About a month ago, I finished preaching through the third of four planned sermon series through the book of Genesis. The series covered Genesis 25-36, which is primarily the life of Jacob, Abraham’s grandson. Last summer, as I finished preaching through Abraham’s life, I wrote a post about what Abraham’s life taught me. I planned to do the same sort of the post with Jacob, but four weeks passed by without writing even a word of it.
Before I explain why I was so sluggish to write this post, allow me to first explain why I wanted to write it in the first place. Whenever we read about the lives of people in the Bible, we must understand that their strengths and weaknesses, successes and failures, triumphs and sins, are all written down for our benefit. Their lives have been recorded as examples for us: either what to do or not to do. For instance, Paul calls Abraham the man of faith for good reason. The faith he placed in God throughout his life is astounding! Abraham’s faith is worthy of our imitation. We should strive to be like him.
And the same point can be made for David’s love of God. Or Moses’ obedience. The lives of former saints are recorded as both encouragements and warnings.
For me, Jacob’s life blends the encouragement and warning so much that it’s scary.
You see, I’ve had a hard time sitting down to write about what Jacob’s life taught me because in many ways, Jacob connected to me more deeply than Abraham did. And I think it’s because Abraham was such an example of faith. I certainly know that Abraham sinned. He was willing to sell his wife away to save his owe skin twice, and he committed adultery with his wife’s servant (even though it was his wife’s idea). But even with these sins of Abraham on display, he still feels larger-than-life. He feels like a superhero when it comes to following God. I simply don’t know if I could ever pass a test like Abraham’s having to sacrifice his own son.
In a lot of ways, Abraham’s life seems to point toward Christ’s absolute perfection more than it resembles my life.
But Jacob wasn’t like his grandfather.
Jacob’s life was essentially one massive struggle against sin and against God. Jacob was a coward and a deceiver by nature. Especially for the first few chapters of his life, it seems that Jacob lets himself be pushed around by everyone. His mom coerces him into deceiving his father. His father-in-law tricks him into marrying the sister of the woman he actually loved. His two wives toss him back and forth while they fight about who is loved most and who has more children. Often it feels like life simply happens around Jacob, like he’s a pawn in his own story.
Of course, when Jacob does take action, it’s rarely godly. Jacob’s cowardliness constantly shows as he tends to flee from conflict, instead of facing it directly. Jacob’s fear was merely the symptom of his little faith. He repeatedly took matters into his own hands rather than trusting God.
Unfortunately, this is the aspect of Jacob’s character that I relate to most. Like Jacob, I tend to be cowardly instead of bold. I’m often full of fear instead of faith. I consider too much what others might think of me instead of being concerned with doing the will of the Father.
I’m not Abraham.
I’m not a man of faith.
I’m a man of struggle, wrestling against both God and sin.
By providence, I think that’s why God chose Jacob. I mean, even though Abraham was awesome, God named the nation of Israel after Jacob, not Abraham. And I think it’s because Israel was more like Jacob than the man of faith. The people of Israel continuously wrestled against God, following the pattern of Jacob.
But the great lesson of Jacob’s life, of Israel’s history, and of us today is that God is faithful even when we aren’t. God’s biggest grace to Jacob was not giving up on him. In many ways, God beat Jacob into maturity through struggle after struggle. But those struggles were grace.
It’s interesting that the brief descriptions we have of Esau (Jacob’s brother) seem to be the exact opposite of Jacob. Esau appeared to have great wealth (much greater, it seems, than Jacob), and there is no account of any great struggle in his long, prosperous life. Chapter 36, instead, simply lists the great men that came from Esau’s lineage.
Esau seemed to have it all.
Given the choice between Esau and Jacob, most people would rather be Esau. We’d rather have the easy life of prosperity. After all, material blessings are a sign of God’s favor, right?
Through the prophet Malachi, God declared His love for Jacob and His hatred for Esau. God’s relentless pursuit of Jacob was Jacob’s greatest blessing. Esau’s prosperity and ease, which led to self-reliance and self-sufficiency, were God’s curse upon him.
It’s a difficult truth, but it’s also full of hope. Jacob was a deeply flawed and sinful man of God, but he was still just that: a man of God. Jacob grew to follow God only because God never stopped wrestling him into maturity.
Like I said, I’m Jacob, not Abraham.
I’m often a man of struggle, not faith.
Thankfully, a wrestling match is often God’s means of grace.