When I think of Jacob, the father of the 12 tribes of Israel, I don’t think of happy things. Instead of a positive role model or a devout believer, I think of cunning and deceit. I think of someone who can be trusted to see to his own best interests, not an inspiring father. But Jacob’s story isn’t really about Jacob. It’s about the God who remained faithful to the covenant He made with Jacob’s family.
Jacob was the son of Isaac and the grandson of Abraham. He had a twin brother named Esau and was favored by his mother, Rebakah. Jacob tricked Esau into giving up his birthright for a bowl of stew and later disguised himself as Esau in order to receive the blessing of the firstborn from his father. He fled from his brother’s anger, wrestled with God, worked for his uncle, married Leah and Rachel, left his uncle’s home a wealthy man, made peace with his brother, and favored the sons born to him from the wife he loved – Rachel. (Genesis 25:19-35)
That sums up his whole life. It wouldn’t be anything remarkable except for God. Because the most remarkable thing about Jacob was the God who chose him.
Let’s take a closer look.
When Rebekah conceived, she didn’t know she was having twins. But the Bible tells us the babies struggled with each other in her womb – imagine the discomfort she felt! – and when she cried out to God, He told her that two babies were to be born and that the older son would serve the younger. At birth, Esau was delivered first. Esau was the older son and Jacob the younger. As they grew, Esau became a skillful hunter while Jacob was more of a homebody. Here, at the beginning, we see where Jacob was the son through which God chose to fulfill his promise to Abraham and Isaac (Genesis 25)
Now let’s fast forward to after Jacob deceives Isaac and steals the blessing of the firstborn. Jacob is on the run, and understandably so, when he sets up camp at a place he later names Bethel. It is here that he dreams of a stairway to heaven and is personally given the promise that this land will be given to him and his descendants as an inheritance of God. Jacob is filled with awe and a little holy fear and builds an altar, declaring God to be his God (Genesis 28).
Fast forward again. What goes around comes around, and Laban, Jacob’s uncle, tricks him into marrying Leah, Rachel’s sister, instead of Rachel as he promised. They muddle through that situation and Jacob soon becomes the husband of both sisters, but he loves Rachel. In time, Jacob decides to take his family and return to his homeland. He leaves in secret. Laban pursues him and a family fiasco ensues, but Laban and Jacob come to a truce (Genesis 31).
On his journey home, Jacob sends gifts on ahead to make amends to Esau. He prays this prayer:
“Then Jacob prayed, “O God of my grandfather Abraham, and God of my father Isaac – O Lord, you told me, “Return to your own land and to your relatives.” And you promised me, “I will treat you kindly.” I am not worthy of the unfailing love and faithfulness you have shown to me, your servant. When I left home and crossed the Jordan River, I owned nothing except a walking stick. Now my household fills two large camps! O Lord, please rescue me from the hand of my brother, Esau. I am afraid that he is coming to attack me, along with my wives and children. But you promised me, “I will surely treat you kindly, and I will multiply your descendants until they become as numerous as the sands along the seashore – too many to count.”” (Genesis 32:9-12)
This prayer is significant. Here Jacob takes the position of the humble servant instead of the manipulator. He recognizes God’s favor on him and his family as something that is theirs only because God promised it, not because they deserved it. And though Jacob still makes some bad choices, and his children make some bad choices, we can see where God’s plan of redemption through Jacob’s family has begun a transformation in Jacob’s heart.
The story continues and we hear about Jacob’s favoritism to Joseph and how that made his other sons resentful. The brothers sell Joseph into slavery to Egypt, an event that God uses to later save all of Jacob’s family from famine. The story of Jacob’s life ends with an event that my dad pointed out to me as being truly significant. Genesis 47:7 says this, “Then Joseph brought his father, Jacob, and presented him to Pharaoh. And Jacob blessed Pharaoh.”
The significance is this: the greater always blesses the lesser. Pharaoh was a mighty and powerful king but Jacob was the greater presence in the room. Like a father blesses a son. Like God blessed Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Like the promise of the Messiah, who would be a descendant of Jacob’s son Judah. It was undeserved, unmerited, unrelenting favor and blessing.
Jacob was undeserving. God was faithful. Isn’t that our story too?
“Your greatest contribution to the Kingdom of God may not be something you do, but someone you raise.”Andy Stanley
Abundantly More – Knowing God and Making God Known.
It was by faith that Jacob, when he was old and dying, blessed each of Joseph’s sons and bowed in worship as he leaned on his staff.. Hebrews 11:21 NLT