For our sermon mediation today we're going to do a bit of a character study. We're going to examine one of the most famous people from the Old Testament and see what we can learn from him. The man we'll be studying is Jacob.
If you read much in the Old Testament you're familiar with the phrase, "the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob". This is what the LORD calls himself from time to time.
Jacob had twelve sons who became the twelve tribes making up the nation of Israel. Jacob was remembered by his descendants as a faithful follower of the LORD. But he sure didn't start out that way.
Sometimes we think of Bible heroes like they were born pre-packaged with great wisdom and a rich faith. This isn't the case. When we read the Bible, we discover that our heroes started off as ordinary sinners. This is definitely the case with Jacob. Jacob's early life was all about bad choices.
Jacob was the younger of two twin brothers born to Isaac and Rebekah. His twin brother Esau was the manly man of the two. Esau was born with a reddish completion and with hair all his body. He grew into a good hunter who spent lots of time out in the wild. Esau was dad's favorite.
Jacob, on the other hand, was the smooth skinned and tender homebody. Mom's favorite.
But from early on, Jacob showed that although he was the younger, softer brother, he was more than ready to take advantage of his older brother when the opportunity arose. One time when Esau returned from the country, exhausted and hungry, he found Jacob tending a pot of stew. When the super hungry Esau asked for something to eat, Jacob made him promise to give up his birthright first.
The birthright was a big deal back then. It meant twice the inheritance than any other son. Esau stupidly made trade, birthright for soup, but it was Jacob who was doing the manipulating and stealing.
Jacob's choices only got worse from here. Another custom of the day was for the father to give a special blessing to one of his sons. This blessing was like a prayer that God would give special things, identified in the prayer, to the one son whom the father chose.
Isaac decided that he was getting old and should give this special blessing to Esau before he died. So, Isaac told his son Esau to go and hunt some game, and make him his favorite meal. Then, after Isaac had received the meal, he would give the blessing to Esau.
When mom heard about what dad intended to do, she cooked up a plan to make sure Jacob got this blessing instead. She had Jacob dress up in Esau's clothes, complete with hairy gauntlets on his arms just incase the blind old Isaac should get wise and decide to make sure he was giving his blessing to the right son.
It was mom's trickery, but Jacob didn't argue. He went along with the whole thing, lying though his teeth to his father. Not only did Jacob lie to his father, he even used the name of God to do it.
Here's how it happened. Shortly after Esau had gone out to hunt, Jacob showed up in costume, with a special meal for dad. When Isaac asked how it was possible that he could be back so soon from the hunt, the disguised Jacob told him,
"Because the LORD your God granted me success" (Genesis 27:20 ESV).
This wasn't exactly Jacob's shining moment: Using the LORD's name to lie to his father in order to steal Esau's blessing. And what's even more surprising is what is revealed by his words. When speaking to Isaac, Jacob calls the LORD, "your God", not his own God.
The world we live in is filled with sadness and evil. And some of the sadness and evil we experience comes directly from our own choices. That's kinda a summary of Jacob's early life—bad choices that led to bad consequences.
Not only did Jacob risk alienating himself from his father by this whole charade, he also brought the anger of his brother Esau down on his head.
When Esau found out that Jacob had now stolen his special blessing as well as his birthright, Esau was enraged. He decided that as soon as dad was in the grave, he was going to put Jacob in the ground as well.
Thankfully, mom got wind of Esau's murderous plan and had Jacob sent off to her brother Laban's house. The idea was for Jacob to lie low at uncle Laban's place for as long as it took for Esau's anger to simmer down.
So, off Jacob went with only the clothes on his back and a staff in his hand.
Along the way to Laban's house, the LORD stepped into Jacob's life in a big way. While Jacob was sleeping out in the open air, the LORD sent him a vision of a huge staircase reaching into heaven, with angels ascending and descending on it. At the top of the staircase stood the LORD. And this is what He said to Jacob:
"I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac. The land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring. 14 Your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south, and in you and your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed. 15 Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land. For I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you." (Genesis 28:13-15 ESV).
When Jacob woke up in the morning, he made a deal with the LORD. He said...
"If God will be with me and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat and clothing to wear, 21 so that I come again to my father’s house in peace, then the Lord shall be my God, 22 and this stone, which I have set up for a pillar, shall be God’s house. And of all that you give me I will give a full tenth to you." (Genesis 28:20-22 ESV).
There's something kinda pathetic about Jacob's vow here. Sure, he was running from his brother who planned to murder him. Sure, he didn't have anything other than what he could carry on his back. But doesn't he sell the almighty God a little short with his request? "God, give me clothes and food and safe travel and you'll be MY God. I'll even give you a tenth of everything you give to me." What a deal for God.
So, Jacob continued on and reached his uncle Laban's land. There he fell in love with one of Laban's daughters, Rachel. And that's when the next batch of trouble in Jacob's life began.
Among all the bad things that happen in our lives, some of them aren't actually our fault. Some of the sadness and evil we experience is from the bad choices of others.
Jacob's uncle Laban wasn't exactly a standup guy. In Jacob he saw an opportunity to get some free labor. So, when Jacob offered to work for seven years tending Laban's flocks for the right to marry his daughter Rachel, Laban quickly agreed. But on the night of Jacob's marriage, he sent his younger daughter Leah into the marriage tent instead.
In the morning, Jacob found that if he wanted to marry Rachel too, he'd have to work for another seven years. So, that's what he did.
But that wasn't the end of uncle Laban's underhanded dealing with Jacob. Over the years that Jacob worked for his uncle, Laban changed his wages ten different times. No doubt, each change was in the best interests of Laban, not Jacob. "This year it looks like the flocks are having mostly clean white lambs. I guess that means Jacob's pay will be the spotted ones".
But the LORD saw what was going on, and made sure that Jacob's flocks and herds increased anyway. Along the way Jacob's family grew as well. Nine sons were born and a daughter named Dinah. Before long, Jacob's family and his servants were a pretty big crowd.
And it was at this time that the LORD spoke to Jacob again. He told Jacob it was time to go back home to his homeland. So, Jacob gathered all his family and started back on the path he had traveled years ago.
But there was one problem still ahead. Esau. Had his anger evaporated? Or had he grown more bitter over the years of Jacob's absence? Jacob had no way of knowing. So he sent messengers ahead to tell Esau that the long-gone-Jacob was returning with flocks, herds, and servants.
When the messengers returned they had bad news. Esau was headed this way, along with four hundred men. This didn't look good.
Jacob was terrified. So, he did the only thing he could think to do. First, he divided his group into two camps, reasoning that if Esau came and attacked, perhaps one group would escape. It all looked pretty grim.
Secondly, Jacob prayed. And in Jacob's prayer we learn where all this history led Jacob's heart. This is what Jacob prayed to God.
Genesis 32:9-12 (ESV)
9 And Jacob said, “O God of my father Abraham and God of my father Isaac, O Lord who said to me, ‘Return to your country and to your kindred, that I may do you good,’ 10 I am not worthy of the least of all the deeds of steadfast love and all the faithfulness that you have shown to your servant, for with only my staff I crossed this Jordan, and now I have become two camps. 11 Please deliver me from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau, for I fear him, that he may come and attack me, the mothers with the children. 12 But you said, ‘I will surely do you good, and make your offspring as the sand of the sea, which cannot be numbered for multitude.’ ”
Jacob experienced a lot of bad things in his life. Some were the result of his own stupidity and bad choices. Some were the result of the choices of others. But when Jacob looked back over his life as he prepared to meet his angry brother, he didn't complain to God. Instead, Jacob saw that among the bad things there had been an abundance of good things. Jacob recognized that these good things were from the LORD. And with a clear eye and an honest heart, Jacob admitted that he hadn't earned or deserved any of these things. Jacob saw God's goodness and generosity in action and was thankful. And with a troubled, but thankful heart, Jacob prayed for God's help, holding onto the promise of safety that God had made specifically to him.
You and I can do the same on this Thanksgiving Day. We can look back over our lives. Lives full of bad, but sprinkled in among the bad, much good from the LORD. We can focus on these good things with a thankful heart. And we can hold onto the promise of safety that God has given us in Christ Jesus.
Come what may in this life, Christ Jesus is our Savior. He suffered and died on the cross of Calvary so that our sins stand forgiven before the eternal throne of God. Because of what Christ did for us, God's promise to each of us is this: After a life watched over by our heavenly Father, we will find forgiveness, peace and eternal safety in heaven.
Jacob teaches us to see clearly that bad comes from within, and from without, but all good things come from above. Like it says in the book of James...
"Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow" (James 1:17 NASB).
May our hearts sing out this Thanksgiving day, and always, with the hymn that says...
"For the fruit of his creation, Thanks be to God.
For his gifts to ev'ry nation, Thanks be to God.
For the plowing, sowing, reaping,
Silent growth while we are sleeping,
Future needs in earth's safekeeping, Thanks be to God.
For the harvests of the Spirit, Thanks be to God.
For the good we all inherit, Thanks be to God.
For the wonders that astound us,
For the truths that still confound us,
Most of all that Love has found us, Thanks be to God."
-Christian Worship 611.
The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds, in Christ Jesus.