Jacob is front and center once again in today's reading. He has left his father-in-law Laban’s home and is headed back to his father Isaac. It is not an uneventful journey. We see in Jacob some of the things we face in our lives. Jacob wavers between faith and fear. We see him trusting in God but also, he schemes. Jacob asks God for help and then tries to act In his strength not God's. Challenges do not make a person; they show what a person is made of.
As Jacob heads back to his father he is now traveling with 4 wives, 12 sons and a daughter, man and maid servants, and countless animals. When he had headed the other direction all he had was a staff. On the trip to see Laban, Jacob had seen angels and he came to realize God was with him. Now he encounters an army of angels before him. He knew they were from God and that they had arrived to protect him and fight for him. There was no reason to be afraid. But Jacob was afraid because he would encounter his brother Esau. Jacob had no idea what kind of a reception he might receive, and he was worried about his family and his own life. Esau had been angry enough to want to kill him. He takes some comfort in the promise God made to him concerning descendants like the sand on the seashore. Jacob prays, acknowledging what God has told him previously, but his prayer sounds like Lord I believe, help my unbelief.
Not fully trusting God, Jacob prepares a sizable gift for Esau who has become prosperous in his own right. He secured his family, putting the children of his servants first and leaving Rachel and Joseph behind all the others. He had already forgotten about God's angel army protecting he and his family. When Jacob had moved everything across the Jabbok River, he laid down to sleep. He had given his herdsmen instructions for when they encountered Esau, but instead of confidence, we hear Jacob groveling. He had forgotten the fact God had made him lord over his relatives, including Esau. Genesis 27:29. He was fearful of encountering Esau and sleep did not come. Jacob was alone. And when we are alone and at the end of ourselves then God can come to us and do something in and for us.
God meets us at whatever level He finds us to lift us to where He wants us to be. He came as a traveler to Abraham, a soldier to Joshua the general and to Jacob who had spent most of his life wrestling with people...Esau, Isaac, Laban, even his wives, God came to him as a wrestler. When God encountered Jacob at Bethel, He promised to bless Jacob with prosperity, and God had fulfilled that promise. But there is much more to life than that. There is also Godly character and allowing the Spirit to influence your life. Jacob had spent his life fighting God and resisting His will. The only way to victory is through surrender. God cannot fully bless someone until He has conquered them. God conquered Jacob by weakening him. Just like Paul and the thorn in his flesh, now Jacob would walk with a limp. Now God had Jacob's full attention.
While Jacob wrestles with this man, he asks Jacob his name. It isn't that the man is looking for information. The last time someone had asked who are you, Jacob lied. His father asked him and in order to get his blessing Jacob answered I am Esau. By asking Jacob his name, the man wanted to know...are you going to continue to live up to your name, deceiving yourself and others, or will you admit what you are and let me change you. In scripture receiving a new name means making a new beginning. We have seen it in Abram and Sari becoming Abraham and Sarah. We see it in Saul turned Paul. And we have the promise of a new name when we meet our crucified and risen Lord. Jacob is named Israel, which means he struggles with God, or let God rule.
God has intervened in Jacob's life in a big way. That does not mean he will have smooth sailing the rest of his life. He does encounter Esau and the meeting is cordial. But they go their separate ways. There is peace but no real relationship. Jacob has trouble with the Hivites who want to intermarry with them. Worse yet one of the sons of the ruler of the Hivites defiles Dinah, thinking that he could then have her for his wife. And worse than that, Jacob's sons use circumcision, the sigh of God's covenant with Abraham, to deceive and ultimately destroy the Hivites, killing all the men and taking everything else as plunder. Jacob tells them “You have brought trouble on me by making me a stench to the people living in this land.”
Jacob may have felt good about his encounter with Esau and he could report to his father they had met and reconciled but there would be grief for Jacob. Rebekah’s nurse died along the way and was buried. Rachel, who was carrying Benjamin went into labor on the way to Bethlehem and died giving birth. She was Jacob's favorite wife and he mourned deeply. Now he had two sons by her, and they were his favorites. He learned about favorites growing up and that would become a huge problem for him in a few years. We then get a brief genealogy for Jacob, we see that he gets to spend time with his father Isaac, and Isaac also dies.
Today’s reading ends with Esau's genealogy and then we do not hear much of him anymore because the covenant promise moves on through Jacob. Just like us, Jacob struggles with family and faith. Just like us, God is faithful and continues to meet us where we are. But God refuses to leave us where we are. He leads, guides, and sometimes shoves us where He wants us to go. Sometimes we take the direct route and sometimes we take the scenic route. But when God has a plan for us, He will get us to where He wants us to be...Every time.
In His Grip
Pastor Matt W