Family dysfunction at its finest.
Jacob is a mama’s boy. When his older, stronger and much bigger brother, Esau, straps on his weapons and goes hunting, Jacob hangs around the house and learns how to cook. And he learns the art of manipulation at the hands of his mother, Rebekah…who is not shy about showing favoritism towards her younger twin. It’s her manipulation that helps Jacob snare the birthright blessing right out from under Esau. But before you think Jacob is a swindler, you should know Esau despises his birthright and is happy to trade it for a bowl of soup. Then Jacob disguises himself as Esau when he brings dinner to his blind father, and receives the birthright blessing.
Once Esau realizes what he’s given up, he vows revenge. To get him out of harm’s way, Rebekah tells Jacob to leave *to find a wife*. This is the last time she sees her favorite son, and is left with the one in which she has no relationship.
On his own, Jacob wanders until he runs across a man as manipulative as he is….Laban, a nomad with some drop-dead gorgeous daughters. He fancies a younger one named Rachel. Dad says he has to work for him for 7 years before he can have her. Then, dear ol’ dad switches up the daughters and sends his oldest, Leah, to the marriage tent. When Jacob realizes the bait and switch, he’s told he must work another 7 years for the one he really wants.
After a few more years Jacob is fed up with being taken advantage of by his father-in-law and decides to leave with his wives and children. But where to go? He thinks it might be time to make amends with his brother and sets out to find him. With his angry father-in-law behind him and a mad-as-hell brother in front of him, he’s now between the proverbial rock and a hard place.
And then it gets worse.
Scheming a way to save his legacy as he faces his brother and 400 men, he splits up his family to cut his losses if one group is destroyed at his brother’s hand. And then, he tries to strike a bargain with God for deliverance.
And now it gets interesting.
Alone, Jacob realizes he’s a screw up. His life has been one based on manipulation and deception. He’s alone. He’s run out of schemes. He’s at the end of his rope and vulnerable. He’s a broken man. And now he’s anticipating facing his brother’s wrath and the possibility of losing his family.
So what does God do? In the darkness, he comes to Jacob in a most unusual way. He comes in the form of a stranger who picks a fight…challenging him to a wrestling match. All night they wrestle and just before dawn, God dislocates Jacob’s hip with a single touch, giving him a permanent limp…demonstrating that he could have disarmed Jacob at any time during their struggle. When Jacob finally realizes who he’s dealing with, and that he cannot succeed without him, he refuses to concede until God blesses him. Brave or brash? You decide. In the end God renames Jacob, as he so often likes to do. He is now to be called Israel…which means he struggles with God. Appropriate on many levels.
In the end, Jacob does face his brother who, in a strange twist of fate, does not kill him. Instead, Esau forgives and welcomes him with open arms, paving the way for him to re-enter the promised land. Jacob goes on to become father of what will become known as the twelve tribes of Israel.
We are Jacob in many ways. Sometimes we’re manipulative and try and strike deals with God to get us out of jams. We live in a culture that celebrates power, prestige and strength. We think weakness and disability are signs of failure. Many times we feel lonely, vulnerable, powerless and afraid. We wrestle with God on a daily basis about these things and much more. We have a difficult time asking for guidance and trusting God will work everything out. We tend to like our own plans better.
Like Jacob, we may have grown up in less than perfect family conditions. We may have not had the best role models. We try and control our lives on our own terms to get what we think we need.
But in the end, God usually gets our attention by touching us where it hurts most. It’s sort of like a holy two-by-four upside the head. He has a way of bringing us to our knees and reducing our lives to nothing until we finally realize we we’re fighting a losing battle when we go against his will.
We realize God’s blessings always follow the dark struggles. And it’s only at this moment when we become strong enough to face our challenges over the long haul. He works with our mistakes and bad decisions to lead us back to trusting him.