Genesis 25: 19 - 26
When you read the great biographies of the Bible, you are reading truth clothed in human personality. When we want to teach our children, we begin by teaching them the great stories of the Bible. We teach them about Noah who built an ark - Abraham who left Ur of the Chaldees - Moses who crossed the Red Sea - Joshua who “fought the battle of Jericho” - David who killed Goliath - Esther who saved her nation - Daniel who slept with the lions. It is in those flesh and blood stories that truth becomes real to us. Faith is all theory till we see it in Abraham. Courage is abstract till we stand with David facing Goliath. Doubt is someone else’s problem till we struggle alongside a man named Thomas.
The Bible never sugarcoats the truth—not even about its heroes. If they sin, we read about it. Nothing is hidden, censored or covered up. We get the whole truth about the people God uses.
We read about Abraham lying about his wife - Moses committing murder - David committing adultery - Peter denying Christ.
The Bible tells it like it is, no holds barred. That’s good, and in a strange way, I find it very encouraging. Most people struggle in the “grey zone” between what they are and what they want to be. Some days the “reality gap” is very wide. That’s why I’m glad to know that even the greatest men and women struggled with many of the same problems we all deal with—discouragement, uncontrolled ambition, lust, greed, bitterness and all the rest.
“We’re Only Human”
It’s good to keep that in mind. The men and women God used were only human. They weren’t supernatural creatures, made of better stuff than us. No, they were just like us and we are just like them.
With that truth firmly in your mind—we turn to the subject at hand. We are beginning a study of one of the most important men in the OT. Most of us know relatively little about his life. His is a life we tend to ignore. Although his accomplishments were many, he is overshadowed by his grandfather and by one of his sons. That’s a shame because this man has much to say to us today.
I am speaking of Jacob, son of Isaac, grandson of Abraham, and the father of Joseph. Those 4 men make up the backbone of Genesis 12 - 50. Each one was a man of faith in his own way. If you know these 4 men, then you know Genesis 12-50. Most of us know a great deal about 2 of those men and next to nothing about the other 2. Abraham and Joseph stand like well-known bookends, while Isaac and Jacob are lost somewhere in the middle. The Bible doesn’t describe Isaac’s life in great detail. However, Jacob’s story begins in Genesis 25 and ends with his burial in Genesis 50—a life spanning half of the book.
1. So much is said about Jacob in the book of Genesis.
2. Jacob plays such a crucial role in the history of Israel.
3. Jacob is a Bible character whose story we can understand.
He is one of the most “human” characters in all the Bible. As we trace his life, we will discover that he had as many defeats as victories. Unlike some other Bible characters who seem to march from victory to victory, Jacob’s life is a struggle from the very beginning. He comes out grabbing his brother’s heel and dies settling old scores with his children. In between he knows more than his share of sorrow and heartache. He cheats and is cheated, deceives and is deceived, angers and is made angry, shocks and is shocked. Here is man who lives life the way most of us do— 2 steps forward and 1 step back.
•He was a schemer and a dreamer.
•He had an eye for business and a heart for God.
•He was a businessman who was also a man of faith.
•He cheated his brother and he wrestled with an angel.
•He deceived his father and he heard the very voice of God.
The Real Hero
His life is a paradox, an enigma, a riddle and a mystery. He is a man with warts, with scars - a man who has known the detours of life. He never had it easy, he never made it easy on himself, he made a thousand mistakes, and yet at the end he dies in the faith, which is why Hebrews 11 lists him as one of the heroes of the faith. There is both warning and encouragement in his life—much to follow and much to avoid.
In the end we will discover that the real hero of the story is God. Not Jacob, but God. Jacob is the backdrop against which we see both the justice and mercy of God. In many ways he is the Peter of the OT—the man whom God used in spite of himself.
Somehow God saw within him the potential for greatness. In the end the schemer becomes a prince and the manipulator becomes a man of faith. When God is through with Jacob, he is transformed into a patriarch—the father of an entire nation.
The hero is never Jacob. The hero is always God.
He is born clutching his brother’s heel. He cheats his brother out of the birthright. He deceives his father in order to obtain the blessing. He spends 20 years in Haran where his uncle Laban cheats him. He tries to bargain his way back into Esau’s good books. His children are involved in rape and murder. His oldest son sleeps with his servant Bilhah. His favorite son Joseph is kidnapped by his other sons. His heart is broken by sorrow.
In his youth he was a schemer. In his middle years he was a servant to Laban. In his old age he was depressed and discouraged. And he died in Egypt—not in the Promised Land.
It would appear that his life was a failure. But it wasn’t. It’s his name that ends up in Hebrews 11—not Esau’s. That’s the wonder and glory of his life. Jacob was a man of faith.
When God wanted to identify himself to his people, do you know what he called himself? “I am the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.” That encourages me. I’m so glad our God is the God of Jacob, too. Not just of Abraham and Isaac. He’s also the God of Jacob. He doesn’t just run with the winners. Our God is also the God of those who struggle and scrap their way through life, sometimes barely making it, other times hanging on for dear life. That’s the kind of God he is—He’s the “God of Jacob.”
Twenty Years of Prayer
Isaac was 40 years old when he married Rebekah and 60 years old when Jacob and Esau were finally born. In Isaac’s day the worst thing that could happen to a woman was to be childless. It was a sign that you were outside God’s favour. So Isaac prayed for his wife. Again and again he begged God to open Rebekah’s womb. After all, God had promised Abraham that his “seed” would become a great nation. That promise was repeated to Isaac. But how would it happen unless Rebekah becomes pregnant? So Isaac prayed. “O God, remove the shame, remove the stigma. O God, keep your promise. Give us a child.”
God and God Alone
Where is God when we need him? Why doesn’t he answer? What was God doing during those 20 years of waiting?
1. He was developing Isaac’s faith.
2. He was teaching Isaac patience.
3. He was arranging the circumstances so that when the answer finally came, God alone would get the credit.
When Rebekah finally gets pregnant, she has a very rough time. At first she and Isaac had a great celebration. Perhaps her friends gave her a baby shower. But as the weeks passed, the babies began to “jostle” inside her. Her babies fought each other inside the womb. Rebekah asked God, “Why is this happening to me?”
Answered prayer can be as difficult to handle as unanswered prayer? God is not in the business of making it easy for his people to travel from earth to heaven. Rather, he’s in the business of using the journey to teach us holiness, righteousness and godliness. If he makes it too easy, we’ll never develop the right kind of character.
God’s Amazing Answer
So Rebekah asks, “Why me?” God’s amazing answer -
Two Nations—“Two nations are in your womb.”
Continual Conflict—“Two peoples within you will be separated.”
Differing Strength—“One people will be stronger than the other.”
Role Reversal—“The older will serve the younger.”
It is purely a choice made in God’s heart and mind and was not dependent on anything good he saw in Jacob or anything bad he saw in Esau.
Hairy and the Heel-Grabber
When the babies were born, the first baby was covered with red hair—almost like a wild animal. They named him “Esau.” As Esau came out, a little white hand was clutching his heel. So they kept on pulling and out came the second boy. They named him “Jacob.”
Esau will become a successful hunter; Jacob will become a cunning businessman. Esau will feel most at home in the outdoors; Jacob will spend his life trying to push his way to the top. Esau will build a mighty kingdom; Jacob will live by his wits. Esau will have a fiery temper, but will quickly get over his rage; Jacob will have a long memory and his guilty conscience will plague him for years.
Esau was a simple man. What you see is what you get. Jacob is a complex man. With Jacob you’re never really sure. He’s one thing and then he’s another. If you looked at both boys from a human point of view, which one would seem most successful? Which one would seem to have God’s favour? On whom does God’s blessing rest? I think that most people would say Esau. Who will be the better leader? - Esau. Which one will do more with his life? – Esau.
Who will have more problems? Jacob. More difficulties? Jacob? More heartache? Jacob. What you see is Esau growing up, getting married, having children and building an empire. On the other side you see Jacob—at the beginning he’s a manipulator, in the middle he’s a servant, at the end he is depressed and discouraged. Finally he dies in Egypt.
Often we look at the prosperous people around us and we think, “How blessed they are.” When we see someone going through incredible suffering, we often think, “They must have done something wrong.” But more often than not, prosperity is no sign of God’s blessing. Now we understand why God gave Esau material prosperity. He never sought to have a close relationship with God, so God gave him second best. He just gave him money.
On the other hand, God gave Jacob sorrow, difficulty and heartache. Why? God was preparing Jacob for something great.
We would have chosen Esau, but God chose Jacob. In the end God will make Jacob a prince but it will take a lifetime to get the job done. The story of his life is the story of the continual struggle between the flesh and the spirit, between doing things man’s way and God’s way, between self-sufficiency and God-sufficiency. It’s the difference between manipulating things and waiting on God.
Four Lessons for Life
I’m at the end of my message… but our journeys with Jacob have just begun. Jacob’s life is truly a work in progress.
1. Behind the insignificant details of life stands God Himself.
2 babies jostle in the womb and 2 nations are born. If you had been there you would have seen 2 babies coming out of the womb and nothing more. Who would have dreamed that the course of world history would be affected? There are no accidents in God’s plan. Nothing has ever happened to you by chance or luck. Even the mundane things of life that you take for granted all fit into a larger, unseen plan that is slowly unfolding in your life.
2. When God decides to raise a man, nobody can stop His plan.
We would have chosen Esau. But God said, “It’s going to be Jacob.” We would have given Jacob an easier road, but God knew the hard road makes a strong man. The same is true for us. When God gets ready to work in your life, the result will be the same as Jacob—trouble, trouble, trouble. “Through many dangers, toils and snares, I have already come. ’Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home.”
3. When God decides to work in your life, He will not stop even if it takes Him a lifetime to finish the job.
It takes a lifetime with most of us because the clay is lumpy—full of rocks and stones and useless material. When God starts shaping the clay of the human heart, he won’t stop until the job is done.
4. When you yield your natural weaknesses to God, they become the source of your greatest strength.
Jacob’s scheming became godly tenacity. His ambition for success became ambition for God. His unfocused desire became determination to do God’s will. His name was changed from Jacob ("the cheater") to Israel ("he who wrestles with God").
God delights to begin where others have given up in despair.
Perhaps you feel inadequate, or guilty, or perhaps you feel your life is so tangled up that no one could ever straighten it out again. Perhaps you feel unfit for God to use you. If you feel that way, Congratulations! … because you are an excellent candidate for the grace of God. That’s what Jacob’s story is all about—the grace of God who never gives up.
Prayer - Lord Jesus, as we take this first step in our journeys with Jacob, teach us what it means to yield completely to you. Grant courage to those who feel inadequate, unsure and guilty. O Lord, may they turn to you and discover the free grace of the God of Jacob who never gives up. Amen.