Have you ever messed up and thought, I’ve ruined my life? Maybe it was a mistake a work. Maybe it was a terrible relationship choice. You might have been selfish or unkind with what you said to a family member or friend, and now things between you are cold. Are you wondering if there is hope for you?
Perhaps that’s how Jacob felt. We’ve started a series called Characters, looking at people who have messed up and how God interacts with them. The first character we’ve met is a guy named Jacob. In the previous post, we learned that he was a sneaky guy, and he was on the verge of trying to steal the blessing from their father that was supposed to go to his older twin brother, Esau. Let’s jump into the narrative at Genesis, chapter 27, verse 18.
I particularly want to point out how Jacob answers his father’s greeting, when Jacob enters his father’s tent. This is important. Isaac asks, “Who is it?” And Jacob lies, claiming that he is Esau, who was out in the countryside hunting for food to bring his father. Isaac, suffering from poor sight, believes Jacob, and Isaac gives Jacob the blessing that was due Esau. As we already saw in Part 1 and Part 2 of this series, Jacob, the younger twin, has once again “grabbed the heel” of his older brother. Esau, of course, soon finds out and is furious, threatening to kill Jacob. So their mother Rebekah warns Jacob to leave immediately and flee to a faraway land where her brother Laban lives, until Esau calms down.
In chapter 28, in verses 10-22, we learn that Jacob has left to travel to Laban, but on the way, one night Jacob has a dream. In the dream, God affirms that the blessing has been passed on to Jacob. The younger is receiving the promise that was supposed to go to the older, and in this case, it is the promise that God first gave Jacob’s grandfather Abraham, then passed on to Isaac, that now God reconfirms with Jacob. God says that just as he is the Lord of Abraham and Isaac, he is Jacob’s Lord, and he will give Jacob land, and will turn his family into a great nation through whom God will bless all people on the earth. Jacob awakes afraid, in awe of what has just happened, and he vows that Yahweh will be his God. It is a momentous event in Jacob’s life.
After some really devious, sinful behavior, it is astounding to think that God, at this moment, still maintains the promise to Jacob. Doesn’t it seem like God should be punishing Jacob? Doesn’t it seem like God should take the blessing and promise and give it to Esau? Doesn’t this all seem unfair?
To those questions, consider God’s ways with me for a minute. God is a God who uses the flawed, the downright sinful. How many of you have been redeemed? By that I mean, how many of you have had sin in your life, harmful and hurtful choices that have damaged others, and yet God has taken a disaster and reconciled, healed, reunited, and rectified, making right what was wrong? God is surprisingly forgiving and merciful like that.
Jacob is not at the end of his life. He is still a young man. In Genesis 29-31, Jacob does go to and work for his uncle Laban. During a long period of many years, through which Laban fools Jacob into marrying not one but two of his daughters, Jacob is persistent.
Perhaps in this we see character being formed in Jacob’s life. No longer the deceiver, Jacob now learns what it is like to be fooled. It is terrible to be taken, lied to. Through the process of these years, God is still at work. Jacob gains not only two wives, but marries their two servant girls as well, for a total of four wives. We don’t have time to discuss polygamy, except to say that in ancient Israel this did happen, not that God was approving of it. Jacob’s wives bore him 12 sons, who would become the 12 tribes of Israel, including the half tribes of Manasseh and Ephraim who were Jacob’s grandsons, through the line of Jacob’s son Joseph (who did not become a tribe, and who we’ll meet next week). Considering what has happened in Jacob’s life, can you start to see God fulfilling his promise to make Abraham, Isaac and Jacob’s family into a nation?
Jacob works for his uncle Laban for a total of 20 years and then decides to leave to return to the land of his family, the land of Canaan. That story of Jacob leaving Laban takes place in most of Genesis chapters 31 and 32, and it is filled with intrigue and drama. I’ll summarize it by saying that God blesses Jacob greatly through it all. By the time Jacob leaves Laban with his wives, children and herds of animals, Jacob is a very wealthy man.
At the beginning of chapter 32 we learn that Jacob’s family’s journey is taking them to the border of the land ruled by his twin brother Esau. 20 years have gone by since they last saw each other. 20 years since Jacob deceived Esau of the birthright and blessing. 20 years since Esau said that he was going to kill Jacob. 20 years since Jacob fled for his life. Jacob never got the birthright. He ran away in fear for his life, taking with him literally nothing but the clothes on his back and a staff. Now 20 years later, he has four wives, 12 children and countless animals. But things with Esau were never made right. What would 20 years do? Would time heal the wounds, or would it only solidify Esau’s anger? In Genesis 32:1-21, Jacob decides to send ahead of him a huge amount of animals as a gift to Esau. Jacob is trying to smooth things over. He’s heard that Esau is coming to meet him with a force of 400 men. Check back tomorrow to see what happens.