- People Who were Close to God: Barnabas: Growth over a Lifetime with God
- People who were Close to God: David: Loved both God and Sin
- People who were Close to God: Jacob: Not the Godly Type
- People who were Close to God: Mary: A Common Heroine
People who were Close to God: Jacob: Not the Godly Type
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Jacob: essentially lives a life of struggle
What we see in the life of this fellow Jacob is a life of struggle. This is what his name means, “Jacob,” “the caniver,” the supplanter.” His second name as well, which God gives him later, means “one who strives with God.”
What I want to draw attention to in Jacob’s life is that he was blessed by God. Jacob’s life was successful. But Jacob’s success was in spite of his caniving, manipulating ways, not because of them. In other words, what we see in Jacob’s life is something a lot of us should relate to. God promises, “I want to bless you.” But Jacob never really just takes God at his word. He constantly struggles, thinking that he has to take care of things himself.
So this is a story of God’s mercy, God’s blessing, on a person in spite of the fact that that person is constantly coniving and struggling to take care of things himself.
Example: You could think of a kid. And his parents promise to take care of him, give him an allowance, etc. But the kid never really takes them at their word. So he steals money from around the house. He constantly tries to trick his parents into giving him things. And generally he just doesn’t believe their promise. But they remain faithful to him anyway.
He knows of God’s intentions (Gen. 25:23)
The first sign we get that God wants to bless Jacob is when he and his twin brother were born. God told Rebecca, his mom, “The older one will serve the younger one.” God revealed that he would be closer to the younger one and help him.
And, this is why Jacob was always Rebecca’s favorite. She knew God’s intention.
Then he sets about to grasp it.
It’s very interesting what happens in Jacob’s life. Since his brother was older, he had the rights to certain things. For example, he had the rights of inheritance. So Esau would normally be considered the greater of the two. But Jacob sets out to undo nature. He wants to turn that around. The first thing he does is cheat his brother out of the right of inheritance. He does by waiting for an opportune moment, when Esau is really hungry . . .
Then there’s something else. Jacob wants the blessing of his father. Normally, the blessing was given to the eldest. The blessing was very important. They really regarded it. So Jacob wants to get it. What he did then was even more sneaky and tricky. He posed as his brother Esau, and he went into his father . . .
So, in the end, Jacob winds up with both the right of inheritance from his father and his father’s blessing. Both should have been Esau’s.
Esau observes, “Is he not rightly called the supplanter, swindler, because. . .” (Gen. 27:36)
So Jacob, the supplanter, has succeded in sweeping aside all the customs of premogeniture, swept aside his brother, and placed himself in the front seat. But here is what I want you to see about Jacob. God had already said, “I will bless Jacob. He will be greater than his brother.” But Jacob swindled, manipulated and canived his way ahead of his brother. That’s a principle we can work with right there.
God sends him on a mission
As a result of all this, God sends Jacob on a mission in ch.28 to his uncle Laban. Now on the surface it seems like the mission is for the purpose of finding a wife among Laban’s daughters. But it becomes apparent that there is much more afoot than this. God has some things in store for Jacob.
He recieves a promise from God
One striking event which happens to him on the way to stay with Laban is the vision we call, “Jacob’s ladder.” (Gen. 28:13ff.) This is where God appears to Jacob and reaffirms his commitment to bless Jacob.
I want you to notice how unconditional the wording is here. No matter what happens, I will not leave you. I will bring you back here . . .
We migh be tempted to think, “Boy, why or how could God work with someone like Jacob?” Because as you read about him, you do get kind of an unsavory taste, after what he has done to his brother and his father. But what’s more, this man is not a “man of God.” This is not a guy, like Abraham, who prays to God and builds altars to God. This is a secular man. He is off to do his thing. And yet, God blesses him.
This is so typical of God, really. It’s a good picture of the way that God pursues us, to love us. Regardless of his behavior, God is going to bless.
Nevertheless, this does not exclude the fact that God is also going to learn him a thing or two.
He falls in love with Rachel (ch.29)
First, he sees one of Laban’s daughters and falls in love. He is in love to such an extent that he is willing to become an indentured servant for seven years in order to get her!
In fact, sometimes I wonder whether it wasn’t Moses’ wife who wrote this section. It says that Jacob labored these seven years, and it was as if it was a few days!
But Laban slips him his other daughter (29:23)
Well, the wedding night comes up, and Laban calls all the men-folk together. Here’s where we get a glimpse of what was special about Uncle Laban.
Now the way they did weddings in those days was to have a party, with the woman veiled. Then the couple would go off and consumate the marriage.
This situation allowed for a few surprises. Namely, Laban was able to slip his other daughter on Jacob. . .
In this, we find Jacob the swindler being out-swindled. Jacob deceived his father by replacing the older with the younger, and Laban deceived Jacob by replacing the younger with the older.
So Jacob works another 7 years!
Nevertheless, Jacob is still in love. So he is willing to work another seven years. . . They could do this in those days and it was acceptable.
Laban read Jacob just right. He saw that he could get away with this. He saw that he could get away with 14 years of service instead of just 7.
Then it came time to leave
Then it came time to leave. Normally, a servant like Jacob would be givn some recompense, something to get started with. So he got together with Laban and they agreed, “From now on, keep the striped sheep.”
What he didn’t tell Laban, though, was that God had come to him in a vision. God had told him that the irregular sheep would breed faster. “So make a deal with Laban for the irregular sheep.”
Again, it wasn’t enough for Jacob that God promised the irregular sheep would breed more. He started to doo this strange thing. He took the sheep down to water them . . .
Laban sees that the striped sheep are doing better, so he changes the deal . . . Eventually Jacob is wondering how to make a mottled stick . . .
In the end, it is clear again that God is the one blessing Jacob. It’s not Jacob’s caniving ways. It’s not his cleverness. It’s not his special tricks with the sticks. It was God having mercy on him.
Well, when it actually was time to go, Jacob was worried about Laban’s jealousy. So he decided to sneak out.
God had told Jacob, “I will protect you. I will prosper you.” But Jacob can’t trust in that.
Again, Jacob takes matters into his own hands and finds a way to do things underhandedly–he sneaks off. He actually believes that he can, throug his own cleverness, protect himself and take care of himself. “God’s kindly promise was one thing, but I’m going to have to take care of matters here.”
Well, little does he know, God has to cover his tracks. God comes personally to Laban and says, “Hands off” (31:24).
Again, we have God promising to protect Jacob. But Jacob tries to take care of things himself. And so, as usual, God has to protect Jacob.
One final struggle: Esau (32:3-8)
Then we get to ch.32 where Jacob has to go through his toughest struggle yet. He is about to encounter Esau, the one who knows him, who can’t be fooled again. . . Who also has a score to settle.
So, as Jacob approaches his homeland, a sense of dread grows in the pit of his stomach . . .
Esau is coming with 400 men!
Read starting in v.3
Jacob starts the same old way, greasing palms and trying to manuever his way around. Instead, he hears 400 men are coming.
At this point, Jacob is terrified and realizes, this may be it for many of us. . .
Jacob’s strange reaction (vv. 7ff.)
Then, in the face of this great struggle, Jacob has a strange reaction. For the first time ever, according to the record, Jacob addresses God and starts to pray fervently.
And look at the content of his prayer. . . Now he comes to God and says, “You promised, come through.”
For the first time, instead of saying, “You promised, now I’ll deliver,” he says, “you promised, you deliver.” And Jacob has amazing recall of exactly what God has promised him.
So in this sense, Jacob feels he has come to the end of the line. He knows that his bag of tricks is wearing thin. So Jacob is saying, “I can’t go on like this, it’s getting me nowhere!”
God knows better
Fortunately, however, God knew better. He knew there was actually quite a bit of fight left in the man.
Still one crucial lesson
On top of this, there was still one crucial lesson Jacob had to learn. He still had not seen through the meaning of his life-long struggle. And that is, that all his struggle, all his caniving, was ultimately against God.
Jacob wanted to look at things on the horizontal. He wanted to look out here and say, “Look, my brother Esau is in the way.” Or, “Look, Laban is thwarting the blessing that’s rightfully mine.”
But the fact is, it was God who promised those things. It was God who was going to come through. But Jacob didn’t like that. He didn’t like leaving things in the hands of God. He had to take care of them himself.
Really, his struggle was against God. His struggle was whether he would humbly submit himself to God and receive his promises, or whether he would go out and seize them himself by whatever means possible. It was a crisis of trust. He couldn’t trust this God, he had to fight to get what he wanted.
At the bottom of it all, it was a struggle against God himself.
One of the strangest stories in the Bible (vv. 22ff.)
This is why we see, in the next few paragraphs one of the strangest stories in the whole Bible.
The wrestling match
Jacob pealed away from the others. And he sent all kinds of flocks and gifts ahead of him. But, he knows that’s not going to work. So, he apparently feels the need for one more night alone–a night of anxiety, a night of tension and fear.
And this is where God comes to meet him. This is evident from v.30 where Jacob says he came face to face with God himself. God reveals himself in some kind of human form, something he has done before and is fully capable of doing. “Here I am. I think you want to fight with me.” And Jacob had so much fight in him, he fought all night!
Jacob proves to be just as tenacious and dogged as he has been his whole life. Jacob was a winner. Sure, he had always had to struggle, but then he prevailed.
This is a great quality I’m sure. But it needs to be tamed. So God tames the man. He reaches inside his hip and dislocates it. From now on Jacob has to do some limping to get around.
But Jacob clings on, now being dragged on the ground. And he asks God for a blessing. And this is really quite remarkable, as Jacob reflects later. Instead of dealing a death blow, God does bless him. He gives him a name, which was immeasurably more significant in his day than ours. And it happens to be the name of the people of Jacob today.
Well, God did Jacob in that night. He effectively exposed to Jacob the real object of his struggle: God himself. And he reached in and tamed Jacob’s tenacity. God brought that struggling ability to heal. And he blessed Jacob.
What are the lessons we’re going to glean from this story?
We all struggle
The first would be that we struggle. Jacob’s struggle was certainly not unique. He, like us, knew that God wanted to bless. But that wasn’t good enough. He couldn’t just trust God and follow him.
Does that sound familiar?
Some struggles are indirect, trying to get our way
The way this works out in our life is either a) we don’t like the way God has arranged things in our life so we resist, or b) we don’t believe he will really take care of something so we struggle to grasp that thing for ourselves.
In essence, we are struggling against God. We don’t believe he is going to come through on what he has promised, or we don’t like the way he has come through, so we fight against him.
Now, of course, no one is so crass as to say, “I’m fighting against God because he hasn’t come through yet.” We consider ourselves to be fighting for what we deserve.
I don’t know how many areas this applies to, a lot.
Example: In the area of relationships this happens. We know that God created male-female relationships. We know that he likes them, he likes marriage. He likes men and women to be friends and get close. Now, I can’t be positive that it’s God’s will for every person to get married. I can’t be positive that it’s God’s will for every person to be dating. But I do know that it’s God’s will for all Christians to have satisfying love relationships in their lives. But people aren’t content with that. In our view, God’s got to meet our needs in such-and-such a way, by such-and-such a time. And if he doesn’t!? If he doesn’t, I’ll take care of it myself!! I don’t know how many Christians I have heard by now who says, essentially, “At this point, I’m going to do what I want. I’m going to chase the man or woman I want. I’m going to do what I want.”
Well, you don’t have to convince me, if you feel that way. Your struggle is with God. It’s not with any other person, here or anywhere else. Someone may have the nerve to speak into our lives and say, “Have you considere whether the thing you’re doing is what God wants?” And all of the sudden, that person catches all our wrath . . .
We struggle to get our way. And our struggle is against God.
Example: I’ve seen this struggle go on in my own life in the area of finances. I remember as I ran a business and tried to put my way through school, there were times when customers wouldn’t come through with payments, at the same time as all my tuition and other bills would be due. And I would get livid with anger at anything that stood in my way! I could not believe that all this crap came down on me at once! And as I would be in the middle of one of my little tirades, the thought might occur to me, “Why don’t you pray?” And I knew, “There’s no way I’m gonna pray! Because he’s the one who has let all this happen!”
That’s a good way to expose our hearts on this. At the time of greatest anxiety, fear and anger over some situation, say to yourself, “Oh, let’s just sit right down here and thank God, and just entrust this whole thing to him.” “No way!”
But why not? Why not? Because you are fighting with him.
Other people will do the same thing, but more passively and subtely. In fact, that’s kind of the way Jacob was. He just went and did what he wanted. He got what he wanted, and he never expressely made his struggle against God. God had to press the point by coming to fight with him.
So, we’ll see people go about their lives, and it’s not that they’re angry at God and shaking their fist at him. It’s that they don’t want to know what he thinks of their endeavors. Because if they really knew, then they’d have to change.
Example: People will say, “I’m going to be a (you fill in the blank).” “Well, have you sought out God about that? Do you think this is where the Lord wants you?” And the answer that comes back is, “Why wouldn’t he want me here?” Meaning, “No, I haven’t, and what could possibly stand in my way!?” I don’t know. I don’t know if anything will stand in your way. But the point is, we’re trying to sneak by God to go do what we want.
Example: It’s like I always used to do at home with my parents. I would wait until they were busy with TV, or going to the bathroom. And then I would casually, but swiftly walk through the room and go outside. I didn’t know if they would say no. I just didn’t want to take the chance, so I went and did my thing.
We do this with God. And in so doing, we struggle against God.
I think the example of career is such a good one. Because so many young people get a picture in their minds and they gun for it. And they think to themselves, “And later, when I’m established in my career, I’ll figure out how God can use me there!” Why that order of things? Why? Why not first establish yourself with the Lord, see how he can use you in this life, and then figure out a career that would be suited to that!?
Instead we struggle against God, we hide from him to get our way.
Signs of fighting with God
Is your prayer life thin?
But this I mean, do you just go over cursor, obligatory topics and say “amen”? Or do you really fellowship with God? It’s hard to fellowship with someone when you’re trying to slide by him and struggle with him.
Do you enjoy God’s word?
I say, “enjoy,” because I know from experience that it is possible to get into the Bible just like any other book. But do you get insight from it? Does it speak to you? Do you get excited about what you see there and feel like you have to share it with others?
Are you frustrated with people/circumstances?
What I’m talking about here is that sense of chaffing and anger we feel towards others. They’re causing our life to be uncomfortable, so we feel angry about them.
I think our reaction in these kinds of situations of often just like Jacob’s, we try to slip out by the cover of night.
Example: I remember I had a boss once who drove me nuts. Like they say, she was something that rhyms with “witch.” And I was going to quit one day, when someone reminded me, “Have you learned what you’re supposed to learn from that situation yet? Or are you just going to come and go on that job, concluding the only problem was with her? Because if you do that, there’ll just be another, similar situation come up later.”
I knew that advice was correct. And I had to go back and try again . . .
Are you alienated from strong Christians?
This is a very telltale sign. When you look around you, there are always some strong believers, men and women who have really had their lives shaped by God. And maybe as a young Christian, you warmed right up to this. But now, now you really don’t like to be around them.
In fact, I have gotten to the point that I see more things wrong with the older, mature Christians in my life than anyone else!
Why is this? Have you ever stopped to think why this is, honestly? I know why it is in my life. It’s because those people represent God. Those people think like he does–at least more than I do. Those people will give me God’s perspective on things. In other words, they won’t just agree with my point of view.
So I hate them. And I find things wrong with them.
Have you seen God work lately?
Ask yourself if you have seen God work through you to others lately. Or if you have seen him change things in your own life lately. Because often there will be a lapse of God’s power when we are struggling with him.
This is a real important one too because some of the others we can deceive ourselves in. And we can decieve ourselves and others here too, but it’s a little bit harder.
Well, I mention these signs so you can reflect on your relationship with God. And I think this is healthy. I would really encourage you to get with someone and think about these kinds of signs. Because alone, by myself, I can be either too negative or to blind . . .
God allows the struggle
Well, OK, God lets that go on. This is OK in his book. In fact, he has the ability to engineer some interesting circumstances to enhance our struggle.
Example: With Jacob, he found someone who was a better chisler.
Example: In my own life, I’ve been amazed at how he will do this. I remember being under teachers who were just incredibly haughty and arrogant (at least that’s how I felt at the time, but it may have been more projecting myself onto them than anything else). But at the same time, they were also incredibly wrong about their views. And I used to chafe so under these teachers. “Oh, how can I even endure one more day at the hands of this foolish teacher!?” Of course, the biggest problem of all was, they had a lot more wood on the ball than me and they could kick my butt in an argument. And I knew, God has put me here to get a caning. He has given me something hard to throw myself against.
God will let us go on in our struggle. And he will inject a few surprises along the way.
Then, the amazing thing is, when we finally reach the end of our rope, like Jacob did, God is there. When Jacob finally got on his knees and said, “Oh God, help me,” God showed up.
Remember, he hasn’t been the one running away. We’re the one who struggles. He’s been waiting for that moment when we come to him in surrender.
But then, and finally, as we come to the end of our rope and begin to realize that it is actually God I’ve been struggling against all this time, God does something even more amazing: He blesses us. Just like he did with Jacob.
This is so amazing. And it is so characteristic of God.
It’s as if to say, “Look what you have been struggling against all this time! A God who wants to bless you! You have been fighting against the one who wants to turn you on to something good!”
Example: Remember, this is the way he had been with Jacob all his life . . .
When we become Christians
This scenario I have been laying out here of struggle against God is one that can happen even before we are Christians. I have been talking here tonight with a view to those of us who have a relationship with God. But I also know, that even before we become a Christian, and decide to have a relationship with him, we can have this same kind of struggle against God.
Example: I know how it was for me. There was the knowledge on my part that God was there. And there was the knowledge that he wanted me. At first it was a vague, almost invisible knowledge. But as I learned more about God, and I ran into more Christians, and saw how much life with God made sense, I began to realize, “This guy wants into my life!” And somewhere in there my heels found a place to dig in. I fought that. Because I thought, “What will he do with me? What kind of person is he going to turn me into?”
And I fought, right up to the day that I decided to let God come into my life and have a relationship with me. Only then did I realize, “This guy has been chasing me because he loves me, not because he hates me!”
This is what God wants with each and every person. As Jesus says in Rev. 3:20 . . .
God’s blessing is tailored
But, as I’ve talked about here tonight, this kind of struggle goes on in the Christian life as well. As issue after issue, we struggle with God.
And the thing to remember is that God intends a blessing. And here’s the part that we really need to understand: It’s not just that God wants to bless you some day. “OK, God wants to turn me on to a good thing some day, that’s nice . . .”
No, he wants the very thing you are struggling about to turn into a blessing! That very thing you hate, and you resent him for letting it happen, that’s where he wants to pull a blessing out of!
Our reaction needs to be, “OK, Lord, what is it?” Not, “OK, OK! Enough already! What is it?!” In thankfulness . . .