said, “It’s better that I give her to you than to some other man. Stay here with me.” So Jacob served seven years to get Rachel, but they seemed like only a few days to him because of his love for her. Then Jacob said to Laban, “Give me my wife. My time is completed, and I want to make love to her.” So Laban brought together all the people of the place and gave a feast. But when evening came, he took his daughter Leah and brought her to Jacob, and Jacob made love to her. And Laban gave his servant Zilpah to his daughter as her attendant. When morning came, there was Leah! So Jacob said to Laban, “What is this you have done to me? I served you for Rachel, didn’t I? Why have you deceived me?” Laban replied, “It is not our custom here to give the younger daughter in marriage before the older one. Finish this daughter’s bridal week; then we will give you the younger one also, in return for another seven years of work.” And Jacob did so. He finished the week with Leah, and then Laban gave him his daughter Rachel to be his wife. Laban gave his servant Bilhah to his daughter Rachel as her attendant. Jacob made love to Rachel also, and his love for Rachel was greater than his love for Leah. And he worked for Laban another seven years.
So Jacob had the tables turned and it cost him 14 years of his life! But… if he hadn’t learned his lesson enough he decided to attempt his con artist scheme yet again in order to gain wealth.
Genesis 30:41-43 says,
Whenever the stronger females were in heat, Jacob would place the branches in the troughs in front of the animals so they would mate near the branches, but if the animals were weak, he would not place them there. So the weak animals went to Laban and the strong ones to Jacob. In this way the man grew exceedingly prosperous and came to own large flocks, and female and male servants, and camels and donkeys.
So because of his own scheming, Jacob successfully turned a few weeks into twenty years, and when Laban his uncle found out he had been cheated he decided himself to kill Jacob. So… Jacob found himself fleeing for his life from his father-in-law and God had to intervene to prevent Laban from killing him.
How many times has God had to intervene on our behalf? How has God been working “behind the scenes” of your life… your plans?
- You never win a fight with God
On his way back home, Jacob realized that he had to travel through Esau’s land. God spoke to Jacob again and promised to be with him (31:3). He followed this promise up by sending some angels to reassure Jacob of his protection (32:1-2).
But Jacob was still scheming rather than trusting. He sent some of his servants to bribe Esau with schmoozing and the hope of gifts (32:3-5). But they returned with news that sent chills down Jacob’s spine–Esau was coming to see him with 400 men! The gig was up. He had hit rock bottom and the time of reckoning was upon him. Have you ever been there?
For the first recorded time, Jacob prayed to God for protection (32:9-12).
But… then he hatched an elaborate and self-protective plan to buy Esau off. Genesis 32:13-20 says,
He spent the night there, and from what he had with him he selected a gift for his brother Esau: two hundred female goats and twenty male goats, two hundred ewes and twenty rams, thirty female camels with their young, forty cows and ten bulls, and twenty female donkeys and ten male donkeys. He put them in the care of his servants, each herd by itself, and said to his servants, “Go ahead of me, and keep some space between the herds.” He instructed the one in the lead: “When my brother Esau meets you and asks, ‘Who do you belong to, and where are you going, and who owns all these animals in front of you?’ then 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.’” He also instructed the second, the third and all the others who followed the herds: “You are to say the same thing to Esau when you meet him. And be sure to say, ‘Your servant Jacob is coming behind us.’” For he thought, “I will pacify him with these gifts I am sending on ahead; later, when I see him, perhaps he will receive me.”
How many times have we hit rock bottom and cried out to God only to have the enemy whisper in our ears afterwards and convince us that “we can handle it on our own” or, “God can’t help you… that prayer wasn’t real?” It happens often! Alone that night before he had to face Esau, Jacob had an encounter with God that was the defining moment of his life . . .
Genesis 32:22-31 says,
The same night he arose and took his two wives, his two female servants, and his eleven children, and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. He took them and sent them across the stream, and everything else that he had. And Jacob was left alone. And a man wrestled with him until the breaking of the day. When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he touched his hip socket, and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. Then he said, “Let me go, for the day has broken.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” And he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” Then he said, “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed.” Then Jacob asked him, “Please tell me your name.” But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And there he blessed him. So Jacob called the name of the place Peniel, saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life has been delivered.” The sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel, limping because of his hip.
God initiated a wrestling match, and how did Jacob respond?
Jacob responded by fighting back all night long (32:24). Why would Jacob fight with God? God was fighting with Jacob for his own future… to save his life! I believe that this is a picture of Jacob’s relationship with God the whole time. It wasn’t primarily Esau or Laban that Jacob was resisting and trying to get around… it was God himself. God had a will for Jacob’s life and made promises to him pertaining to that will, but Jacob had been stubbornly resisting God’s leadership at every step.
How do we resist God? How do we respond when God wrestles with us?
My favorite part of this scripture is where after wrestling all night, God dislocated Jacob’s hip with a single touch We see that in Genesis 32:25,
When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he touched his hip socket, and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him.
When reading this I ask myself… Why the hip? I have come to this conclusion,
God doesn’t want to kill or destroy you… he only wants to change the way you walk forever.
You see, with a bummed hip Jacob can only hang on to God. Man, this is a picture of our proper relationship with God! If you have ever had a limp you understand how hard it is to blend into a crowd. You will always stand out! God wants to change the way we walk forever so everyone can see who has touched us!
A single touch from God can leave a lasting mark!
Now that Jacob is in a dependent posture, God blesses him and renames him to cleanse him from his old ways (“deceiver”) and give him a new identity to live up to (“one who strives effectively with God”).
- God is always willing to bless His children.
Often when reading this story we get so caught up in the wrestling match that Jacob brought upon himself and miss the fact that God had always been willing to bless Jacob. He had only been waiting for Jacob to ask with a trusting, dependent heart. Jacob thought he could do it without God… he sought out his own blessing and that only led to pain and suffering.
You see, God will not bless a deceitful heart indefinitely. Genesis 32:26-30 says,
Then he said, “Let me go, for the day has broken.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” And he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” Then he said, “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed.” Then Jacob asked him, “Please tell me your name.” But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And there he blessed him.
In this passage God changes Jacob’s identity and renames him. Jacob had spent his entire life creating his own identity but the true blessing didn’t come until Jacob accepted his identity before God. On God’s terms.
Like many of us Jacob spent his life trying to evade God, and make it on his own terms… his own way, with his own plan. Jacob wrestled with God all night. It was an exhausting struggle that left him crippled. It was only after he came to grips with God and ceased his struggling, realizing that he could not go on without Him, that he received God’s blessing.
So… what happens next? Jacob learned the lesson, and God blessed/ delivered him. The next morning, he dropped his elaborate and self-protective plan with Esau and instead passed ahead of everyone to meet him directly trusting God’s promise to protect him. Genesis 33:3-4 says,
He himself went on ahead and bowed down to the ground seven times as he approached his brother. But Esau ran to meet Jacob and embraced him; he threw his arms around his neck and kissed him. And they wept.
Jacob discovered that Esau had forgiven him, and he went on to supply godly leadership for his family.
- God loves you enough to “step out on the mat.”
God works through suffering and adversity to teach us our need to depend on him. Our primary problem is one of deeply-rooted self-sufficiency, and often God works to “break” this through adversity.
Often (like Jacob), he just lets us reap the consequences of our poor choices:
- Alienation due to deception
- Broken relationships due to sin
- Lost jobs due to irresponsibility or lack of respect for authority
Sometimes, he intervenes with specific discipline:
- Wrestling matches/ physical adversity
- Career disappointments
- Discipline through others
In the end, He loves you enough to “take you to the mat” and fight for your life, your purpose, and your identity.
- God isn’t just the God of your successes… but He is also the God of your failures.
To know Jacob’s life is to know a life of struggles. Most of which he brought upon himself. It’s in Jacob’s story we can easily recognize our own elements of struggle: fears/ worries, darkness, loneliness, vulnerabilities, empty feelings of powerlessness, exhaustion and relentless pain.
But guess what… we aren’t alone! Even the apostle Paul experienced similar discouragements and fears! 2 Corinthians 7:5 says,
For when we came into Macedonia, we had no rest, but we were harassed at every turn—conflicts on the outside, fears within.
But, in truth, God does not want to leave us with our trials, our fears, our battles in life. It is through Him that we can receive the power of conversion and transformation, the gift of not only surrender, but freedom, and the gifts of endurance, faith and courage. In the end, Jacob does what we all must do. He confronts his failures, his weaknesses, his sins, all the things that are hurting him… and faces God.
What we learn from this remarkable incident in the life of Jacob is that our lives are never meant to be easy. This is especially true when we take it upon ourselves to wrestle with God and His will for our lives. We also learn that as Christians, despite our trials and tribulations, our strivings in this life are never devoid of God’s presence, and His blessing inevitably follows the struggle, which can sometimes be messy and chaotic. Real growth experiences always involve struggle and pain.
As this blog comes to an end, I want to make this last point very clear: God isn’t ashamed of our past, our fears, or our failures.
Exodus 3:1-6 says,
Now Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law, Jethro, the priest of Midian, and he led his flock to the west side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. And the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush. He looked, and behold, the bush was burning, yet it was not consumed. And Moses said, “I will turn aside to see this great sight, why the bush is not burned.” When the Lord saw that he turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” Then he said, “Do not come near; take your sandals off your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” And he said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.
We saw in Genesis that God had renamed Jacob and given him a new identity. So… why does He here in Exodus refer to him by his “old” sinful name?
Because God isn’t just the God of the “good” us… instead He is the God of both or victories and defeats… our successes and failures.
So, how are we resisting?
It is important to remember that conversion is not only saying “I’ll take the free gift you offer me through Christ”-but also saying “I am willing to bow to you and submit to your leadership.”