Jacob formed the third part of the well-known patriarchal triad of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (cf. Matt. 22:32). The Lord Himself was the first to use this description to Moses when He described Himself as their God (Ex. 3:6). Despite the fact that very early on Jacob’s life was not always exemplary, God chose him to bear twelve sons, which would become twelve tribes, which would become strangers in a land not theirs but would come out a great nation, just as God had promised Abraham (Gen. 15:13,14).
Jacob was born in answer to the prayers which Isaac offered on behalf of his wife, Rebekah (Gen. 25:21). Like Sarah, she had been barren. But while Sarah bore a child through God’s miraculous intervention, such was not necessarily so in Rebekah’s case. But God’s providence was at work. Even before his birth, God had chosen Jacob for a purpose (Gen. 25:23; Rom. 9:11-16). Paul showed how this demonstrated God’s sovereign will (Rom. 9:11-24).
As noted above, Jacob’s early life was less than exemplary. First, he deceived his brother into giving him his birthright (Gen. 25:29-34). A birthright was the right of the firstborn son to receive special blessings, including a double portion of the personal inheritance (Deut. 21:15-17). Later, he deceived his father into giving him the blessing that was to be Esau’s (Gen. 27:1-40). Jacob’s name meant “the supplanter” and he lived up to his name (Gen. 27:36). Instead of trusting the Lord and asking Him for guidance, he always acted on his own.
The deception in these instances was bad enough, but Jacob and Rebekah knew of the promises of God. God had fulfilled His promise that through Isaac the seed and blessings would come. Nevertheless, just as Sarah had tried before her, Rebekah was trying to force God’s hand into bringing about the advancement of her son on her own terms. We cannot force God’s hand. Even our Lord prayed, “O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt” (Matt. 26:39). One has only to look at the religious world to see the attempts by man, over and over again, to circumvent God’s will with their own.
Every sin has its consequence (Rom. 6:23). Sometimes the consequences are immediate. Jacob’s deception naturally resulted in Esau’s intense anger. This kind of anger–the kind of anger that wants to kill–reaches back to the immediate, post-garden days of the Adam and Eve family (Gen. 4:1-8). However, such anger should not be nursed or fed (Eph. 4:26). Anger, even the small kind, resteth in the bosom of fools (Ecc. 7:9). Although Esau had sworn to kill Jacob, in the end his anger was abated because of his own prosperity and he reconciled with his brother. What a contrast with Cain and Abel!
You can see the transformation in Jacob’s life. Early on Jacob is not recorded as speaking to God or even acknowledging Him. Somewhere along the way to Haran, as he fled Esau, God appears to Jacob above a ladder to heaven and gives Jacob the same promise He had given to Abraham. Jacob there vows that if God bless him, then God shall be his God (Gen. 28). When Jacob is ready to leave Laban, he finally acknowledges that God had been with him (Gen. 31:5,42).
Now, before this reunion and reconciliation with Esau, Jacob dwelt in fear of meeting his once angry brother(Gen. 32:11). Not only does he pray to God, which is something he was not said to have done heretofore, but he acknowledges that he was unworthy “of the least of Thy mercies,” and admitted his fear (Gen. 32:9-11). To prepare him for this meeting, and for the rest of his life, the Lord causes Jacob to wrestle “a man,” which was, presumably, the Lord. (Jacob says that he has seen God “face to face” (Gen. 32:30) and the Angel says that Jacob had power with men and with God (v. 28)). With that new courage, Jacob faced his brother and the two were reconciled.
The God of Abraham and the God of Isaac had truly become the God of Jacob! The Lord changed the name of Jacob, the supplanter, to Israel, the prince of God (Gen. 32:28). At God’s command, Jacob goes back to Bethel and builds an altar to the Lord and has his people put away their gods (Gen. 35:1-15). Through God’s providence, he ultimately ends up in Egypt so that his seed would be saved from famine and become a mighty nation that comes out of Egypt (Ex. 12:35,36; Ps. 105:37). Finally, in faith, he blesses his sons and both the sons of Joseph (Heb. 11:21).
Eric L. Padgett