Jacob was not most people’s idea of a hero! The grandson of Abraham, father of Joseph, a very important person in history, but not an attractive character. Jacob means deceiver and he was an expert at cold-blooded deception. The home loving boy who loved his mum, yet was happy to deceive his father and take the inheritance from his older brother. He who went on to try to deceive his uncle after running away from home to escape the ire of Esau, his duped brother. He attempted to manage even God, contracting to do one thing if God would do another. Amazingly it appears that for some years God had allowed him to get away with it, it was the way Jacob got what he wanted. But inevitably, he met issues. First his Uncle Laban, to whom he had fled from Esau outwitted him when it came to marrying his daughters. However, Jacob eventually got the better of him as well. However, what He didn’t reckon with was the murderous threats of his brother and the power of God. Jacob flees Laban with his two wives and many of Laban’s sheep after working for him for 21 years and he heads home. His father Isaac and his mother Rebekah have died, and he is very concerned about his brother’s response. He is alone, as we read in verse 24 of the passage read to us just now. The night before the arranged meet-up, Jacob has a vision. A man comes to him and wrestles all night with him. Just as it seemed that Jacob was gaining the upper hand, this man dislocates Jacob’s hip. Jacob at last has to fight for something and he has to hang in there, holding onto him even when in pain. When he arose the next morning, he walked with a limp, he had a new name-no longer deceiver Jacob, but Israel, meaning ‘he struggles with God’-and he had met with God. Jacob is changing, there are times when he resorts to his old ways-you may remember if you have seen ‘Jacob and his technicolour dream coat’ that favouritism blighted Jacob and Rachel’s family as it had his parents-but he learns not to try to bargain with God, to worship Him and not to ask for a return. We have also looked at a couple of verses in that great chapter on faith, Hebrews chapter 11: ‘By faith, Jacob…worshipped as he leaned on his staff.’ Elderly Jacob, disabled since his wrestling match with the Angel, has lived to understand that God is in charge, that He loves Jacob, but the best way for Jacob is to worship, to surrender.
You may be trying to make a deal with God. Live a good life, go to church, don’t swear, say and do the right things, then God will make everything right. Good health, lovely family, all well with your world? Is that how it works? As in so many of these hypothesise which don’t come out completely correctly, back we go to the book of Job for the answer. Job, considered the most righteous of men, reduced to nothing-no material goods, no family, in tremendous pain, his best friends blaming him for his troubles, cries out: ‘Even though He slay me, yet I will trust Him’. We are told in the book’s final chapter: ‘The Lord blessed the latter part of Job’s life more than the former part. He had fourteen thousand sheep, six thousand camels, a thousand yoke of oxen and a thousand donkeys. And he also had seven sons and three daughters. The first daughter he named Jemimah, the second Keziah and the third Keren-Happuch. Nowhere in all the land were there found women as beautiful as Job’s daughters, and their father granted them an inheritance along with their brothers. After this, Job lived a hundred and forty years; he saw his children and their children to the fourth generation. And so, Job died, an old man and full of years.’
This talk about poor Job brings me to look at what is perhaps the most relevant elements of Jacob’s life to us.
FIRSTLY, it reminds me that God may be just, but He is not always appearing fair. Now here I’m talking about the modern meaning of these words. ‘Fair’ to me reminds me of when our children were young and used to complain that something wasn’t fair. In the twenty odd years of owning and running a village Newsagents, I have heard many adults complaining that they weren’t being treated fairly often for the most minute things-one person complained about not winning the lottery when other convicted lawbreakers had! However, those with most reason to complain rarely do. If we take one segment of our lives, it may appear that God is not treating us well; however, it is the ability to be patient, to look at the bigger picture and this is where we see God’s mercy and justice at work.
SECONDLY, eventually God wins. I love the poem, ‘Hound of heaven’ which tells of God as a kind of Pac-man, pursuing us down through the years and despite all our efforts to evade Him, catching up eventually. God is merciful, patient, kind, forbearing in old language, but we will come into His presence eventually. One thing of many is that when I look round this church and I see parents with young children making the enormous effort to get to church I see those who are meeting with God; they are not fleeing but have turned to face Him in all His beauty, joy and overwhelming love. Does it take an angel to wrestle with you to bring you to your senses where you begin to understand that the real stuff of life goes on behind the scenes? I was in a conversation with someone a few days ago who was querying the presence of the supernatural in the everyday and I reminded them of the huge, sometimes devastating effect, wind has on living: yet it cannot be seen. It’s not about cars, houses, the latest gadgets: it is about love given and received, humans in community and supremely, people in a love relationship with God, a new creation, relationship restored. David in the Psalms writes: ‘Why do the nations conspire, and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth rise up and the ruler’s band together against the Lord and against his anointed, saying, “Let us break their chains and throw off their shackles.” The One enthroned in heaven laughs; the Lord scoffs at them.’
THIRDLY, God has purposes beyond our knowledge. God provided for Jacob because he was to be an ancestor of the chosen one, Jesus. Jacob was just another man making his way in the world, doing what he needed to do to provide for his family and get to the place of security-just like us. However, just as with Jacob, God has plans for us far beyond our plans for our lives. We may think that we are the ones who choose what we do with ourselves, but what you do affects many people-the ripples of our actions keep spreading across the lake of our community. Perhaps there is the call to huge world-changing deeds but remember Pauls’ charge to the church members at Thessalonica: ‘Make it your goal to live a quiet life, minding your own business and working with your hands. Then people who are not Christians will respect the way you live.’
Have you learnt as Jacob eventually did, that you cannot make a deal with Almighty God? Ultimately, you and I are called to worship, trust and obey, whatever God chooses to do with us! Let us bow down and worship for this is our God who sees us!
FOURTHLY, we get broken by life. I have experienced almost complete brokenness four or five times in my life, a similar number it appears to Jacob. At times of complete destitution, the loving presence of God draws near and we are encouraged to trust in Him like never before! Have faith!
FIFTHLY, the Christian life is one of meaning and progress. That passage in Hebrews which Simon read to us is one of my many favourite verses, elderly Jacob leaning on his stick worshipping the God who caused the injury! As a believer, life has meaning and we never stop growing. The wonder of elderly Christians to me is the clear experience that they are still developing!