Genesis 49: 10; Luke 1: 33
This man of restless faith never stopped moving—from Beersheba to Bethel to Haran to Gilead to the Jabbok to Succoth to Shechem to Bethel again to Ephrathah to Migdal Eder to Mamre to Beersheba again to Egypt and finally back to the Promised Land where he was buried in the Cave of Machpelah—and those are just the moves we know about. In 147 years Jacob never let the grass grow under his feet.
But now his story is over, and he passes into the list of great Bible characters. Compared to Abraham, his faith was not as great. Compared to Joseph, his worldly achievements were much less. Compared to Isaac, Jacob did very well for himself. He was not the greatest man in the OT, but he belongs not far from the top of the list. For nearly 4000 years since his death, every time someone has mentioned the nation of Israel, they have paid unknowing tribute to Jacob.
Our purpose today is to place Jacob into the larger context of biblical revelation. A river of connected history flows from Genesis to Revelation, spanning 1000s of years and 100s of generations. Although the Bible contains 66 books written by many different people over 1500 years, it has but one message: God’s plan to bring salvation to the world through Jesus Christ.
The OT says, “He is coming!” The Gospels say, “He is here!” The book of Acts says, “He has come!” The Epistles say, “He is Lord!” Revelation says, “He is coming again!”
Everything in the Bible either leads up to his coming or explains the meaning of his coming or promises that he will come again. We want to discover how Jacob fits into God’s larger plan to bring Jesus Christ to the world. How do you get from Jacob to Jesus? What is the connection between the Heel-Grabber and the Son of God? Is there a thread that runs from Bethel to Bethlehem?
The Unfolding Promise
Our story begins in the Garden of Eden in those tragic few moments after Adam and Eve had eaten the forbidden fruit. What would God do? Salvation begins with the simple observation that God didn’t give up on the human race. God was determined to do something! He would not let Satan win the battle for planet earth.
The rest of the OT is the progressive unfolding of God’s plan to counteract what happened in Eden. God made a promise that was the first glimmer of hope after the Fall. That promise can be traced across the centuries as God slowly clarifies the promise by narrowing its scope. The promise in its purest form was this: God would do something about sin by sending someone to the earth. But who and how and where and when? Let’s trace the unfolding answer to that question:
Genesis 3: 15 - God’s plan centered in a specific person. He will enter the human race by being born of a woman. He will do battle with Satan. Satan will strike a blow against him but will not defeat him. He will crush Satan and his power. The Deliverer will be the “seed of the woman”—not an angel or some supernatural creature. This is the first link in the chain that leads to Bethlehem.
Genesis 9: 26 - After the Flood, the line begins to narrow. Noah has 3 sons - the Deliverer must come from 1 of them. Noah declared that the Deliverer would come from the descendants of Shem—who is the father of the Semitic peoples of the world.
Genesis 12: 2, 3 - God spoke to Abraham in Ur of the Chaldees. Abraham obeyed and ended up in the Promised Land. This represents a narrowing down of the promise—to one solitary man. The Deliverer must come from among Abraham’s descendants.
Genesis 22: 18 - The promise narrows even further - God specifies that the promise will come through Isaac—not through Ishmael.
Genesis 28: 14 - Isaac had 2 sons—Jacob and Esau. In that mysterious dream - God repeats the promise to Jacob previously made to his father and grandfather. Thus the line is narrowed again.
Genesis 49: 10 - Jacob had 12 sons. Which one would be chosen to carry on the promise? It should have been Reuben, the first-born. But he sinned and was passed over. The same is true of Simeon and Levi. When Jacob came to his 4th son, Judah, he uttered an amazing prophecy. Jacob was old and dying, but with eyes of faith he saw through the mist to a day when the tribe of Judah would take leadership in Israel.
Jacob’s Prophecy concerning Judah Genesis 49: 8 - 12
Judah will be the dominant tribe in Israel. Judah will be lion-like in courage and strength. The Messiah will come from the tribe of Judah. Messiah’s coming brings peace, joy and prosperity.
Although Jacob predicts dominance for Judah, this prophecy was not fulfilled for many centuries. Israel’s earliest leaders came from other tribes: Moses from Levi, Joshua from Ephraim, Gideon from Manasseh, Samson from Dan, Samuel from Ephraim, Saul from Benjamin. But after Saul was rejected, God chose a man from the tribe of Judah to be king.
He will be a Descendant of David
After rejecting Saul as king, God chooses the youngest son of Jesse, a shepherd boy named David. He becomes the king of Israel. He will be considered as Israel’s greatest king, warrior, statesman, poet and singer. In this one man are bound up all the hopes and dreams of a nation longing for the fulfillment of the ancient promises. At the height of his career God made an amazing promise to David – 2 Samuel 7: 11, 12, 16. Who could the Deliverer be - where will he come from - how will he be recognized? The next 2 promises begin to answer those questions.
He will be Born of a Virgin Isaiah 7: 14
Only God could have conceived of such an event. The Messiah will be a member of the human race, but his entrance will signal that he is no ordinary person. He enters the world supernaturally because he is the One sent by the Father. In the virgin birth, we have a hint of the Messiah’s true identity—fully God (miraculously born of a virgin) and fully man (born of a woman).
He will be Born in Bethlehem Micah 5: 2
The line narrows once again—this time to specify exactly where the Messiah will be born. Who would fit all those qualifications? Only one person in history has ever met all the qualifications. His name is Jesus Christ.
Where does Jacob fit into all this? Jacob had 2 names—Jacob (given by his parents) and Israel (given by God). After his death, the nation eventually called itself “Israel” in his honour—looking to him as its Founding Father. But later in the OT, God often referred to the nation Israel as “the house of Jacob.”
When the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary to announce that she had been chosen by God to give birth to the Messiah, these were the words used to describe what he (the Messiah) would accomplish: “and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever…” (Luke 1: 33)
There it is! The last step in our journeys with Jacob. Now we can add one final place to our list: Jacob was in Bethlehem! Yes, he was there in the person of his direct, physical descendant—Jesus Christ. He was there when Jesus was born as a “son of Jacob” to rule over the “house of Jacob.” And although Jacob and Jesus are separated by 1800 years, Jacob prophesied of his coming and was mentioned at his birth.
When we celebrate Christmas, we don’t simply celebrate what happened at Bethlehem. We celebrate God’s plan which started in Eden and continues to the end of history.
Jacob and Esau—One Last Look
If we roll the tape back to the very beginning, we discover that these 2 boys were completely different from the moment of their birth. Esau came out first, but Jacob came out grabbing Esau’s heel. That set a pattern that never changed over the years—Esau the leader and Jacob the heel-grabber. Twin brothers—born to the same parents, yet fundamentally different people.
What Happened to Esau? Genesis 36
He moved to the area of Mount Seir and became the founder of the Edomite people. He wasn’t a failure in accomplishing something with his life. This chapter testifies to his greatness, to his ability to build a great nation, to rally men to his cause, to establish a nation that would last nearly 2000 years after his death.
For most of his life, Jacob struggled while Esau rose to prominence. Why is that? Because Jacob had chosen to walk with God and seek his blessing, while Esau (though having his good points) chose to despise the birthright and seek the blessings of this world. God gave Esau worldly prosperity because that was all he was going to get! Esau got the world! Jacob got the Lord!
Centuries pass and the sons of Jacob become a great nation in Egypt. At the same time the sons of Esau prosper in Edom. Eventually Moses arises to lead the people of God out of Egypt and back to the Promised Land. But in order to get there quickly, they needed to pass through the land of Edom. Edom came out against Israel with a large and powerful army, threatening war if the people of Israel traveled across their land.
This animosity continued across the years. Once Israel was in the land, Edom became one of her most hated enemies. The 2 countries fought each other—and when they didn’t fight, they eyed each other suspiciously. There is constant conflict, bloodshed, warfare, hatred and hostility. The sons of Jacob and the sons of Esau never got along, never trusted each other, never even liked each other.
A Tale of Two Kings
One dark night in Jerusalem 2 kings met face to face. One sat on a throne, heir to a vast fortune, ruler of the land, surrounded by his hangers-on and his soldiers. The other stood before him, clad in the simple robes of a man from Galilee. The king on the throne was ruler over an earthly empire. The other king claimed to rule over the hearts of men. One king could snap his fingers and call a legion of soldiers. The other had no army save a ragtag band of uneducated Galileans—mostly fishermen and farmers. He was a king in name only.
That night at long last Jesus the son of Jacob stood before Herod the son of Esau. The only time they met was the night before Jesus was crucified. As so many times in the past, the son of Esau appeared to have the upper hand while the son of Jacob appeared to be down on his luck. The man on the throne smiled because he had heard about this itinerant rabbi from Nazareth. Now he would hear him for himself. He was hoping to see this man perform some miracles.
But Jesus performed no miracles for Herod. He knew that the son of Esau would be impressed by a dazzling display of power; he also knew his heart—like Esau’s—was empty. When Herod asked many questions, Jesus gave no answer because he knew that Herod—like Esau—had no sense of ultimate values in life. He was curious, but he was not hungry for the truth. Like Esau, Herod was hungry for the things of this world.
After a few minutes, Herod gave up and joined his soldiers in mocking Jesus. Dressing him in an elegant robe, they sent him back to Pilate … and Pilate sent him out to die. That day Herod and Pilate became friends—before this they were enemies. How ironic. The son of Esau joins forces with the man from Rome to put to death this troublesome son of Jacob.
The next day Jesus was crucified, and it appeared that Herod was right about Jesus. Perhaps the sons of Esau had finally defeated the sons of Jacob. That was Friday. Sunday came, and the world turned upside down. Jesus rose from the dead and ascended into heaven. That ragtag band of followers took his message and spread it to the ends of the earth.
4 years after that night, Herod was deposed, dethroned and sent into exile. He died a forgotten man. To this day, Jesus reigns as King of Kings and Lord of Lords. He waits in heaven for his return to the earth as the Lion of the Tribe of Judah.
Throughout history all of humanity has been divided into 2 categories—the sons of Esau and the sons of Jacob. The sons of Esau are the successful people of the world who have everything going for them but are empty on the inside. The sons of Jacob are those people who may not have great worldly wealth, but they have bowed their knees before King Jesus and have crowned him Lord of all.
Which line are you in? Are you in the line of Esau or the line of Jacob?
You may be successful—but that’s not enough. You may be spiritually sensitive—but that’s not enough. You may be curious about God—but that’s not enough.
You are still in the line of Esau until you bow before Jesus and crown him Lord of your life. Here is the wonder of salvation: Though you may be a son of Esau at this moment, you can become a son of Jacob right now. All that is required is that you open your heart to Jesus Christ. Say Yes to Jesus. Crown him King of your life.
Prayer - Heavenly Father, we thank you that your plan spans the centuries. We thank you that history really is His Story. Give us faith to believe that Jesus Christ has done enough—and all that is left for us is simply to believe. May the sons of Esau become the sons of Jacob through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.