Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are among the most significant people in the Old Testament. It is important to realise that this significance is not based upon their personal characters, but upon the character of God. They were all men who earned the grudging respect and even fear of their peers; they were wealthy and powerful, and yet each was capable of lying, deceit, and selfishness. They were not the perfect heroes we might have expected; instead, they were just like us, trying to please God, but often falling short.
Jacob was the third link in God’s plan to start a nation from Abraham. The success of that plan was more often in spite of than because of Jacob’s life. Before Jacob was born, God promised that his plan would be worked out through Jacob and not his twin brother, Esau. Although Jacob’s methods were not always respectable, his skill, determination, and patience have to be admired. As we follow him from birth to death, we are able to see God’s work.
Jacob’s life had four stages, each marked by a personal encounter with God. In the first stage, Jacob lived up to his name, which means “he grasps the heel” (figuratively, “he deceives”). He grabbed Esau’s heel at birth, and by the time he fled from home, he had also grabbed his brother’s birthright and blessing. During his flight, God first appeared to him. Not only did God confirm to Jacob his blessing, but he awakened in Jacob a personal knowledge of himself. In the second stage, Jacob experienced life from the other side, being manipulated and deceived by Laban. But there is a curious change: the Jacob of stage one would simply have left Laban, whereas the Jacob of stage two, after deciding to leave, waited six years for God’s permission. In the third stage, Jacob was in a new role as grabber. This time, by the Jordan River, he grabbed on to God and wouldn’t let go. He realised his dependence on the God who had continued to bless him. His relationship to God became essential to his life, and his name was changed to Israel, “he struggles with God”. Jacob’s last stage of life was to be grabbed – – God achieved a firm hold on him. In responding to Joseph’s invitation to come to Egypt, Jacob was clearly unwilling to make a move without God’s approval.
Can you think of times when God has made himself known to you? Do you allow yourself to meet him as you study his word? What difference have these experiences made in your life? Are you more like the young Jacob, forcing God to track you down in the desert of your own plans and mistakes? Or are you more like the Jacob who placed his desires and plans before God for his approval before taking any action?
Strengths and accomplishments:
- Father of the 12 tribes of Israel
- Third in the Abrahamic line of God’s plan
- Determined, willing to work long and hard for what he wanted
- Good businessman
Weaknesses and mistakes:
- When faced with conflict, relied on his own resources rather than going to God for help
- Tended to accumulate wealth for its own sake
Lessons from his life:
- Security does not lie in the accumulation of goods
- All human intentions and actions – – for or evil – – are woven by God into his ongoing plan
- Where: Canaan
- Occupation: Shepherd, livestock owner
- Relatives: Parents: Isaac and Rebekah. Brother: Esau. Father-in-law: Laban. Wives: Rachel and Leah. Twelve sons and one daughter are mentioned in the Bible
Key verse: “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” (Genesis 28:15).
Jacob’s story is told in Genesis 25-50. He is also mentioned in Hosea 12:2-5; Matthew 1:2; 22:32; Acts 3:13; 7:46; Romans 9:11-13; 11:26; Hebrews 11:9, 20, 21.