The story of Jacob from the book of Genesis is fraught with drama. From the time he was in his mother’s womb, he was causing problems (Genesis 25:22-23). In his youth, he continued to be at the centre of conflict and, as an adult, things only got more complicated. Yet, he is an Old Testament hero. A whole nation of people, God’s people, were even named after him.
Jacob had several unique encounters with God, but he was still so flawed.
I always want to put Jacob into a category — but which one? Is there something in his story for me to emulate or is his life a lesson in what-not-to-do?
Because he is a great man in the Bible, I have tried to find a moment in his life when he dramatically starts to look more like Jesus, but his spiritual triumphs are so often followed by failure.
His story frustrates those of us that are tempted to look at the Bible as a step-by-step set of instructions on how to live the successful Christian life.
Jacob’s story frustrates those of us that are tempted to look at the Bible as a step-by-step set of instructions
However, once we accept that the Bible is about what God does in the lives of helpless people, Jacob’s story shapes our perspective on how God works in an individual’s life. If Jacob could continue to make so many mistakes and still be used by God, there’s hope for those of us believers who find ourselves spiritually stumbling time and again.
And He said, “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel; for you have struggled with God and with men and have prevailed.” Genesis 32:28
This pronouncement from God came after a life-changing confrontation between Jacob and God. In the middle of the night, all alone and scared for his life, Jacob physically wrestled with a Man who most Bible scholars believe was the pre-incarnate Christ.
Scripture says that the Man and Jacob wrestled all alone until the breaking of day. Finally, the Man touched the socket of Jacob’s hip, permanently injuring him. Jacob must have endured incredible pain, but he refused to stop struggling. Scripture records him saying to the Lord, “I will not let You go until You bless me!”
God did bless him and changed his name to Israel, which can be translated Prince with God. Name changes in the Bible are significant because they always pointed to a new thing in the person’s life. Jacob’s new name declared a relationship — Jacob was with God and God was with Jacob.
At this point, fans of fiction would expect to see an upward trajectory in the life of Jacob. We want to see a clear path towards holiness and righteousness — a stronger, wiser, and more confident Jacob. However, Scripture is not fantasy — it is truth.
Scripture is not fantasy — it is truth
Jacob’s story is the story of a man who although greatly blessed, was still prone to sin. In the following chapter of Genesis, after his encounter with God, there is evidence of his cowardice and fear-driven disobedience. Then, in chapter 34, his family is at the centre of a major scandal for which he is at least partially responsible.
Throughout the remainder of his life, Scripture records multiple failures with moments of faithful obedience. Where was the evidence of his spiritual overhaul? Why had God bothered to change his name?
Just as he crossed over Peniel the sun rose on him, and he limped on his hip. Genesis 32:31
Jacob’s physical encounter with God resulted in a name change and a permanent limp. The Lord chose to bless Jacob with a disability. Jacob had always been a manipulator and a runner. Every time there was conflict, he resorted to his own sinful methods to get out of trouble. This limp now served as an outward sign of his inward disability — sin.
God was teaching Jacob a lesson: self-reliance and running away were no longer options for him. His physical disability would require him to become dependent upon the assistance of a cane to walk. His sinful nature required him to become fully dependent upon the grace of God.
God had promised to build a nation from Jacob even before he had been born. Though he tried in his own way, Jacob would never have been able to help God make this prophecy a reality. Jacob’s story is the story of a man who had to learn that he was not able to do anything without the grace and mercy of God.
Repeatedly, both Jacob and his children failed but God remained faithful — giving consequences for sin, but demonstrating forgiveness by preserving his family. The Lord never required Jacob to become better; He required him to become dependent. Even his name change indicated what God wanted in their relationship — Jacob with God.
The Lord never required Jacob to become better; He required him to become dependent
A detailed study of the events of Jacob’s life would make many of us tempted to be glad that we aren’t like him. However, the truth is we are just like him. All have sinned. All fall short (Romans 3:23). Every believer needs righteousness credited to him (James 2:23). Even after salvation, believers are not meant to live holy lives apart from Christ but through Christ.
As we study God’s Word, pray, and fellowship with others, we are to see our sin, repent of it and cling tighter to God. There is no point when any believer will stand on his/her own. A mature Christian is the one who understands their proclivity to sin and responds by depending on the Lord for help and mercy.
What area of your life are you hesitant to give God control of? How have you defined spiritual maturity — as being able to go long periods without committing any major sin or as having a daily dependence on Christ?
By faith Jacob, when he was dying, blessed each of Joseph’s sons, and worshipped as he leaned on the top of his staff. Hebrews 11:21
It would appear that Jacob had indeed learned to trust the Lord at the end of his earthly life. The writer of Hebrews details that he leaned on his staff, while he spent his final moments blessing others and worshipping God. This was not merely a sign of physical weakness, but spiritual reliance.
The apostle Paul reminds believers that God intentionally chooses to call the foolish, the weak, the lowly, and the despised so that no one will ever doubt that Jesus Christ is the source of righteousness, holiness, and redemption (1 Corinthians 1:26-31).
We glory in the Lord as we recognise His ability to do good and bless others through the lives of flawed and sinful human beings. Conviction of sin is real-time evidence that He is continuing to finish the work He started (Philippians 1:6).
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