Lesson #1: About Scheming The most prominent feature in Jacob’s biography is that he was a crafty schemer. True to his name – which means “heel-catcher” or “supplanter” – he hustled his way through life in unending efforts to promote himself. Shrewd, devious, manipulative – he had his own way of getting things done. Whenever Jacob found himself in trouble, the first thought that came to his crafty mind was a plan. For example, when he heard that his brother Esau was coming to meet him with 400 men, he shrewdly divided his people and flocks into two bands, so that if Esau smote one, the other at least might escape. After making his plan, he cried to God for deliverance (Gen. 32:9-12). But as soon as he ceased praying he resumed planning. This sort of planning and praying never go together. When a person plans, he is leaning on his own management and resources, and is not prepared to see God act for him. When a person prays, he should lean exclusively on the Lord. When a person schemes and then prays, is he asking God to bless his plans?
But before we condemn Jacob, let’s examine our own hearts. Do we come to God only as a last resort? Do we scheme and plan before crying out to God? Do we act on the God-dishonoring proverb that says, “God helps those who help themselves,” whereas the truth is that the Lord helps those who are unable to help themselves. His promise is: “He giveth power to the faint; and to them that have no might He increaseth strength” (Isa. 40:29).
Lesson #2: About Bargaining
The Lord graciously appeared to Jacob first at Bethel and gave him magnificent, totally undeserved promises: “I am with you … I will give you …I will keep you …I will bring you … I will not leave you until I have done that which I have spoken to thee of” (Gen. 28:15). At that time Jacob was asleep on the ground with a stone for a pillow, and was in a position of deepest helplessness and need. The Lord favored him by revealing the fullest, richest, unconditional grace – with no ifs or buts. With grace there can be none.
But Jacob failed to take in the divine revelation, and was unable to apprehend God’s real character. In addition, he was ignorant of God’s pure, free, and sovereign grace. Therefore, he started to bargain with God, truly characteristic of him, and made a vow saying, “If God will be with me, and will keep me … and will give me bread to eat and raiment to put on … then shall the Lord be my God … I will surely give the tenth unto thee” (Gen. 28:20-22). The Lord had just said, “I am with thee and will keep thee,” yet Jacob responded to the rich grace of God with an “if” and a miserable bargain about food and raiment. In Haran, Jacob became very rich (Gen. 30:43), yet he forgot God and forgot his vow. And we never read that he gave the tenth of his possessions to the Lord.
May the Lord help us not to bargain with God, but to take God’s word at face value and perform our vows unto Him. It is much better not to make a vow than to promise one and not to fulfill it.
Lesson #3: About Believing
At Bethel Jacob heard from Jehovah about wonderful promises of prosperity and protection. But Jacob’s conduct after that showed that he did not put implicit confidence in the divine promises. In Padan-Aram he sojourned for twenty years with his uncle Laban, who was more mean, grasping, and crooked than Jacob. These two bargain-makers met and both did their best to outwit each other. In Haran the supplanter was supplanted and the deceiver deceived. Jacob agreed to take the “ringstraked, speckled and spotted” cattle for his wages (Gen. 30:39). But instead of allowing God to multiply his share of the cattle, as He would have done had he trusted Him, he contrived a policy which could only have been formulated by his cunning mind. Some scholars believe Jacob resorted to ancient magic; others say he relied on superstition. One thing is certain, unless the Lord had prospered his plan, it would have failed.
Another proof that Jacob did not believe the divine promise is seen in his prayer: “Deliver me … from the hand of Esau … lest he will … smite me, and the mother with the children” (Gen. 32:11). Had he believed God’s promise to be with him everywhere, he would have been assured that not a hair of his head would be touched. But Jacob still anticipated vengeance from Esau. Had he been leaning upon God, he never would have feared destruction for him and his family. How could God’s promise to bless all families of earth through Jacob’s seed – which could only come about through the Messiah, Jacob’s descendant – be fulfilled had Esau killed him and his family?
Later in Shechem Jacob’s sons, Simeon and Levi, committed a horrible crime of killing all the male inhabitants of that city. In response to the violence of his sons, Jacob feared that the people would avenge themselves and slay him (Gen. 34:30). Again, had Jacob trusted God’s promise he would never have anticipated his destruction by the inhabitants of the land.
Just as Jehovah showered magnificent promises upon our patriarch, He has “given unto us exceedingly great and precious promises” (2 Pet. 1:4). Because of God’s faithfulness, His promises will come to pass. May the Lord give us grace to trust Him, believe the divine promises and make them the support of our hearts. May God help us to rest, in confidence, upon our ever-present, infinitely gracious, and unchangeably faithful God.
Lesson #4: About Waiting
In his early life, waiting on God was something foreign to Jacob’s nature. One of the big failures of Jacob was that he did not wait for God’s time and God’s way. He much preferred Jacob’s time and Jacob’s way!
When Rebekah was pregnant with twins, the Lord promised her that “the elder (Esau) shall serve the younger (Jacob)” (Gen. 25:23). But instead of letting God fulfill His word in His time and way, he schemed to obtain what had been promised to him. First, he tricked his older brother, Esau, into selling his birthright. Then he listened to his mother’s foolish suggestion, deceived his father and cheated Esau out of his blessing. To escape the wrath of his angry brother, who threatened to slay him, Jacob fled to Haran.
Later, when he was about to meet Esau, instead of trusting God to reconcile his brother, he prepared a costly gift of 580 valuable animals and said, “I will appease him with the present that goeth before me” (Gen. 32:20). He uttered this statement just after he finished his prayer, and unveiled the real secret of his heart’s dependence. What about his God to whom he had cried for deliverance? Was Jacob depending on Jehovah or on some cattle, camels, and goats? Did he put more confidence in animals than God?
His gift proved to be unnecessary. Instead of a sword in his hand, Esau met him with an embrace and a kiss (Gen. 33:4). God was faithful to His promise; He prepared the heart of Esau, and appeased him.
In Egypt, at the sunset of his life, God’s mighty grace triumphed and taught him to wait upon the Lord. “I have waited for Thy salvation, O Lord” (Gen. 49:18). May God deepen His work of grace in us so that we may echo the psalmist, David: “Truly my soul waiteth upon God … for my expectation is from Him” (Ps. 62:1,5). There are many blessings promised to those who wait upon the Lord, and dire consequences to those who do not wait.
Lesson #5: About Fear
Jacob was frequently afflicted with fear. When Jehovah met him the first time at Bethel, and gave him wonderful promises, Jacob “was afraid, and he said, ‘How dreadful is this place!’” (Gen. 28:17). Jacob failed to rise to the level of God’s grace and was filled with fear instead of peace. When he departed from Haran, he fled secretly because he was afraid of Laban (Gen. 31:31). Later, when he was about to meet Esau, he was “greatly afraid and distressed” (Gen. 32:7). When Joseph invited him to relocate in Egypt because of the famine in Canaan, he was afraid to go (Gen. 46:3). Heart belief in the divine promises would have banished every fear in his heart.
The main reason for Jacob’s fears was that he did not believe God’s promises. He could not say, “Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid” (Isa. 12:2). The only remedy for fear is to believe God’s precious promises. “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for Thou art with me” (Ps. 23:4). “The Lord is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?” (Ps. 27:1).
Lesson #6: About Leading
One of Jacob’s great failures was to not assume the position of leadership in his family. He lost control over his wives. Genesis 30 records the strife, bickering and jealousy that engulfed his polygamous marriage. His two wives, Leah and Rachel, made agreements about which he was ignorant. Also Rachel, his beloved wife, felt free to deceive him; she stole her father’s “strange gods” and hid them in the camel’s saddle (Gen. 31:31-34).
Jacob also lost control of his children. Genesis 34 is a sad, sordid narrative of rape, deception and murder. His only daughter Dinah was defiled, and his two sons, Simeon and Levi, deceived all the males of Shechem in the matter of circumcision, and then slew them. Jacob failed to raise godly children; apparently he never had spiritual devotions with his family!
Here’s a very important lesson. Every Christian husband should be the family spiritual leader – teaching his children to pray and read the Bible.
Lesson #7: About Obedience
In his early life, Jacob was disobedient to the Lord. For twenty years in Padan-Aram, he lived in the energy of the flesh. During this period we read nothing that suggests any dealing with Jehovah. In Haran Jacob had no altar; he was out of communion with God; there was no reference to prayer.
In order to restore him, the gracious and faithful Lord appeared twice, bidding him to go home (Gen. 31:3,13). Instead of obeying, Jacob journeyed to Succoth where, contrary to the spirit of pilgrimage, he built a house for himself and booths for his cattle, but did not build an altar for God (Gen. 33:17). Then he moved to Shechem, where the sad narrative of rape, deception and murder (Gen. 34) took place. Had Jacob obeyed God’s command and moved directly from Padan-Aram to Bethel, his daughter would not have been raped and the violence of his sons would not have been exhibited.
All this teaches us the importance of the difficult but pleasing path of obedience. There is blessing in obedience, and punishment for disobedience. May the Lord help us not to stray from the path of obedience.
Lesson #8: About Grace
Most prominent in all God’s dealings with Jacob is His sovereign grace shown to one so unworthy. God calls Jacob a “worm” (Isa. 4 1:14). What is weaker and more worthless than a worm? Yet, in Scripture, the Lord refers to Himself 22 times as “the God of Jacob” – a title that is sweetly expressive of God’s free, matchless grace. Jehovah, it seems, delights in this title that links His holy name with one so unholy.
God appeared to Jacob seven times (Gen. 28:13; 31:3; 31:13; 32:24-32; 35:1; 35:9; 46:2). Each encounter was a manifestation of His matchless grace. In all His encounters with Jacob, God never rebuked him for his sins and failures. God’s grace followed Jacob everywhere he went. The more Jacob sank, the more grace condescended to his level and lifted him up.
Jacob was so bad that none but Jehovah could have taken up such a one, as none but God could have put up with such a one. The warped character of Jacob provides a striking background for the display of God’s incomparable grace. In his familiar passage, Paul could have been justifying God in His selection of Jacob to head the nation, Israel, which still bears His name: “God hath chosen the foolish things of the world … the weak things … and the base things of the world … which are despised” (1 Cor. 1:26-29).
Today, God saves sinners by grace (Eph. 2:8), and keeps the saved through grace (Rom. 5:2; 1 Pet. 5:12). In both passages we read of “the grace wherein we stand.” He also teaches those saved and kept by grace (Tit. 2:12).
Lesson #9: About Faithfulness
Throughout his varied course, the Lord revealed to Jacob His unchanging faithfulness which Jacob’s unfaithfulness could not change. “If we believe not, yet He abideth faithful; He cannot deny himself” (2 Tim. 2:13).
Jacob’s biography abounds with manifestations of divine faithfulness. In Haran, Jacob was in a grievously backslidden condition for 20 years. He was more interested in cattle, goats, and camels than the God of Abraham and Isaac. To restore him, the Lord, in faithfulness, appeared twice to bid him to return home (Gen. 31:3,13). The divine work of restoration is crystallized in one crucial word, “return.” Jacob disobeyed both commands, and instead of returning to his country journeyed to Succoth, then to Shechem (Gen. 33:17-19). God would have been justified in abandoning such a rebellious character. But God had promised to be with Jacob and keep him everywhere he went (Gen. 28:15). God made good His word and appeared to our patriarch asking a third time, to “arise and go to Bethel” (Gen. 35:1).
In Padan-Aram God prospered Jacob and protected him against his unscrupulous, crafty father-in-law. He even condescended to speak to idol-worshiping Laban in a dream telling him not to speak to Jacob “either good or bad” (31:24). God also prepared the heart of Esau and prevented him from harming Jacob. Just as God prevented Laban and Esau from hurting Jacob, so He will prevent our Labans and Esaus from doing us harm.
After Jacob’s sons slew all the male inhabitants of Shechem, both Jacob and his family were in great danger from the vengeful people around them. But we read that “the terror of God was upon the cities that were about them, and they did not pursue after the sons of Jacob” (Gen. 35:5). God promised to protect Jacob in all places, and He faithfully kept His word.
In Egypt the ever-faithful God prepared the heart of Pharaoh, the greatest monarch of the world at that time. Pharaoh welcomed Jacob and his family and “gave them the best of the land … the land of Goshen,” and made Joseph’s brothers rulers over his cattle (Gen. 47:6).
Faithfulness is one of the glorious perfections of God’s being; He is clothed with it (Ps. 89:8). It is essential to His being; without it He would not be God. One of His names is “the faithful God” (Dt. 7:9). His faithfulness is “unto the clouds” (Ps. 36:5). He never forgets, never fails, never falters, and never forfeits His word. His compassions fail not. Great is His faithfulness (Lam. 3:22-23). We need to meditate continually upon God’s faithfulness. Apprehending this truth will preserve us from worrying, murmuring and complaining, and will breed increasing confidence in God.
Of all the lessons we learn from Jacob’s life, this last one is the greatest.
By Maurice Bassali
With permission to publish by: Sam Hadley, Grace & Truth, 210 Chestnut St., Danville, IL., USA. Website: www.gtpress.org