Series on Genesis, II God’s Family, H The Proving of the Family, Text: 28:1-33:17. Title: The Handicapped Prince


In our last study we were looking primarily at the life of Isaac but we learned of God’s gracious choice of Jacob as heir of the promise. This study concerns the life of Jacob. Jacob was chosen but not choice. He had to be changed by God. In Genesis 28 through 33 we can trace a pilgrimage from clever manipulator to handicapped prince. It is a picture of God proving his people in all places and times. Having set his love upon us, God works in our lives to produce the fruit of righteousness. Though we are never perfect yet our character is transformed by His grace. We view this in the life of Jacob by looking at his character, his circumstances, and his confrontation with the Lord.

I Character

The climax of this character study is Jacob's wrestling with the angel of the Lord at the river Jabbok. The road to Jabbok was long and difficult. The wrestling match came 20 years after Jacob left Canaan. The story begins with a proud and vain man. All of the patriarchs tried to take the fulfillment of God's promises into their own hands. They all wanted to help God along, but Jacob made a science of it. In the first stage of this journey, Jacob is sent back to Haran to Abraham's family to find a mate just as Abraham did for his father Isaac, but Isaac did not go back. Eliezer went on his behalf. On the way Jacob has a dream 28:12-15, He had a dream in which he saw a stairway resting on the earth, with its top reaching to heaven, and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. There above it stood the LORD, and he said: "I am the LORD, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac. I will give you and your descendants the land on which you are lying. Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east, to the north and to the south. All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring. I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you". The place of the dream Jacob calls Bethel meaning house of God. He has the promises of the covenant made to Abraham renewed for him. This is a most gracious visitation on the part of God. However in 28:20-22 we read, Then Jacob made a vow, saying, "If God will be with me and will watch over me on this journey I am taking and will give me food to eat and clothes to wear so that I return safely to my father’s house, then the LORD will be my God and this stone that I have set up as a pillar will be God’s house, and of all that you give me I will give you a tenth". The vow reveals his astounding arrogance. He bargains with God. If God would do what he promised then Jacob would follow him and he would tithe to him as had his grandfather Abraham. This, as if God had not already proved his faithfulness to Abraham and Isaac. When Jacob finally reaches Haran he enters the service of his relative Laban, a grandson of Abraham’s brother. There he works for 7 years to win Rachel, the love of his life, as his wife. He is tricked by Laban on his marriage night and given the oldest daughter Leah. Actually Jacob's desire to marry the younger daughter, Rachel, was contrary to custom. Then Laban says, in essence, get out your credit card for time payments. I’ll give you Rachel at the end of the week, but you must then work seven more years. And then wishing to keep Jacob even longer in a situation which Jacob later describes as miserable in 31:38-42, "I have been with you for twenty years now. Your sheep and goats have not miscarried, nor have I eaten rams from your flocks. I did not bring you animals torn by wild beasts; I bore the loss myself. And you demanded payment from me for whatever was stolen by day or night. This was my situation: The heat consumed me in the daytime and the cold at night, and sleep fled from my eyes.  It was like this for the twenty years I was in your household. I worked for you fourteen years for your two daughters and six years for your flocks, and you changed my wages ten times. If the God of my father, the God of Abraham and the Fear of Isaac, had not been with me, you would surely have sent me away empty-handed". The plan of Laban to keep Jacob ultimately backfires. When Laban pleads for him to stay, Jacob proposes a plan that Laban give him the spotted, speckled and dark colored stock which was few in number for his own. Laban craftily removes all them from the flock and gives them to his sons, leaving Jacob with only the white goats. But Jacob then devised a treacherous plan to increase the number of spotted dark and speckled offspring so that it would look like these were his stock instead of Laban's. He works it so only the strongest nannies produce the colored offspring. Later he acknowledged that God had helped him, and the result was not so much from Jacob’s conniving as it was from God’s blessing. In 31:9, Jacob says, "So God has taken away your father’s livestock and has given them to me." However, this is still a story of deceit and treachery, and these two were trying to outdo one another in lying and cheating. When Laban and Jacob finally separate the Mizpah benediction so often quoted, in 31:49, is The Lord watch between you and me while we are away from one another, and it was not some sentimental blessing, but it was the agreement of two properly suspicious men who could not trust one another. Laban is actually telling Jacob, that he had better take good care of his daughters because God is watching. Tom Paine said, “Character is much better kept than recovered.” But, Jacob’s life is a story of recovery because God is more concerned about our character than our comfort. His goal is not to pamper us physically but to perfect us spiritually.

II Circumstances

Let us then briefly look at Jacob's circumstances. Not only did he have the continuing hostility with Laban but in his own family there was unrest. Jacob loved Rachel much more than Leah. God regarded this as hatred in the same fashion that Jesus uses the word hatred regarding our hating all others, father, mother, sisters, and brothers because we love Him above all. We must put Jesus above all others, but while this is appropriate with regard to Christ it was inappropriate for Jacob in his marriages. God was displeased. therefore Leah was often pregnant and Rachel was barren. In the end Leah bore Jacob six sons and Rachel only two, but those two were Joseph and Benjamin. Benjamin was born much later and Rachel died giving birth, so Joseph was the only child she bore during this period. There were two handmaids, Zilpah and Bilhah that also each bore two children. The animosity was great. Rachel who was not above stealing from and lying to her father, was a lot like Jacob. Rachel and Leah were jealous of one another as recorded in Chapter 30 and in verses 14-18, the story of the mandrakes points out the futility of Rachel’s plotting just like her husband. All that comes from Rachel’s futile attempt to get pregnant using the folk remedy for fertility is that Leah becomes pregnant again and she uses it to her advantage with her husband. We will experience the same frustration if we do not trust in God’s promises. Jacob's later preference for Joseph and the jealousy of the brothers toward Joseph was undoubtedly a product of his special love for Rachel and when Joseph was allegedly dead, Benjamin became his favorite. We may think of it as romantic but God did not. A story book romance and wedding does not make a marriage or a happy family. The biggest marriage of the 20th century occurred in 1981. Britain's Prince Charles wed Lady Diana in a grand royal ceremony, a fairy tale of present pomp and past glory. London was dressed like a vast stage. buses were painted with bows, and parks bloomed with Charles' royal crest outlined in precisely painted blossoms. Some 4,500 pots of flowers lined the wedding route. The audience included 26 prominent clerics, a congregation of 2,500 in St. Paul's cathedral, more than 75 technicians manning 21 cameras, and an estimated worldwide television audience of 750 million. Look how the marriage ended in strife and grief. Nothing is more demoralizing than strife in the family. There was jealousy between Jacob’s wives, 20 years of trouble with his father-in-law, and besides all this there was the continuing conflict with Esau creating a gnawing fear in the back of Jacob's mind. So, we have major character flaws and miserable circumstances. God was trying to tell him something, but Jacob wasn’t listening.

III Confrontation

All of this brings us to the place where Jacob must meet Esau with four hundred men. As he anticipates that meeting he plans to display his wealth to Esau and sends him gifts. The idea is that he has no need of Isaac's possessions and Esau would be impressed with his prosperity. As the time approaches, the night before, Jacob wrestles with the angel of the Lord at Peniel. Let me tell you about wrestling.I participated in a number of different sports in high school and college including collegiate wrestling. I can tell you there is nothing that demands better conditioning than Graeco-Roman wrestling. Make a muscle as hard as you can and then hold it there without wavering for three full minutes. After a while it will start to tremble from exertion. Wrestlers are involved in full unremitting muscle exertion for the entire three minute period. One slip and they are done. So when the man touches Jacob’s thigh he is finished. It’s all over. There seems to be a clear indication that this angel was none other than the second person of the trinity, the pre-incarnate Christ. The record is in 32:24-30,  So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak. When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man. Then the man said, “Let me go, for it is daybreak”. But Jacob replied, “I will not let you go unless you bless me”. The man asked him, “What is your name?” “Jacob”, he answered. Then the man said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with men and have overcome.” Jacob said, “Please tell me your name.” But he replied, “Why do you ask my name?” Then he blessed him there. So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, “It is because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared.” Jacob, even though injured, holds on for God's blessing because he recognizes its importance. All his life he has been scheming and conniving to get the blessing now he is rendered helpless and the blessing is handed to him on a silver platter. That, my friends is called grace. Apart from this direct confrontation, Jacob is not going to realize his need of the Lord’s mercy and forgiveness. The Lord's words to Jacob declaring him to be no longer Jacob but Israel, a prince of God, are indicative that the whole course of Jacob's life was not a mistake. All the scheming and conniving was part of the picture. He has struggled with God and with men, but through it all he has learned to trust. It is summed up in 35:1-3, Then God said to Jacob, “Go up to Bethel and settle there, and build an altar there to God, who appeared to you when you were fleeing from your brother Esau.” So Jacob said to his household and to all who were with him, “Get rid of the foreign gods you have with you, and purify yourselves and change your clothes. Then come, let us go up to Bethel, where I will build an altar to God, who answered me in the day of my distress and who has been with me wherever I have gone.” Jacob was delivered from Esau by God who changed his brother's heart, and yet, let us see something about Jacob that is exceedingly important. He had a bad character which, in his life, produced difficult circumstances. In spite of all of this and yet through all of this he came to trust God. But if you look at the rest of Jacob's life you see not only trust and blessing you see vestiges of the old Jacob. For example in Chap. 33:2 and 3, when meeting Esau, notice the order in which he places the family, He put the maidservants and their children in front, Leah and her children next, and Rachel and Joseph in the rear. He himself went on ahead and bowed down to the ground seven times as he approached his brother. Then later in the story of Joseph, the jealousy of Joseph's brothers results from Jacob's preference for Joseph which came from his love for Rachel. The point here is that God said, irrevocably, Jacob have I loved. If ever there was a man of whom it could be said he was not loved for his goodness it was Jacob. But God worked sovereignly, even using Jacob's sins and mistakes to produce in him that true trust in God which was essential. It was a trust that relied on God’s grace. It did not make him perfect. Like the other men of faith in the Bible his life was and continued to be less then it should be, but God used him anyway. In an age when we glory in men rather than in the grace of God, it is good to be reminded of this. It reminds me of Paul saying, For when I am weak, then I am strong in II Corinthians 12:10.