Final Lessons from the Life of the Patriarch Jacob
By Richard Allen – December 5, 2022
As we close out the life of Jacob (whose name is now Israel), we should reflect on the changes that God made in him to bring him from a wheelin’ and dealin’ grabber to a faithful leaner. My hope is that looking at him, we will better understand the changes that God has been, and is still making in us.
When we left the Patriarch Israel, he was “limping” away from the River Pineal, on his way to meet his brother Esau. He was no doubt afraid, but his physical encounter with God had given him a new perspective of his life of grabbing and striving with men and God. Truth be told, Jacob had been wrestling with God long before that night at Pineal. He had to be comforted knowing that God was behind all of the events of the past 20+ years – even allowing him to physically spend himself in a wrestling match with the Almighty! I seriously doubt that the Jacob we’ve seen over these past weeks could have faced his brother again alone – if Jacob had not finally understood that God was caring for him and prospering him along his way. Last week I asked the question: “Why would God bear with the likes of Jacob, wrestling and striving with him for so many years?” The simple answer is: Because God loved Jacob!
“ I have loved you,” says the Lord. But you say, ‘How have you loved us? Is not Esau Jacob's brother?’ declares the Lord. ‘Yet I have loved Jacob but Esau I have hated. I have laid waste his hill country and left his heritage to jackals of the desert.’ If Edom (Esau’s descendants) says, ‘We are shattered but we will rebuild the ruins,’ the Lord of hosts says, ‘They may build, but I will tear down, and they will be called the wicked country, and the people with whom the Lord is angry forever’ ” (Malachi 1:2-4).
This quote from Malachi is used by Paul in Romans Chapter 9 to demonstrate God’s sovereign love. This might be a hard truth to fathom, but God loves whom He will love, and rejects and hates those whom He will hate. And as we’ve seen with the life of Jacob – it’s not because Jacob was such a wonderful and righteous man, or as some imagine, a better man than Esau. No, God’s sovereign choice doesn’t make sense to us in human terms. As fallen sinners we like to pretend that: “Well, I may have my faults, but I’m not as bad as that other guy.” Scripture sees it very differently:
“As it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” “Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive.” “The venom of asps is under their lips.” “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.” “Their feet are swift to shed blood; in their paths are ruin and misery, and the way of peace they have not known.“ “There is no fear of God before their eyes.” (Romans 3:10-18).
In these verses from Romans, Paul doesn’t leave any doubt, we’re all depraved and dead in our sins! Yet in our human pride we may feel like we deserve God’s love, or that we’re not so bad. But in reality, we should all marvel, not that God Hated Esau - that makes sense from a Biblical perspective - but what should amaze us is, that God would love such a one as Jacob, or for that matter, that He would love any of us! Jacob’s pilgrimage from grabber to leaner teaches us that salvation is totally by Grace, and Grace alone. Jacob was a man like we are, plagued with sin, failures and contradictions - yet God set his love upon him for reasons only known to Himself, and not because of any human merit. When the Apostle Paul quotes the passage from Malachi in his Letter to the Roman Church, he is even more blunt:
“This means that it is not the children of the flesh (not by family lineage) who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring. For this is what the promise said: ‘About this time next year I will return, and Sarah shall have a son.’ And not only so, but also when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad – in order that God's purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of Him who calls – she was told, ‘The older will serve the younger.’ As it is written, ‘Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.’ What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God's part? By no means! For he says to Moses, ‘I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.’ So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, ‘For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.’ So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills” (Romans 9:8-18).
God’s electing grace is impossible to miss in the life of Jacob. Why did God reveal Himself in a special way to Jacob at Bethel, showing him the stairway to heaven? Why was God so longsuffering with Jacob and his strivings with his brother Esau and his deceitful behavior with his father Isaac? Why did God continue to bless and prosper Jacob during his servitude under his crafty uncle Laban? Why did God lower himself to wrestle with Jacob, even allowing him to think he was physically competing with God? Why, after Jacob had been incapacitated, did our Sovereign Lord God yield to Jacob’s cleaving and bless him, allowing him to “see God with his own eyes – and yet live?” And why had God not patiently shown the same longsuffering with Esau or offered him any of these blessings? You may answer: “Because Jacob was such a great guy. I think we’ve already seen that’s just not true. Jacob was a fallen sinner, just like Esau.
But, if you answer: “Jacob – in spite of his failings – like David, Peter and many others blessed by God, HAD A HUNGER FOR THE LIVING GOD THAT ESAU DID NOT,” I will agree with you. But I’ll immediately ask the obvious question: Who put that hunger and cleaving desire for God within Jacob’s heart? God showed His hatred for Esau by leaving him to his own fallen nature to pursue the “lusts of the eyes, the lusts of the flesh and the boastful pride of life” (I John 2:16). For Jacob, it was God who placed this desire deep within his heart – then guided and patiently taught him for many years, ultimately transforming him from a grabber into a leaner. When we see Jacob at the end of his life in Genesis 47, he’s 147 years of age, having lived the last 17 years of his life in Egypt under his son Joseph’s rule as Prime Minister. No doubt this caused Jacob to seriously reflect on his pilgrimage – especially his past years in Egypt. Prior to coming to Egypt he’d thought his son Joseph, the son of Rachel, his true love, to be dead. Now he finds him – not just alive and well – but ruling as Prime Minister in a foreign land. That had to cause Jacob to pause and reflect.
As the story of Jacob ends, we once again see Jacob adapting to life in a foreign land, Egypt. The son, Joseph – whom he loved and favored – was now the second in command of one of the most powerful empires in the world. And he had assigned the children of Israel – that is the posterity of Jacob – the finest land in all Egypt, Goshen. So, Jacob’s family didn’t just avoid the famine that brought them to Egypt, they flourished and multiplied. The Jacob we see leaning on his staff (Hebrews 11:20), was a man who had learned to trust God over many years, even when God’s direction and care may not have made sense to him. According to the Greek version of the Old Testament, the Septuagint, Jacob reverenced (worshiped) the Sovereign Lord – who had led him to the land of Egypt and brought his son back from the grave. There he was, worshiping with the bad hip on which he limped away from Pineal that fateful night so many years before. Leaning on his staff was a constant reminder that to receive God’s blessing required that he cleave to Him in faith. This changed man, Israel, had finally learned that by cleaving in faith, he could now accept the changes God had once again brought to his life – knowing that all things would one day be put right in God’s time.
“And Israel dwelt in Egypt, in the land of Goshen, and they gained an inheritance upon it; and they increased and multiplied very greatly. And Jacob survived seventeen years in the land of Egypt; and Jacob's days of the years of his life were a hundred and forty-seven years, and the days of Israel drew nigh for him to die: and he called his son Joseph, and said to him, If I have found favor before thee, put thy hand under my thigh, and thou shalt execute mercy and truth toward me, so as not to bury me in Egypt. But I will sleep with my fathers, and thou shalt carry me up out of Egypt, and bury me in their sepulcher. And he said, I will do according to thy word. And he said, Swear to me, and he swore to him. And Israel did reverence, leaning on the top of his staff “(Genesis 47:27-31 - The Septuagint).
Jacob’s last wish on the surface appears to say he just wanted to be buried in “the promised land.” But the writer of Hebrews reveals a different motive that Jacob, as well as all the faithful have during our pilgrimage here on earth:
“These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city” (Hebrews 11:13-16).
We are all learning these same lessons of faith: To lean on God and by faith learn to trust God as Sovereign – and follow Him as pilgrims, looking for that same city, the heavenly one – which He is now preparing for us. Soli Deo Gloria!
Three lessons from the Life of Jacob from “How to go from a Grabber to a Leaner in 147 years.” (Blog date October 24, 2022)
1.) How I behave toward others will come back on me with a vengeance.
2.) If I’m to fulfill God’s purposes, I will need to do things God’s way – and not through
3.) Even if I act in the flesh using human means, God can still use my poor choices for
His Purpose and Glory.
Three lessons from the Life of Jacob from “What Goes Around, Comes Around.” (Blog date October 31, 2022)
4.) Reciprocal Providence is a great teacher in the hands of the Sovereign God. Scripture may not tell us, but Jacob couldn’t have missed the irony of his own deception and violation of his brother’s birthright coming back on him.
5.) In our sin and weakness we may start out “grabbing, wheelin’ and dealin,” yet in God’s faithfulness and chastening over time, we learn to trust Him – and see that our lives are not in our own feeble hands. They are under His Sovereign control from cradle to grave.
6.) God patiently bears with the weaknesses of His children, as we struggle to learn from life as we live it, in three ways: From our own sins, from the sins of others toward us and general mistreatment from the world’s system.
Two lessons from the Life of Jacob from “Down By The River.” (Blog date November 14, 2022)
7.) Even if we don’t see the obvious signs, God is always with His children, working
all things together for their good and His purposes,” behind the scenes. From an eternal perspective – He has our back!
8.) God restrains our adversaries, limiting their ability to harm us or cause His Eternal Purposes for us to fail.
Two lessons from the Life of Jacob from “You Don’t Tug on Superman’s Cape.” (Blog date November 21, 2022)
9.) Just because we are stepping out in faith – trusting God to accomplish something difficult that He’s clearly directed us to do – doesn’t mean that we are passive, waiting for His provision. We should do all we morally and rightly should do, to accomplish His purpose.
10.) It’s clear from Jacob’s life that his personal experiences were used by God to chasten, instruct and change him into the man God wanted him to be.
Two lessons from the Life of Jacob from “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms.” (Blog date November 28, 2022)
11.) God allows His hungry children to wrestle and to pursue Him, knowing that He will accomplish His good purposes in their lives through the providential circumstances of their strife.
12.) n wrestling with God, He will always triumph in the end – yet change us for the better. His ultimate goal being that we learn to Cleave and Lean on Him. It’s the secret to winning in this life and the next!
Two final lessons from the Life of Jacob from “The Grabber Becomes a Leaner.” (Blog date December 5, 2022)
13.) If we have a cleaving desire for the living God, it is God who has put that desire in our hearts. The answer to the question: “who made me different than my unbelieving neighbor?” (I Corinthians 4:7), can only be: God!
14.) Real power and strength are not when we can do anything we want on our own, but when we learn that to do His will we need to be broken and cleaving to God in faith. That is when we are truly strong. Soli Deo Gloria!