Teddy L. Desta
The Jacob Problem
One of the main characters of the Old Testament is the patriarch Jacob. Jacob has been a subject for many sermons and teaching books. However, Jacob has been portrayed mostly as a trickster, and even as a scoundrel. His name, Jacob, has been interpreted to support this characterization of a grabber, a born cheater. But how God understands Jacob and his weakness is different. I hear God saying, let us cleanse Jacob’s name from the wrong accusation he has received for years. And Jacob waits in heaven eagerly for the vindication of his name.
As God sees it, the sin or weakness of Jacob is not cheating as such, but being a control-freak. Jacob has undue concern how things might turn out in the future; therefore, he always chose to act preemptively to ensure a favorable outcome for himself. Hence, Jacob relies too much on contract type deal-making to secure his future. Therefore, as God sees it, rather than being a downright cheat as preachers often make out of him, Jacob’s problem is over-planning and deal-making to secure the future. Jacob had little room for waiting-upon-God, for faith, or trust in God. And it is this type of weakness that we see God dealing with in the life of Jacob, rather than with the sin of cheating and lying as such.
It's in the Biography
As Jacob’s biography in Genesis shows, Jacob is obsessed about his future; he was never sure that the future would shape as God promised or as he would like it to be. The perennial question in Jacob’s life was how to secure the future by minimizing risk and controlling uncertainty.
Jacob despite being from a godly lineage and despite the promises of God for his life, he had a hard time trusting God or living by faith. We always find him devising ways and means to secure a safe and prosperous future for himself and his family. Jacob could not tolerate risk and uncertainty. According to Jacob’s life principle, he has to lock down the future with a good solid plan and a binding contract. And even when unexpected events arose in his life, Jacob managed the risk through a scheme quickly developed on the spot.
Jacob's mindset could not tolerate the idea of leaving anything to chance, human good will, or even to God’s miraculous protection or intervention. According to Jacob, there are three rules to succeed. First, plan out everything to the minute detail as much as possible. That can prevent failure or greatly minimize loss. Second, there is no such thing as free gift in this world. In order to get a deal, one has to do something in return. Something which seems free cannot be trusted to be realized, as everything has its opportunity cost. Third, word of mouth promises are not enough securing an agreement with the other party. It is wrong to gamble the future based on the promises given by others. It is far better to bind the other party (even God) in a contract (i.e., agreement or covenant) as that will impose a legal or moral obligation on the other party to keep their promise or their side of the bargain.
In a nutshell, Jacob did not want to practice a life of trust, faith and prayer. Instead, he relied much on rational means to shape the future and his destiny. Hence, Jacob was a control-freak, someone having hard time to let-go-and-let-God. Or as St. Paul put it, Jacob walked by-sight-rather-than-by-faith. It was from this weakness that stemmed most of Jacob’s trials and tribulations. And it was from such weakness that God wanted Jacob to be delivered from. Jacob has to know God as the Blesser, one who bestows free and merited gifts on a person.
Hence, the weakness of Jacob in God’s eyes is the weakness of the natural man. A weakness that factors out God at worst to solely relies on one won's wits, or at best tries to use God simply as the One who would apply his stamp of agreement to whatever man presents God as a done deal. This kind of arrangement between Him and man, God rejects. What God wants is a man who prays to Him for guidance and who relies on Him in all circumstances. In order to bring man to this level of trust in Him, God will be forced to transform the mindset of man. It is this kind of transformation that we see in the life of Jacob, a man who is devoted to planning, scheming, and contracting-making to ensure the future. Transforming the control-freak Jacob entailed diverse trials and tribulations with much tears and agony of heart. The end result from this transformation process to see a person who relies on God for every need every time. That was what God was after Jacob's life. And at the end, God succeeded in transforming Jacob from an obsessive planner and deal-maker into a man of faith and trust. So, we must note here that the lesson of Jacob’s life is not the transformation of a cheat into an upright person, but the transformation of a planner into a man of faith. The following review Jacob’s life will nail down this viewpoint for us.
Jacob’s DNA Roots
The story of Jacob begins while he is still in the womb of his mother. Rebecca, Isaac’s wife, was a bare woman until Isaac prays to God and God answers His prayers. Rebecca became pregnant with twins, but soon she felt as if the babies were fighting within her womb. She went out seeking God’s word about the fighting twins. She heard from God that there were two boys in her womb and that eventually her second born child will have pre-eminence over the first born. And when Rebecca delivered, the second boy was born his hands grabbing the heels of his brother. This seems to prove the struggle they have from the womb, to be first-born, to be prominent. They named the second-born, Jacob, meaning grabber or wrestler. The first born boy was called, Esau, meaning red, as he was born full of hair. As the two boys grew, Esau became an outdoor person and hunting became his favorite past time. Jacob became a quiet, indoor person, given to helping around the house. Rebecca preferred her second-born son, Jacob; while Isaac favored Esau more.
1. The Great Trade-off
Jacob's instinct in deal-making first comes into the picture when he was quite a young man, probably a teenager. We see how he enticed his brother Esau into a deal where Esau signs off his first-born entitlements to Jacob for a dish.
One day when Esau returned from his hunting trip famished, Jacob suggested to him if he was willing trade his birthright as the first born for the lentils Jacob was cooking. Because he could not control his hunger, Esau accepted Jacob's deal and traded his first-born entitlements for a supper dish. We can suspect that Jacob was waiting for this kind of a chance where he can secure the preeminent father-to-son blessing that by tradition went to the first-born. Here we should note that Jacob did not cheat Esau. He simply presented him with a deal and that Esau with his free will took the deal.
Jacob most likely was already aware (through his mother, Rebecca) that there was a prophecy that predicted that one day that he, and not his elder brother Esau, will inherit the blessings of Abraham and Isaac. He might have started to scheme in his heart how to legitimately transfer that blessing to himself, In order to be binding, Jacob surmised a plan that will look like legitimate before any judge in transferring property from one person to another. For that Esau has enter the deal voluntarily and the deal has to be fair. Jacob was smart enough to make the deal business like as much as possible, something that could stand the scrutiny of any court of law. In the deal he achieved with Esau, we first see the sign that Jacob always moves and acts with the finesse of an accomplished businessman. This can be taken an early sign that Jacob relies much on the art of contract- and deal-making to secure his future.
What Jacob did may look right before a court. But in God's sight it was problematic as Jacob had begun scheming , fixing his destiny by his own hands. Jacob was supplanting God as he was trying to get what God had promised him through a human means. Instead God fulfilling what He promised, Jacob wanted to fulfill it in his ways and in his own time. Simply said, Jacob's approach ruled out God; his actions stifled faith and trust. The day Jacob bought his brother inheritance, the contract-making Jacob came into being. Here after, what will we see will be Jacob making deals after deals to make his future secure.1
2. The Fruit that Did Not Fall Away Far from the Tree
The story in Jacob’s life took a sudden twist when Isaac realized that he was soon to die and wanted to pass the family name and blessing to his first born son. Rebecca over-heard the conversion between Isaac and Esau and she immediately conspired with Jacob how to secure the blessing for Jacob. Mother ans son devised a plan how they can cheat the near-blind Isaac so that he would bless Jacob instead of Esau. Rebecca came up with a plan how to dupe Isaac and the scheme succeeded. Isaac mistook Jacob for Esau and he ended blessing Jacob instead of Esau. Rebecca and Jacob took advantage of the near blindness of Isaac to wrest the first-born blessing.
Although Rebecca had clearly heard from God that her second born son will have preeminence, her action in cheating Isaac shows that she did not trust God to bring His word to come to pass. Therefore, when she over-heard the conversion between Isaac and Esau about passing on the family blessing to Esau, she went into panic mode. She thought destiny was slipping away from her beloved son, Jacob. She thought she had to do something before Isaac blessed Esau. So she took charge and arranged a way by which Isaac could be mislead so that he would bless Jacob instead of Esau.
Rebecca did not recognize that her faith in God was being tested at that point and that she was found wanting. She failed to put her trust in God to allow God the time to fulfill what He had promised He will do to bless the second-born. Preempting and doubting God Rebecca schemed and executed her own humanistic plan.
In God’s sight, Rebecca’s error was not that she misled Isaac into doing something that was wrong, but that Isaac was misled to do was the right thing outside God’s way and outside His time. If Rebecca had trusted God that day, God would have overruled what Isaac was planning to do. God would miraculously have intervened into the situation that day that the blessing bypass Esau and get to Jacob. She should have known that if Isaac had blessed Esau as he wanted to do, then that would have left God to be a liar or made Him look incompetent in fulfilling his promises. Rebecca should have understood that God would not have allowed that to happen for the sake of His honor.
At that moment when things appeared to go in unexpected direction, Rebecca jumped into action. She forgot that God would have fulfilled His promise to her despite what even Isaac was intending to do that day. To wit – she saw the Ark of the Covenant trembling and she stretched her hands to steady it (cf. 2 Sam. 6:7). But in trying to help out God, she brought havoc to her family. Jacob had to leave home to escape the fury of his cheated brother. Jacob went into exile, to his mother’s far-away homeland.
Jacob had inherited his mother's genes as a control freak. He had a mania, so to speak, for ‘plan and control." It is this weakness that we see again and again in his life.
3. Contracting with God
As he fled home, on his way to Mesopotamia, Jacob had to pass the night in an open field. In his sleep, God met him through a heavenly dream-vision where Jacob saw a ladder connecting Heaven and earth. Through the vision, God made the same promise He had made to Abraham and Isaac, this time Jacob as well (Gen. 28: 10 -17). God's promise sealed the blessings Isaac had uttered over Jacob before he left home (Gen. 28: 1-4).
Note here how it was God himself who took the initiative to reveal Himself to Jacob and to pronounce great blessings in his life. The promise God spoke into Jacob's life has little to do with what Jacob has done. There is little in Jacob's life to make him deserve such great blessings from God. But when Jacob wakes up in the morning, he starts to offer God a deal to make sure God keeps His promises. Jacob acted as if God has not already promised much to him as a free, undeserved gift.
Note how when God offered Jacob a grace-based covenant, Jacob rushed in with a neatly drawn contract. Jacob promised to do certain things in return thinking this offer must be secured by a deal. On his part Jacob provided the conditions under which God will be his God. If God agrees to the contract Jacob offers Him, then (i) God will be his only God, (ii) he will offer God a tenth of his earnings, and (iii) the place one day will be turned into a place of worship of God.
Why need Jacob try to offer God a deal when God did not put any condition His part when He uttered the blessings? Because according to Jacob's mindset nothing is free. And nothing good becomes secure until he binds into a deal agreement According to Jacob’s operating principle, which is quite business like, when an offer of partnership is made by one side, the other party has always to reciprocate by obliging himself to do something in return.
That day Jacob must have concluded that it was a great thing to have such a powerful God on his side. Such a powerful God then must be tied to him through a deal. He drew the deal and presented it to God right away as he needed to bind God as his partner by a business type contract. The deal was simple. Jacob offered and guaranteed God the worship of all his household and a tenth of all his income for God's protection and blessing until he finally returns to Canaan.
Jacob would have pleased the heart of God if he had simply accepted God’s promise by faith and believed. For example, his grandfather, Abraham, and his father, Isaac, both when given the same kind of promises, they did not try to offer back to God anything in return. They did not force God into any deal to ensure that He would keep His promise word to them. They simply believed Him. But unlike them, Jacob had a trust deficit. He had always to draw a contract to make a deal, even with God. Otherwise, in his eyes, nothing is secure and the future will remain uncertain.
In the life journey God next took Jacob through we see how God tried to wean Jacob of this weakness. God wanted to form a man of faith and trust, a man who knows what Grace is.
4. Deal-making with an Unscrupulous Uncle
Once he got to Mesopotamia, Jacob entered into service working in the household of his maternal uncle, Laban. But not sooner than his feet landed in Mesopotamia that we see Jacob popping up his contract forms out of his bag and start deal signing.
(i). Wife and deal-making
The young Jacob soon fell in love with Rachel, his beautiful cousin. Jacob schemed for Rachel's hand the way he always does things. He offered her father, Laban, a business deal. Jacob would have courted Rachel to a point where her family would have seen no way out, but to marry the two. Instead, Jacob rushed to Laban with an attractive business-type deal. Jacob proposed and Laban immediately accepted.. According to the deal, Jacob would work for Laban for seven years in return for Rachel’s hand.
Laban was both a very powerful and very crafty person for Jacob to make him to comply with the agreement they entered into. For example, when Jacob completed his seven years of service and asked Laban for the hand of Rachel. Rather than giving him Rachel, as agreed, Laban tricked Jacob to wed, Rachel’s elder sister, Leah. When Jacob protested, Laban used the custom of the land why he could not let his younger daughter cannot be married off before her older sister. Laban offered him a new deal and Jacob accepted the new deal. Jacob agreed to work for additional seven years to secure Rachel. Jacob learned the hard way that deal-making is not a safe or guaranteed means of ensuring an expected outcome. Even the best contract could fail as through "legally" as Jacob found out with his first contract with Laban. For fourteen years, Jacob was laboring only to pay the dowry price for Leah and Rachel to their father, Laban. Because he was cheated in his contract, Jacob labored for seven more years than he planned for.
(ii) Wages and Deal-making
After 20 years, Jacob called it quits and wanted to return home to Canaan. If he decided to return then, Jacob would have returned almost empty handed. To thwart Jacob's plan to leave him, Laban offered Jacob the liberty to name his wage. Jacob rather than naming his wage directly, he fell back on his habit of deal-signing. He proposed to Laban a business like deal that works on conditions. According to the plan, all lambs born in the flock with solid color, pure white or pure black, would belong to Laban; and all lambs with mixed colors would go to Jacob. But one thing is different about this contract Jacob drew. In order to ensure that Jacob was playing fair (and to give Laban an additional advantage) Jacob was given only the flocks which were solid white.
Laban again cheated. He made his servants remove from Jacob's flock every sheep and goat except those with solid white color. For Jacob to start with the solid white flock and make them reproduce black colored or spotted lambs was an impossibility. Because law of genetics, a white ram mated with a white ewe always produced a white lamb. Laban seemed to win and Jacob seemed to lose totally. Laban was happy that Jacob had no natural means to get black and spotted flock from what he was give. But Jacob was saved when God intervened to cancel Laban's cheating.
God in a dream showed Jacob a technique how he can make ewes to give birth to colored lambs. Jacob applied the technique only the sturdy ewes in order to get a pool of strong colored flock from which he reproduce for more. After this success for Jacob, Laban tried to reverse the condition as to how the two shared the flocks. Even under the new rules, still God produced the kind of lambs which Laban thought were impossible to get from the kind of flock Jacob was left with. Jacob's flock prospered greatly. God taught Jacob that unless for his miraculous intervention that there was no way by which Jacob could make Laban respect the contract. Laban was a great cheat and deal-breaker before whom the deal-loving Jacob looked silly and stupid.
It is in Laban’s household that Jacob for the first time learned the weakness of contract-making as a means to secure one's future. Through Laban God wanted to show Jacob that even a well-worded contract is useless in the face of unscrupulous parties. In Laban God wanted Jacob to see that there can be persons who can find plausible excuses or loopholes in the contract not to fulfill their side of obligation. God wanted Jacob to see a contract between unequal parties can be unjust as the stronger party can take advantage of the weaker party. In Laban, Jacob meets all the risk and flaws of contract making and planning.
(iii). Liberation and Deal-making
Jacob finally left Mesopotamia after 20 years of hard service. But Laban did not want to lose his hard-working and productive worker. Laban pursued Jacob and confronted him on the pretext of stolen household idols. Only because God had warned Laban in a dream not do any harm to Jacob that Laban finally agreed to let Jacob go.
However, Jacob was worried about future raids by his uncle. So Jacob resorted to his tested method where he came up with an agreement that ensured a permanent truce, demarcation in a border between the two. They swore that neither could cross the border without incurring the punishment of God. That way Jacob believed he could impose an eternal separation between him and his cunning uncle. Note how Jacob relied on a contract (covenant) to ensure a secure future for himself. This time Laban has little interest in breaking the agreement as God had warned him about the consequences of harming Jacob.
5. Facing the Esau Threat with a Plan
Reading: Genesis 32
Finally freed from servitude, Jacob headed home to the land of Canaan. As he entered Canaan, Jacob received the news that his brother; Esau, was on his way to meet him. The news alarmed Jacob. Jacob was certain that his brother had never forgiven him for taking away his inheritance as the first-born. Jacob saw Esau as a major risk that threatened the lives of his wives and his children, as well as the wealth. So the question for him was -- how can he minimize the risk of destruction at the hands of Esau. Jacob feared that Esau in his wrath could destroy everything Jacob valued much. Could there be any possible plan that can save as much as possible from the rage of Esau? We find Jacob doing two things that could help him to minimize the risk he saw coming from Esau.
This time, we see a change in what Jacob did. This time, we see Jacob doing both planning (i.e., the man-thing) and trusting (i.e., the God-thing) to avert the Esau problem he faced. His man-made solution consisted of two approaches. The first stratagem was to send gifts to Esau to placate his wrath. If that did not work, Jacob had another plan ready. Jacob divided his flocks and family in two equal companies and sent them in two different directions. His reasoning was that if Esau destroys one part, the other part will survive. The best strategy was devising a plan that gives 50-50 percent chance of survival. And that was what Jacob did.
Besides doing the human-thing, at least for the first time in his life, Jacob looked towards God for a Divine solution for the overwhelming problem he faced. Jacob after sending away the two divisions of his family and flocks in two different directions, he himself remained at the spot to pray to God for deliverance. Jacob knew if anyone can save him from the looming danger, it must be God. Jacob stood his ground to seek the face of God. Jacob prayed to God earnestly the whole night.
At dawn, God opened Jacob's spiritual eyes. Jacob saw that his overnight prayer was a win-lose wrestling with God. God opened Jacob’s eyes to see that Jacob had locked himself in a wrestling match with the Angel of God. The Angel asked to be let go; but Jacob did not want to release the Angel without Divine blessing. Hearing that, God complemented Jacob for his persistence, for his never-quit spirit. For that quality, God changed Jacob’s name from Jacob to Israel, a prince of God; or, as one-who-struggles-and-wins (i.e., the overcomer). At the same time, God knocked out the hip of Jacob out of joint, as the result Jacob became a lame man. By knocking out Jacob’s hip joint God implied that our prized strength could hide our weakness. In the case of Jacob, his persistent spirit was mixed with a streak of stubbornness. Though Jacob was as tough as a knuckle, with an admirable hanging-there-whatever-comes quality; at the same time this character had a flaw as his strength overflowed into a stiff-necked mentality that resisted change or complete Divine reliance (see Isaiah 48: 1 – 6). That night God knocked out that weakness from the life of Jacob and gave him his overflowing blessing. That blessing necessitated that Jacob and his family will be spared from the wrath of Esau. When Esau appeared on the scene the next day, he was a completely mellowed person, a person who long had forgotten his brother’s misdeeds. Esau welcomed Jacob as a long-missing family member and volunteered his protection to Jacob in his journey to Canaan. At this point Jacob truly learned one important lesson. God, rather than his man-made strategies, saved him and his family from the destructive hand of Esau.
6. Deal-making from a position of weakness
On their way to Bethel, Jacob and his family, made a temporary camp at Shechem. While there at Shechem, Jacob’s only daughter, Dinah, was seduced and raped by the tribal leader’s son. The tribe leader asked Jacob the hand of his daughter for his son. Jacob was promised a lot of sweet deals if he agreed to marry his daughter. But that was an unacceptable request to Jacob because of the commandments of God that the descendants of Abraham could not be married to the people of Canaan. The offer was made at Jacob’s weakness; it meant to take advantage of the rape of Deena.
Could Jacob ever reject such an offer; would not he lose everything if he said no? This was like a deal a conqueror imposes on the vanquished. What can a vanquished people say to a compact offered to them following their overwhelming and humiliating defeat? It could be guessed that next to Laban’s house it is at this point that Jacob learned again about the limitations of deal-making. Perhaps Jacob would have succumbed to the offer or sneaked out of town in the cover of darkness, leaving behind his wronged daughter to her fate.
The good thing Jacob did was that he confided in his sons what the people of Scheme offered. Jacob’s sons were incensed because of what was done to their sister and plotted revenge. Jacob’s sons proposed a false contract to the people of Scheme asking them to circumcise all their men as a precondition to the proposed marriage arrangement. The Shechemites took the bait and circumcised their men. The next day Jacob sons invaded the houses of the Shechemites killing all the men as they lay recovering from their circumcision wounds. Jacob’s sons, through the ruse of circumcision, avenged their wronged sister. Soon Jacob’s family left Scheme on the insistence of Jacob. At least they did not leave in shame; at least the family’s honor was redeemed through the courageous actions of Jacob’s sons.
The lesson from this part of Jacob’s life is simple. Deal-making cannot always work; sometimes it could lead to a humiliating bargain. Whenever deal making is between two parties of unequal power, then the strong party can take advantage of the weak to impose a hugely unbalanced deal. It is this sort of the deal-of-the-strong we see in 1 Sam. 11: 1 - 11. When the Israelites living in the area of Gilead asked the Ammonite leader for a peace treaty, the Ammonite offered them a very humiliating deal – would they give their right eye to get a peace treaty from him? The men of Gilead thought that was too a humiliating condition to accept, so they sought assistance from their Israelite brethren. Therefore, they immediately sent a messenger to the newly anointed King Saul seeking his help. Their request for help brought their deliverance. God used King Saul - as much as He used Jacob’s sons - to prevent any humiliating deal-making to be imposed on his people by their enemy. This fulfills one of the great promises of God in the Scriptures where God says that He will never allow the enemy to take advantage of us or overpower us (Ps. 89: 22).
7. The End of the Planner: The Final Test of Jacob
In short, we can see that Jacob is a control-freak; he is the ultimate planner. For Jacob everything must be covered; taken care of; nothing must be left to chance or hope or faith. That is why God has to take Jacob through different circumstances to teach him that Jacob’s self-reliant methods, his planning, scheming, and deal-making will get him no where. God wanted Jacob to see His ways, how things will work out wonderfully if left to Him. To teach Jacob this Divine principle – “Let go and let God” - God has one last big test for Jacob. God taught this lesson to Jacob through the life of Jacob’s beloved son, Joseph. The story of Joseph – what he passed through and what he became ultimately – was designed to teach Jacob a lesson. Therefore, the life of Joseph can be considered as a continuation of the saga of Jacob’s life. God dealt a death blow to Jacob's planning-dependent control-freak nature through the life of Jacob's beloved son, Joseph. Joseph's life downs-and-ups are as much to prepare Joseph as they are to totally purge Jacob of his control-freak disposition.
By the time Joseph turned a teenager, Jacob in all probabilities must have mapped out the life and career of his beloved son. That might have included marrying Joseph to a beautiful bride and giving most of his wealth to start him off to a good beginning. But God intervened and took Joseph out of the hands of his control-freak father. But first God indications to Joseph’s family the great plan his has for Joseph. Through two powerful dreams God showed Joseph that he will be raised to a ruler’s position. When God separated Joseph from his family forcibly, God wanted to teach a lesson to Jacob. God wanted to prove a point to Jacob that without Jacob’s habitual planning and scheming God can bless the life of Joseph more than Jacob could have arranged. By taking Joseph out of sight, far away from his family, God wanted to mold Joseph just by Himself. God wanted to prove to Jacob that without Jacob's help that He could bless the life one his beloved son. God wanted to demonstrate to Jacob that without an iota of help from him that He can bless Jacob’s life beyond Jacob’s wildest dreams, and more than what Jacob's long-prepared and hard-worked plans could achieve.
To prevent any interference from the doting father, God made sure that Jacob should not know whether Joseph was dead or alive. God shaped the destiny of Joseph in way that contradicts the plans and arrangements of a doting father for his son. God made Joseph to pass through fiery trials. Joseph was sold into slavery by his own brothers and served as a slave-servant in a foreign land. Next, Joseph was thrown to prison for a crime he did not commit. God used Joseph’s suffering as a stepping stone to his success. Finally, after almost 13 years of trials and tribulations, God finally brought Joseph to a leadership position in the land of his exile. Joseph was suddenly elevated to a position of prime-minister of the Empire of Egypt. When finally the news reached Jacob that his son is a ruler in Egypt he could believe it all. The magnificent result, the glorified Joseph, was purely the work of God. God has to break the heart of Jacob so that He could for once and all defeat the control freak nature of Jacob. In the making of Joseph (in Joseph sitting on a throne next to Pharaoh), Jacob had no part. It was all the work of God. Only Him. God did not need Jacob's help.
The full transformation of Jacob comes visible when we read how Jacob first to hear from God whether He would allow him to go to Egypt to see his son Joseph. If Jacob had been his former being, we would have seen him hastily boarding the chariot Joseph sent to pick him up. He would not have spent a minute in hurrying to go to see his son. Because Canaan was under a prolonged drought, any opportunity to escape duress and poverty was not to be missed. After all, Joseph, his son, was the ruler of prosperous Egypt; how could he delay his migration? However, Jacob was now a totally different person. No longer human reasoning ruled his life, rather God has become paramount in his decision-making process. So, first Jacob wanted to find out from God if it was His will that he should go down to Egypt to see his long missing beloved son. Only after God said "Yes", then did Jacob decide to go down to Egypt. It is at this point that Jacob made God first for the first time in a major decision of his life. God would surely have been quite pleased with this transformation he has finally achieved in Jacob. Finally God has succeeded in transforming Jacob into the man He wanted him to be – someone totally dependent on God and sensitive to God’s will.
The second evidence we have on Jacob’s total transformation is when Jacob is on his death bed. When Joseph brought his two sons to be blessed by his father, Joseph placed the elder son Manasseh on the right-hand side of his father and the younger Ephraim on the left side. Strangely, Jacob crisscrossed his hand placing his right hand on the head of the younger brother and his left on the older brother. Joseph wanted to correct his father, but Jacob told him that he knew what he was doing. Jacob explained to Joseph saying that it was how God wanted it to be. He knew God’s will was to give the greater portion to the younger son, Ephraim, not to the older brother Manasseh. Jacob’s action showed that he was ready and willing to obey the voice of God than to follow a long-established tradition of passing the blessing to the first-born son. Here, we see how much Jacob has changed to understand and accept God's "unnatural" or "unconventional" ways. Jacob has traveled long way to finally become totally obedient to the voice of God. At old age, when men of his stature were expected to keep up traditions, we see Jacob going out on a limb to do what is right in the sight of God. Trusting God's wisdom, Jacob was ready to do something that seems silly or senile on his part by breaking time-honored rules just to obey God.
At this point, Jacob, the control-freak, the director of his own destiny, the risk minimizer, the deal-maker, is totally transformed into a man of God – Israel. Jacob has arrived. Jacob now sees, understands, and accepts that God's ways are strange to the natural (carnal, unregenerate) man.
Jacob was born with a businessman-like mind-set. He believed in plans and deal-making and contracts. He thought the future was uncertain and full of risk. Jacob always made sure that he covered all his bases just in case anything could go wrong. Jacob tried to make business-like deal with everyone he came across. Even when God appeared to Him and promised him future blessings and protections, Jacob’s response to God was a business-type deal-making offer. God had to take through various life experiences to show Jacob the weakness of deal-making. In his uncle Laban, Jacob met a sworn deal breaker. Jacob slaved for 20 years in Laban’s house because Laban did not respect the ethos of business contracts. When Laban pursued Jacob after Jacob left Laban’s household, Laban’s plan was to force back Jacob into servitude. When Laban caught up with him, Jacob might have been tempted to make another deal to placate Laban, but God saved Jacob from the humiliation of surrender. God had acted in the life of Laban; God had warned Laban in a dream so that he should not harm Jacob. God had to intervened directly to save Jacob; Laban was too a powerful and cunning enemy who was not easily reasoned with or placated by gifts and treaties.
Through Jacob’s encounter with his wronged brother Esau, God also taught Jacob a lesson that when it comes to powerful enemies, a business like stratagem could not provide protection at all. What these enemies want is nothing but full revenge, not gifts or treaties. God has to intervene and change their heart from murderous passion to that of caring compassion. Esau had a very good excuse to seek revenge against his younger brother who took away his blessing as the first-born. Jacob was reduced to mortal fear at the news of the approach of his brother and the 400 men accompanying Esau. Jacob put in place a businessman’s like strategy to avert full disaster. The best Jacob could hope for was to save at least 50% of his family and his flocks. But Jacob also sought the face of God in an overnight agonizing prayer. That prayer was heard of God, and the Esau Jacob met the next day was a compassionate brother and not an avenging machine. God’s lesson for Jacob regarding Jacob’s addiction to deal-making was this: there are those who are so cunning enough that use a business-deal to exploit the weak and grind their life out of them. Be aware of the party you are dealing with, because there are some with the qualm of conscience.
At Shechem, God had a lesson for Jacob. At Shechem God taught Jacob that a business-like deal-making sometimes could lead to a humiliation that is bitterer than death. A deal when it is offered by the mighty to the weak could be so humiliating that it even offends a righteous God. God allows the shame to be cleared by empowering the weak so the arrogance of the wicked mighty will be crushed. God does not allow the honor and dignity of the weak be trampled under foot forever. God supports the stand for justice made by the weak so that the arrogant mighty will not strut on the face of earth with impunity. God’s lesson to Jacob at Shechem was simple: deal-making could be a humiliating business; protect your honor, you are a prince with God, no man’s push over.
However, it is through the life experiences of Jacob’s beloved son, Joseph, that God was able to deal a death blow to Jacob’s control-freak, planning and deal-making nature. To prove to Jacob that human effort and wisdom is nothing compared to His workings, God took Joseph out of the reach of Jacob. God took Joseph through fire and water, finally placing him on a throne to be a ruler in the powerful empire of Egypt. God surprised Jacob by what God could accomplish in the life of a person without asking for any assistance from anyone. The lesson for Jacob from God was simple: I do not need human help to bless and prosperous your life. Without an iota of human planning and wheeling-and-dealing I can enact a marvelous blessing in the life of a person. God can manifest an amazing glory in a person’s life that could not have been planned or willed by any man.
PTL – completed 12/26/10.
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