Summary: Jacob: Wrestling With God and Man, Pt. 1


Jacob was a clever and crafty, colorful and captivating, calculative but complex character. Jacob is not our model, neither are his methods and marriages. His motivation was indefensible, his mistakes were glaring, and his misery dogged him.

However, readers who initially despise Jacob’s character and reject his conduct are likely to identify with his strengths and weaknesses, his successes and failures, and his struggles and resourcefulness later.

The father of the nation Israel was ruthless, but reliable and redeemable at the same time. If faith characterized his grandfather Abraham, fairness his father Isaac, then Jacob was known for his feistiness. However, behind the tough exterior was a tender soul: he fell truly, madly, deeply in love. Of course, the highlight of his epic journey in life was an gripping struggle with God by the river of Jabbok. In the end, his biggest defeat was the scene of his biggest triumph. God eventually blessed Jacob when he sought Him for the cure to his ills, something He had patiently waited for since Jacob’s birth.


19This is the account of Abraham’s son Isaac. Abraham became the father of Isaac, 20and Isaac was forty years old when he married Rebekah daughter of Bethuel the Aramean from Paddan Aram and sister of Laban the Aramean.

21Isaac prayed to the LORD on behalf of his wife, because she was barren. The LORD answered his prayer, and his wife Rebekah became pregnant. 22The babies jostled each other within her, and she said, “Why is this happening to me?” So she went to inquire of the LORD. 23The LORD said to her, “Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you will be separated; one people will be stronger than the other, and the older will serve the younger.” 24When the time came for her to give birth, there were twin boys in her womb. 25The first to come out was red, and his whole body was like a hairy garment; so they named him Esau. 26After this, his brother came out, with his hand grasping Esau’s heel; so he was named Jacob. Isaac was sixty years old when Rebekah gave birth to them.

A Jewish story told about a poor man who noticed that there was a naked stranger in his house. “Hey,” he shouted, “you get out of my house, do you hear?” “Dear Sir,” said the stranger, “Just look at me. How can you bring yourself to drive a naked man into the street?”

“You’re right,” said the poor man, “that would be a sin. But tell me, who

are you?” The visitor confessed, “You don’t recognize me? Well, to tell the truth, my name is Poverty.”

When the poor man realized that Poverty was living in his house, he was deeply distressed. He racked his brains for a way to get rid of him. Finally, he went to a tailor’s shop, described Poverty, and ordered a suit to fit (and cover Poverty’s nakedness). The tailor wrote down Poverty’s measurements and went to work. To pay for the suit the tailor was making, the poor man had to sell everything he owned. But he gritted his teeth and bore it, because anything was better than having Poverty as a personal guest.

Finally, the tailor delivered the suit, and Poverty put it on. “Sorry,” Poverty smiled. “It doesn’t fit.” The poor man turned on the tailor and cried, “How could you do this to me? I paid you good money, how could you made the suit too small?” “Don’t scold the tailor,” said Poverty, “it’s not his fault. It’s just that while you were spending the last of your money, I grew bigger.” (YIVI Institute for Jewish Research, Edited by Beatrice Silverman Weinreich, Translated by Leonard Wolf).

The debate over God’s sovereignty, fairness, and choice at the brothers’ birth is pointless, because the focus is strictly on the twin brothers’ independent maneuvers over each other before, during, and after the moment of birth. Nevertheless, even though baby Jacob won the battle at birth, he did not win the war by himself. No one helped Jacob more than Esau, who was irrevocably poorer when he sold his birthright to his younger brother. Esau did not lose everything, but he lost the most important treasures entrusted to him: privilege and responsibility. A church member noted: “God gives you a personality, but you form your own character.” Hebrews 12:16-17 emphasizes Esau’s loss, and not Jacob’s gain: “See that no one is sexually immoral, or is godless like Esau, who for a single meal sold his inheritance rights as the oldest son.” Nevertheless, Esau’s loss was Jacob’s gain.

How is it possible for some people to keep, increase, and even multiply what they have, while others ignore, waste and even lose all they have? What kind of attitude should we place on spiritual things?

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