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Gen 29:31-36:43: Lessons from the Life of a Patriarch Print E-mail
Monday, 30 January 2006

We are a people who are often intrigued by a good biography.  Now, whether you are reading it, listening to it, or watching it on TV, many of us are very interested in the lives of men and women who have gone before us.  But why?  Why are the stories of the lives of people we have never met interesting to us?

Of course, there are a number of reasons why a biography might be interesting to us.  For example, they could have lived in a time or a place that we find intriguing.  Possibly they are famous or have accomplished some task that we want to learn more about.  Many times we find similarities with our own lives and so we want to see how things turned out or how they dealt with their struggles.  At times, we are interested in biographies simply for entertainment purposes.

In the last chapter of Hebrews, the author gives us some peculiar instruction.  Look at Hebrews 13:7 with me.  As we pointed before looking at the life of Martin Luther last October, the author calls for us to consider those who have gone before us and to imitate their faith.  Since he calls for us to consider the outcome of their way of life, it seems that he is talking about people who have finished their race.  The point then is for us to consider the lives of people who have lived and died before us, to consider how their way of life turned out, and to learn from them, especially in matters of faith.  I would hope that even our fascination with biography would translate into obedience to this passage.  Again, as we noted with Luther, we do not want to imitate his actions, for he was a sinner like us all, but we do have much to learn of faith from his life.

In much the same way we have been looking at the lives of the patriarchs in the book of Genesis and trying to consider the outcome of their way of life.  We have seen with Abraham and Isaac and even Jacob already that they are not perfect people.  To completely imitate their actions would be a mistake.  Yet, their lives teach us much about the life of faith.  Thus, this morning I want us to consider the life of Jacob together.  We are covering a large section of Scripture, so obviously, I cannot say everything that could be said.  Yet, I do want us to consider five lessons from the life of Jacob.

First, we learn that God is the author of life (29:31-30:24).

As with the other patriarchs, you cannot help but notice Godís total sovereignty over life.  In this first section, we read of Jacobís wives, Leah and Rachel, and their maidservants, Bilhah and Zilpah, having children with Jacob.  Yet look at these verses with me and consider who is credited with giving life.  Look at 29:32-33, 30:2, 6, 17-18, 20, 22-24.  Over and over and over again the text makes it clear that God is the author of life and He makes no mistakes.  For this reason, we should recognize children as a blessing from the Lord, we should fight against abortion, and we should fight the larger battle what has been called the culture of death, because our culture does not prize life.  Rather, we should learn from this text to regard life as precious from God.

Second, we should learn that our relationships with men and with God are closely related (30:25-33:20).

After we are told  of Leah and Rachelís struggle to have children, the story then moves back to Jacobís struggle with Laban.  If you remember from last week, God had promised Jacob to go with him and bring him back to his fatherís land (see Genesis 28:15, 20-22).  Jacob had continued living with and working for Laban, but due to their deception of each other about which livestock would be Jacobís and which would be Labanís and due to Jacobís prosperity, Labanís sons were ready for Jacob to leave.  In the end, despite all the deception and anger and everything else, we see that God is fulfilling his purposes.  Look at 31:3.  This is what the Lord had promised from the beginning.  In 31:4-16, as we read a moment ago, Jacob explains to Leah and Rachel how God has prospered him despite Labanís treachery and they decide to leave.  Yet, Laban follows them and catches them in Gilead.  At this point, you have the showdown.  Laban accuses Jacob of stealing the household gods (which Rachel had done).  Yet, since the gods are not found, Jacob blasts out against Laban for all he has done.  In the end, even though Laban is a pagan, they do set up a covenant to establish peace between them and Jacob is allowed to return to Canaan, again, Godís plan from the beginning.

In the next chapter, Jacob begins preparing to meet Esau his brother.  The last we heard from Esau was his plan to kill Jacob, thus, Jacob has a reason to be fearful.  Yet, God has promised to go with him and protect him.  At this point, Jacob seems humbled.  He has fought with Laban and is preparing to meet with his brother.  We see him praying and calling out to God for help (see 32:9-12).  We also see him wrestling with the angel of the Lord, which we will say more about in a moment.  In the end, Jacob does meet with Esau and Esau forgives him.  Esau does not prevent him from settling in Canaan, Godís plan from the beginning.

Thus, we see in these two accounts how manís relationships with one another and manís relationship with God are closely related.  God has a plan for Jacob and that impacts his dealings with Laban and Esau.  Jacob is learning to fear God more than man and to trust God more than man.  We, too, need to realize that our relationships with one another and our relationship with God are closely related.  We cannot expect to be alright with one another if we are out of fellowship with God.  At the same time, we cannot expect to be out of fellowship with one another and alright with God.  No these relationships are connected.  Loving our brother is loving God and loving God is loving our brother.

Third, we learn that revenge is not a solution to being sinned against (34).

If you are looking for reasons why you should forgive as Jesus instructs in Matthew 18, then look no further than the story of Dinah and Jacobís sons in Genesis 34.  When Jacob moves his family close to the city of Shechem, a certain man by the name of Shechem takes Dinah, rapes her, and wants to marry her.  Granted, this is wrong and justice needs to be served.  Yet, there is a difference between justice and just pure revenge.  Even the Law would not allow the actions of Simeon and Levi, who come in and kill all the men of the city after they agreed to be circumcised.  No forgiveness, no justice, just pure revenge.  Rather, we should hear what Paul says in Romans 12:14-21.  These are hard commands and all of us can think of situations where the commands are extremely difficult.  Yet, the commands remain.  When others sin against us, we should respond as Christ and Paul teaches us to respond rather than like Simeon and Levi.

Fourth, we learn that a relationship with God involves a process (32:22-32).

As with Abraham and Isaac, and as we will see with Joseph, the life of Jacob teaches us that a relationship with God involves a process.  It is not a one time decision.  It is not a get it right while you are young and then do whatever you want.  It is not quick or easy or free from difficulty.  No, the life of Jacob teaches us that a relationship with God involves struggle and heartache, grace and mercy. 

We see this clearly demonstrated in the incident on the shores of the Jabbok.  In between Jacobís wrestling with Laban and Esau, we find Jacob wrestling with God in 32:22-32.  As we have seen, Jacobís dealings with these characters were greatly difficult.  By the time we find him next to the river in chapter 32, he has already struggled a great deal under the weight of Labanís tyranny and deception.  And even though Jacob was not innocent himself, at this point he had prevailed by the help of God.  Yet, now it is time to deal with Esau, the brother who planned to kill him for stealing his birthright and blessing.  It is at this point, in the midst of all this turmoil, when Jacob is about as desperate as a man can be, that the angel of the Lord comes to him by the Jabbok.

There are many questions about what exactly takes place here, but I simply want to focus on the fact that Jacob wrestled with all his strength, and in one sense was victorious, while on the other hand, was defeated.  Jacob was desperate for the blessing of God so he fought with everything he was.  And because we know that the Lord did bless Jacob, we see that he was victorious, he did not give in.  Yet, at the same time, it is clear that with one simple touch the Lord left Jacob limping for the rest of his life.

It is an intriguing account indeed, but let me just say this: Jacob recognized his desperation for God on the shores of the Jabbok.  Jacob knew that if God did not bless him then there was no blessing to be had.  Thus, he fought with all he had for the blessing of God.  Look at what Paul says to Timothy concerning the life of faith in 1 Timothy 6:11-16.  Paul calls Timothy to fight.  Brothers and sisters, the life of faith is a fight, it is a battle.  We like Jacob, like Paul, like so many others, should fight the fight of faith with everything that we are, pursuing the blessing of God and trusting in His grace.  Do not give up.  Do not give in.  Hold fast your confession of faith and fight.

Fifth, we learn that God is building a nation in order to send a King (35-36).

As we read a moment ago, God comes to Jacob and changes his name to Israel.  This, of course, is where we get the nation of Israel.  Look at 35:22b-26.  These are the sons who will make up the 12 tribes of Israel, along with the blessing that comes to Josephís sons Ephraim and Manasseh.  Thus, we now see the beginnings of Israelís history coming together.  God called Abraham and promised him and his numerous descendents the land of Canaan.  These promises came to Isaac, the child of promise born to Abraham.  Then, the promises came to Jacob, the younger of the twins, who would rule over his brother Esau, even though he would be numerous in number (see chapter 36).  So why is God doing this again?

Look at 35:11.  This is clear foreshadowing of the nation of Israel which will come from Jacob.  The reference to the Kings refers to the great Kings of Israel, among whom are David and Solomon.  The nation of Israel will be a great nation, Godís chosen people, and much is yet to come in their history.

Yet, none of this is the primary purpose for Godís blessing of Jacob.  There is still a problem in the ranks of men.  We see it throughout the book of Genesis and we see it throughout the history of Israel: men are still sinners and if God is to be just then their sins must be paid for.  No King of Israel will be able to deal with this problem, save one: Jesus Christ, the King of Kings, the Lord of Lords, the son of God and the son of man.  Only He will be able to set men free from their sinful rebellion against God.  Only He will publicly display the justice of God by enduring His wrath on a cross.  Only He will make a way that men might be righteous before God.  Thus, in the book of Genesis and in the life of Jacob, we see that God is building a nation to send a King.  Our response to such a King is simple: to turn from our sins, our revenge, our deception, our lack of trust, and to believe in the author of our faith, the one who died and was raised, the one who gives us peace with God and with our fellow man, and the one who has promised to return to gather His Bride to Himself.  Come to Him with determined desperation, knowing that if He does not bless you, then there is no blessing to be had.  You will not be disappointed.  Amen.

~ William Marshall ~

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