Summary: An inductive style look at Jacob’s wrestling match with God--a case study in a transformed life.
It’s Hard to Go Back
Dr. Roger W. Thomas, Preaching Minister
First Christian Church, Vandalia, MO
Sometimes it’s hard to go home. It was for Jacob. Jacob was headed home for the first time in twenty years. Twenty years is a long time. A lot can change. On the other hand, sometimes things might not have changed. That too can make it hard.
Going home means going back—old memories, old mistakes, old reputations. Sometimes people change while their gone. But the people back home don’t always know that. Back home, you’re still the same ornery little kid as before. To the neighbor ladies, you’re still that freckle-faced little boy with the cow-lick or the chubby little girl with braces. Maybe they only remember the obnoxious teenager who was forever getting in trouble. When you go home, you have to listen to all of those embarrassing stories over and over again.
For Jacob it was worse than that. He had made some mistakes. He had disappointed his dad. His brother hated him. Nobody liked him much. Jacob had left home to get away from all of that. Going away and starting over someplace else had seemed a lot easier than dealing with the mess he had made of his life.
I am reminded of the mother that Jerry Clower used tell about. One day some workman started re-roofing a large building not far from her house. A couple days later the youngest of her sixteen children wandered off. She looked and looked and finally found him. He had fallen in a fifty gallon vat of roofing tar. She reached in and pulled him out. As she drug him home by his shirt collar, she was overheard saying, “Boy, it would be a lot easier to have another child than to clean you up!”
For Jacob it had all started the day he was born, actually before. He was the youngest of twin boys. Everybody always reminded him how he and Esau used to fight all the time. Even before they were born, Rebekah said she could feel them wrestling with one another. When Jacob was born, he came out grabbing his brother’s heal as if they had been fighting to see who got to go first. That was one of those embarrassing stories he would have to hear when he went home.
His parent’s took these birth stories into account when they named him. They called him Jacob. He never knew for sure if they were trying to be cute, creative, or just mean. That Hebrew name meant grabber. As if that weren’t bad enough, his people used the same term for a cheater or swindler. Imagine growing up with a name like that. When your mom called you for supper or your friends wanted you to come out and play, it was “Hey, Thief, dinner’s ready” or “Can Liar come over?” On your first day in school, you have to say, “My last name is Isaacson. My first name is “Cheater.”
Maybe it was in an effort to make up for the name or maybe for some other reason, his mother always tended to take Jacob’s side. That only made matters worse. His brother not only teased him about his name. He also called him a “mamma’s boy.” As a result of all this, Jacob grew up with chip on shoulder. He was convinced that life had handed him the short end of the stick. He had something to prove. He became determined that nobody was going to take advantage of him and get away with it. As he grew up, Jacob grew into his name!
Jacob was always finding ways to get back at his brother. Most of it was child’s play. But not always! Once when they were teenagers, Jacob was helping out in the kitchen. Mama’s boy, remember! Esau came in from hunting. He was tired and hungry. I mean really hungry. He asked Jacob to fix him something to eat. “Sure,” Jacob had said, “but it will cost you.” “Anything! I have to eat something. You name the price.” “Okay,” Jacob told him, “I will cook you up a bowl of your favorite stew. But only if I get to be treated like the older brother.” I am not sure we can totally understand how it worked in their culture. A person’s word was his bond. Once said, it was done. Esau said “yes” and sold his birthright for a bowl of soup. Maybe his blood sugar was low. Maybe he wasn’t the sharpest knife in the drawer. Esau lived to regret what he did. He would do his best to make sure Jacob regretted it too.
Years later, the sibling rivalry boiled over. Dad’s health had deteriorated. He was rapidly losing his sight. Mom convinced him that it was time to divide up the family farm between the boys. In that society, inheritances were handled differently than today. Everything was verbal. A father would call in his sons one by one. He would lay his hands on their heads and speak a word of blessing that conferred the appropriate inheritance on each. Once spoken, the arrangements were irrevocable.