As I was recently reading through the book of Genesis, in particular, studying chapter 32 (you can read the chapter here) and the life of Jacob, I realized some surprisingly powerful lessons from a deceitful man, Jacob.
The name Jacob means supplanter, one who grasps the heel, and underminer, and he lived up to his name. He stole his brother’s birthright and blessing by deceiving his father, and then took off to live with his uncle to escape his brother’s anger. He remained there for twenty years until God told him “Go back to the land of your fathers and to your relatives, and I will be with you.” (Gen. 31:3) The following chapter in Genesis narrates the journey of Jacob back to his homeland and is where those powerful lessons reside.
Jacob does not know if his brother’s anger has dissipated over the twenty years that he was away, so he sends messengers to feel out the situation. He instructs his messengers as to what to say when they encounter his brother, Esau, “This is what you are to say to my lord Esau: ‘Your servant Jacob says, I have been staying with Laban and have remained there till now. 5 I have cattle and donkeys, sheep and goats, male and female servants. Now I am sending this message to my lord, that I may find favor in your eyes.’” (Gen. 32:4-5) The messengers return to Jacob to let him know Esau is coming with 400 men. Jacob freaks out and decides to divide all his people and possessions into two camps (v.7) then he turns to God in prayer.
How often is this us? We think we can handle things on our own. We do what we can to figure our problem out, and if that doesn’t work, then we pray. Sometimes we may pray first but then not even wait for the Lord’s response. We do what we want and hope the Lord will bless our decision.
GO TO GOD IN PRAYER FIRST~
- Don’t make prayer your last resort. Have you heard of George Müller? He was an incredible man of faith. He was the director of an orphanage in Bristol, England, in the 1800’s. He cared for over 10,000 orphans during his lifetime, but what makes him so unique was his faith. Müller never made the needs of his ministries known to anyone except to God in prayer. Only through his annual reports did people learn after the fact what the needs had been during the previous year and how God had provided. The orphanage always had the necessities. Müller had over fifty thousand specific recorded answers to prayers in his journals, thirty thousand of which he said were answered the same day or the same hour that he prayed them! He said, “Now, if I, a poor man, simply by prayer and faith, obtained, without asking any individual, the means for establishing and carrying on an Orphan-House then this would provide visible proof that God is faithful still and hears prayers still.” (source: georgemuller.org) There is power in prayer!
Jacob’s prayed, “O God of my father Abraham, God of my father Isaac, Lord, you who said to me, ‘Go back to your country and your relatives, and I will make you prosper,’ I am unworthy of all the kindness and faithfulness you have shown your servant. I had only my staff when I crossed this Jordan, but now I have become two camps. Save me, I pray, from the hand of my brother Esau, for I am afraid he will come and attack me, and also the mothers with their children. But you have said, ‘I will surely make you prosper and will make your descendants like the sand of the sea, which cannot be counted.’” (Gen. 32: 9-12). Jacob admits he is unworthy (aren’t we all?) yet he is blessed. God has been so good to him. Jacob then tells the Lord he is afraid because he has no idea how his brother will respond to his return and asks God to deliver him. After that, he lays out God’s promises to Him.
BE HONEST WITH GOD IN YOUR PRAYERS~
- He knows our hearts anyway, so let’s be truthful with what we feel. If we are afraid, admit it. If we are sad, tell God that, too.
USE SCRIPTURE WHEN YOU PRAY~
- We can speak God’s promises laid out in the Bible when we pray, just as Jacob did. This is especially helpful if we feel something other than what the Bible says. For example, when I am feeling lonely or afraid, I can remind the Lord of His Word in Deut. 31:6 “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.”
Jacob sent with his servants a gift of goats, sheep, camels, cows, and donkeys with servants for Esau. (Gen. 32:13-21) He sent away all his possessions. “So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak. When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man. Then the man said, “Let me go, for it is daybreak.” (Gen. 32:24-25)
God had to get Jacob alone so He could deal with the issue in his life. The verses above say that a man wrestled with Jacob all night long. The man was the pre-incarnate Jesus, and He finally got Jacob’s attention. God took this proud, self-reliant, and scheming man by force. It appeared as if no one was going to win the wrestling match, so the Man touched the socket of Jacob’s hip, wrenching it. Jacob had been living, doing what he wanted, and suddenly God turned the tables. The hip was dislocated, leaving a painful reminder that God is the One in control and can exercise that at any time. He can step in to remind us of who He is, and the control He has in our lives. The wrenching of Jacob’s hip puts his running to a halt.
Let’s look closely at what the next five verses say. “But Jacob replied, ‘I will not let you go unless you bless me.’ The man asked him, “What is your name?” “Jacob,” he answered. Then the man said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome.” Jacob said, “Please tell me your name.”But he replied, “Why do you ask my name?” Then he blessed him there. So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, “It is because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared.” (Gen. 26-30) Jacob was reduced to a place where all he could do was hold onto the Lord. He recognizes this, so he says he won’t let go unless God blesses him.
God wants us to come to a point in our lives where our relationship with Him is more important than anything else. He will allow us to go through times of struggle so that we will seek His face.
Then, God asks Jacob his name. This is a significant question! During Bible times, names were so important — much more so then than now. Someone’s name not only designated who the person was but suggested the traits of the person. So, when Jacob answered, “Jacob,” he was admitting who and what he was (heel-catcher, conniver, deceiver). The Lord was really asking, what are you, what’s in your heart?
SURRENDER YOUR HEART TO GOD~
- Come to a place of humility and recognize “Jacob” is inside all of us. We are all lost and without hope, if we don’t give our lives over to God. Jacob thought his enemy was Esau, but the real enemy was his own fleshly nature. A.W. Tozer said, “The Lord cannot fully bless a man until He has conquered him.” The Lord gave Jacob a new name, Israel, which means “prince of God or may God persevere.” The thing is, we prevail by allowing the Lord to be the master of our lives.
These lessons learned from reading about Jacob are powerful, useful, and applicable to our lives.
What have you been you been reading or studying that has impacted you? I would love to hear.