At the end of chapter 11 we find an introduction to the first great patriarch--Abraham. Chapters 12-20 tell the story of Abram's call to leave his homeland and the faith he had to believe the 3-fold promise of land, many heirs and God's blessing. Next we studied Isaac, his near sacrifice by his father Abraham, Isaac's marriage to Rebekah and further tests of faith.
Isaac and Rebekah have twins, Esau and Jacob. Jacob, the younger of the twins, slyly gains the birthright and his father's blessing, then has to leave his country to preserve his life after he hears of Esau's threats. Jacob spends the next 20 years in Haran with Laban, a near kinsman. Laban deals just as slyly with Jacob as Jacob did with Esau. Jacob gains two wives, Leah and Rachel, 11 sons, 1 daughter and 2 concubines. In our last study together, Jacob slyly leaves Laban to return to his homeland.
What does the name "Jacob" mean? Cunning, supplanter-- to supercede by force or treachery-- CHEAT - CHEATER! Can you imagine giving a child a name that means Cheater?
It turns out to be a fitting name for him. Jacob has spent his life deceiving and being deceived and reaping the consequences. Listen to these events in his life.
Do you remember the graph of Spiritual Ups and Downs that Brenda drew on Abraham's life? It looked like this: ^^^^ If we were to draw a graph of Jacob's spiritual ups and downs, it would look just the opposite: vvvv The high points are few and the valleys are many. Yet God loved him and still saw his worth.
Today we are looking at chapters 32 and 33. -- Jacob coming back to his homeland to face Esau who at last report was wanting to kill Jacob for stealing his rightful birthright and blessing. Jacob is understandably nervous.
The most touching story in these two chapters is Esau's forgiveness of Jacob. Jacob comes back to the land of Seir, the country of Edom, fully expecting to "meet the devil face to face." And whose face does he see in Esau's face? God's. Esau runs to embrace him and weeps with joy at seeing Jacob again. What a lovely thing for Esau to do. Doesn't this remind you of the story of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15 when the prodigal son, after leaving home and squandering his inheritance, returns home with that deep sense of shame and uncertainty about his fate? We're so thrilled to read that he finds in his father what Jesus wants us to know we'll find in our heavenly Father -- Forgiveness. And that's what Jacob finds in Esau. Esau wasn't all bad any more than Jacob was all good.
This forgiveness is covered in our questions today and we know how great it is to forgive and be forgiven. So I'd like to spend the remaining time talking about what occurred the night before, after Jacob sent his family across the stream. Jacob finds himself in a wrestling match for the duration of the night. The text refers to his opponent as a man. Hosea refers to him as an angel. We don't know what started this wrestling match. Perhaps Jacob thought this might be an assassin sent by Esau. A life of deceit does tend to make one paranoid. I don't know all the answers about this event. I can't even determine if the limp he received was permanent or disappeared later that morning.
But I do know this was a turning point in Jacob's life. This several hours of wrestling was apparently just what Jacob needed. Is this representative of Jacob's inward struggle of knowing what was right, but knowing he had not been "right" with his brother? It seems to be both a physical and spiritual exercise. They wrestle till the break of day. The "man" decides he's had enough and touches the hollow of Jacob's thigh putting it out of joint. Then Jacob knows, "this man could prevail over me if it were his wish." Jacob realizes his vulnerability.
With any other man or on any other day, Jacob could have talked himself out of this struggle. He was quick witted, good with words and deceiving - even to himself. Cheat Esau? Not at all. He bought that birthright from him. Sure, he was taking advantage of a worldly-minded brother in dire conditions - but he's the one that agreed to sell it. And yes, he did deceive his father, Isaac, but he was just helping God out - for God had already determined that he should get the blessing. He was only collecting what was his. Jacob could have made such a case for himself with this "man" as he probably had numerous other times trying to justify his actions to himself. But Jacob could not tell it that way now - after wrestling all night. Truth-telling time had come.
The angel urges Jacob to turn him loose. But Jacob won't do that until the man blesses him. But first, the angel wants to hear from Jacob. "What is your name?", he asked. Then - Jacob has to admit it - that his treatment of Esau was despicable. - "My name is Cheater. I'm a con man, a supplanter," he confesses. With confession came blessing! His name is changed to Israel which means "involvement with God." This tells us that the blessing didn't come through deceit, cunning and cheating, but through struggle and involvement with God. Confession is not "talking about sin," or saying, "we all have sinned," or an explanation of our sins. Confession says, "My sin exists. I alone am responsible. God is grieved and offended." We renounce it, choose the will of God and cast ourselves on the grace of God.
Now, the blessing which God intended for Jacob to have in the beginning and which he thought he had gained by deceit is now GIVEN to the confessing sinner. Jacob learns the blessing cannot be won or seized by cunning. It can only be received as a GIFT or not at all.
After this night of wrestling and confession, we see a change in name, character and habit. "Jacob" becomes "Israel." Gone are the traits of deceitfulness and cunning. From now on it is "Up-front Israel." The valleys will now become few and the spiritual highs most prevalent.
Recall a while back, Brenda read to us the introduction to this book, On the Anvil, by Max Lucado. When the wrestling match began, Jacob was a broken, rusted, useless tool lying in the corner - of no use to his master. At confession time, Jacob, as the tool, is up in the Master's hand begging to be plunged back into the fire to be remelted - as painful as fire and confession can be. He's saying, "OK, Lord, I'm broken and rusted; reshape me into what You need me to be - make me a useful tool."
Now God can use Jacob. Now he can have what God wanted to give him as a gift - the blessings given to Abraham and Isaac. Now he is ready to do God's will - God's way. He has known God's will all along and how it was supposed to affect his life, but Jacob had been saying to God, "I'll do it MY way." Now he's ready to say, "Your way."
Being on the anvil didn't take Jacob's fear away. He still didn't know Esau was capable of forgiveness. He knew God was with him and that he had promised him good, but that didn't necessarily mean that he could waltz right in and expect forgiveness from Esau. Jacob is aware that God does move in mysterious ways sometimes. Didn't the Lord ask his own grandfather to sacrifice his father, Isaac? But the changed man, Israel, doesn't run away. Upon seeing his brother coming, he quickly, but still cautiously, arranges his entourage and then goes ahead of them all, humbling himself seven times to his elder brother.
Wrestling with God. The nerve of this man. Who would attempt such a thing. But, as I finished reading this account, I thought, I know a man who is wrestling with God right this minute. I pray that he comes out of it realizing he needs reshaping and asking for the fire and the beating on the anvil. Then, I wondered, have I ever wrestled with God?
Read chapter 15, "Anvil Time," in On the Anvil.
West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR