We again return to our pre-coronavirus series on God's glory in some major Old Testament events. This one is less about a major event than an important person, but we'll pick one event in his life.
God calls Himself the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Abraham is known for his trust in God. What's Jacob known for? He must be an amazing guy who makes God proud, for God calls Himself the "God of Jacob". But we'll see that Jacob's not extradordinary at all.
What if you don't have a great faith like Abraham? What if you don't trust anyone and aren't too good about trusting God. What if all your life you've made it work, been successful, don't feel a great need for God? This is a good story to learn about God through.
When Isaac was forty years old he married Rebekah. But like his mom, she is unable to conceive. So, Isaac prayed, maybe something like,
"LORD, I don't want have my first child when I'm 100 years old like happened to my dad."
God answered quickly! Rebekah conceived twin boys! They fought like cat and dog, even in the womb.
Rebekah asked, "Lord, what's going on down there?!" And God revealed to her that two nations were inside of her, striving against each other. And God told her, "The older would serve the younger."
The first son that was born was all hairy so they named him Hairy—in Hebrew his name was Esau. The younger son was a rascal; as Esau was coming out Jacob grabbed his little heel and pulled him back to he could get ahead of him. They named him Heel Grabber—or in Hebrew, Jacob.
And that's totally Jacob. He's a self-seeking opportunist. A selfish hearted, self-made man. Jacob is by nature an I'll-pull-you-back-so-I-can-get-ahead and I'll-do-whatever-it-takes type of guy.
Case in point, one day Esau was literally starving. Jacob wouldn't give him a bite to eat until Esau sold him his birthright. Another time, Jacob deceives his father out of his greatest joy of his old age, and he totally cheats Esau out of his father's inheritance.
Esau wants to kill him. So their mother secretly sends Jacob to her brother Laban. On his way, God encounters Jacob,
Genesis 28:13… "I am the LORD, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie, I will give it to you and to your descendants. [Just as He told Abraham & Isaac] 14 "Your descendants will also be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and in you and in your descendants shall all the families of the earth be blessed. [Christ will come through Jacob. This is undeserved favor, grace.] 15 Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you."
Jacob didn't know God at this point, and his self-seeking attitude was clear,
Genesis 28:20 Then Jacob made a vow, saying, "If God will be with me and will keep me on this journey that I take, and [IF God] will give me food to eat and garments to wear, 21 and [IF] I return to my father’s house in safety, then the LORD will be my God."
This is a fairly typical response. It might be yours, or someone you love.
God reveals Himself to us in Christ. On the cross. The Savior of sinners. Better than you can hope. Full of mercy, power and love.
Yet a lot of people respond, IF God gives me what I want. IF nothing bad happens to me or to those whom I love. THEN, I may trust and worship Him.
But if anything bad happens we blame God.
Yet if life goes well we still don't worship God because we think we did it ourselves!
That's totally Jacob. He took advantage of Esau, but remember, God promised him the birthright anyway. Jacob came up with a far-fetched scheme to get rich off of Laban, but God chose to bless his crazy plans. It wasn't Jacob's greed but God's grace that blessed him.
All Jacob's scheming really did was to upset everyone and to alienate him from his family. He crushed his father's plans. And both his brother and his uncle literally try to kill him. You know you're a punk when your goofy uncle wants to kill you.
But in each case, God is with Him. God protects him. Tho he hasn't a clue.
That's "the God of Jacob." Our Father in Heaven. Our Lord Jesus Christ. He's a God of faithful love and hidden grace to the undeserving, the selfish, the lost.
But news comes to Jacob that his brother Esau has 400 men with him and they were heading for Jacob! It is a scary time for Jacob and his family…
So Jacob schemed a way to soften Esau’s heart. He staged three groups of family members—from his least valuable sons to his most valuable sons—to bear Esau flocks and gifts, hoping that Esau would take the gifts and spare each group of his family. Well, if not the first group, the second, or third…
Jacob escorts everyone else across the river yet he stays behind. It's dark…
Genesis 32:24 Then Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. 25 When [the man] saw that he had not prevailed against him, he touched the socket of his thigh; so the socket of Jacob’s thigh was dislocated while he wrestled with him. 26 Then [the man] said, “Let me go [tap out already], for the dawn is breaking.” But [Jacob] said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”
This is Jacob. He didn't even know this guy but knew he could get something from him, so he wrestles him to get what he wants.
Genesis 32:27 So [the man] said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” [Heel grabber. I'll pull you back to get ahead.] 28 He said, “Your name shall no longer be Jacob, but Israel [It's not going to be who you are anymore!]; for you have striven with God and with men and have prevailed.”
It's not that Jacob won the match, but he wouldn't let go.
Hosea gives us deeper insight into what Jacob experienced…,
Hosea 12:3 In the womb he took his brother by the heel, and in his maturity [older age] he contended with God. 4 Yes, he wrestled with the angel and prevailed; [i.e., he got the blessing. But notice how?] he wept and sought His favor.
Learn from him. God loves you. You're not better off without God. And you don't get the LORD to bless you by fighting God, but by seeking His favor, trusting in His grace.
When the angel of the LORD dislocated Jacob's hip, He broke him—his body but also his self-reliance. He had no leverage to MAKE God bless him. So he held on to God, not letting go but weeping and seeking His grace.
And when he did, when he trusted God for his grace, the LORD changed his name.
"Your name shall no longer be Jacob the self-reliant wheeler dealer who strives against God and uses people to get your way. You are Israel, who wrestled with God yet clung to the LORD seeking His grace in time of need."
He does this with you, too. He changes your identity. Makes you new. When you trust Jesus, God doesn't see you as your biggest weakness or your most embarrassing flaw. He gives you a new identity. Loved by God. Chosen. Called to walk with Him. A new relationship with God. A new destiny…
Genesis 32:29 Then Jacob asked him and said, “Please tell me your name.” [Rather than strive with with GOD, he basically says, "Lord, I want to know you."] But he said, “Why is it that you ask My name?” And he blessed him there.
Though He doesn't answer, the reply implies, "Jacob, you do know Me. We met. I'm the LORD your God who promised to be with you. I am the LORD who died for your your sins and gives you an eternal birthright. I am your God who loves you despite your selfish scheming. Even when you people hate you I'm the One who causes all things to work for good. I'm the One who saves you this day."
Genesis 32:30 So Jacob named the place Peniel [face of God], for he said, “I have seen God [strove with God] face to face , yet my life has been preserved.” 31 Now [he'll be tested] the sun rose upon him just as he crossed over Penuel, and he was limping on his thigh.
He can't fight Esau. He can't run away.
Genesis 33:1 Then Jacob lifted his eyes and looked, and behold, Esau was coming, and four hundred men with him. So he divided [his] children among Leah and Rachel and the two maids. 2 He put the maids and their children [his children with them] in front, and Leah and her children next, and Rachel and Joseph last.
It seems he didn't learn a thing. This is the scheme he drew up before he wrestled with God! He's going to gamble on their lives before his own. But God's grace has impacted him.
Genesis 33:3 But [instead of sending them all out to slaughter while he stays back!] he himself passed on ahead of them and bowed down to the ground seven times, until he came near to his brother.
Beautiful! No scheming, no striving, Jacob acts with courageous faith in God and bows in humility. Even if his head is chopped off, he trusts God! Like Abraham. Like Jacob. God is good and faithful and full of lovingkindness. We can choose to obey God and trust Him with the consequences of our obedience to Him.
Genesis 33:4 Then Esau ran to meet him and embraced him, and fell on his neck and kissed him, and they wept.
Then Esau said, "Hey, why all the gifts?" Jacob said I was going to use these to win your favor. But Esau said, "I am plenty rich brother, keep it yourself."
Genesis 32:10 Jacob said, “No, please, if now I have found favor in your sight, then take my present from my hand, for I see your face as one sees the face of God, and you have received me favorably. 11 “Please take my gift which has been brought to you, because God has dealt graciously with me and because I have plenty.” Thus he urged him and he took it.
What he's saying is if I have found favor in your sight, if you don't want to kill me right now, it is because the LORD my God is striving for me. Brother, I get what I've done. I know why you brought your 400 men with you. I'd want to kill me too! If you don't take my life today, it's not by my scheming. It is the LORD's doing.
So take these gifts—they're not to manipulate you but to love you. For I've met the God who loves and chose me and strives for me despite how I am.
And we've met this same God, who spoke of forgiving sins and the Father's love, dying on a cross and the resurrection of the dead.
This is Jacob's best day ever. But this is all about God, not Jacob. He calls Himself the God of Jacob, the God of Israel not for how good Jacob is but for how faithful and loving God is.
Same with us. He's your God not because you're worthy but for the glory and the praise of His grace. Even if you're not good at trusting God, He is patient with you. If you think you've been doing well on your own, realize every blessing is from God Himself, whether you see Him or not. He protects you more than you realize. He is faithful and good, and worthy of your love, worthy of your worship.
Funny, Jacob never really matures into this great man of God. But it is clear that God cares for him, for us and seeks that trust, and when we say yes to Him, He shows Himself worthy of our love.
Oh, and Jacob's sons that were spared by Esau, along with Benjamin these grew into the twelve tribes of Jacob (the twelve tribes of Israel) and eventually the nation Israel.
Through whom came our Lord Jesus the Christ, who shall bless all the world.