Finding Hope in the Wilderness: Jacob’s Story
Where do you spend most of your Bible reading time?
I enjoy the narrative portions of Scripture – the stories of the people of God from the Old Testament period; the journal reports in the four New Testament Gospels that reveal the character, ministry, and teachings of Jesus; and the book of Acts which traces the development of the church –the “body of Christ”. I especially love the biographies and the history of the nation of Israel, the Old Testament people-of-God. Last week I read in Genesis chapter 28 about Jacob, son of Isaac, son of Abraham.
Jacob and Esau were fraternal twins. At their birth Esau came out first. Then Jacob, holding onto Esau’s heel, made his appearance; hence his name Jacob, which means “he grasps the heel” or figuratively, “he deceives’ – and he certainly lived up to his name.
Esau was red and hairy and Jacob was not. Esau became a man of the outdoors and a skilled hunter, while Jacob hung around the tents; he was more into things like cooking.
One day Esau returned from one of his expeditions to the open country and he was famished. Jacob had made a pot of stew and the aroma was more than Esau could withstand – he begged his chef-brother for a bowl of stew. Jacob, being somewhat of an opportunist, saw his chance to one-up his brother. He offered to give Esau some stew in exchange for his birthright – which was a pretty high price for beef stew. Though he was a twin, Esau, having come from the womb first, was considered the “firstborn” and the rights of the firstborn were his – his “birthright”, which involved such things as inheritance, headship in the family when his father died, and the authority of that position.
Esau replied, “What good is the birthright to me?” The Scripture says, “So Esau despised his birthright.” – it was of little consequence to him when he was hungry. He was a man who lived by his appetites.
Jacob displays his “grasping” tendency as he takes advantage of Esau’s appetite-vulnerability. And Esau sells Jacob his birthright for a bowl of stew.
Much later, when Isaac was old and his eyesight was failing, thinking his time of death might be near, he sent Esau out to hunt some wild game to make a stew for him. Isaac told Esau that when he returned and served the meal to him, he (Isaac) would give Esau his blessing – the blessing of the firstborn.
Rebekah overheard the conversation between Isaac and Esau (his favorite son), and tells Jacob (her favorite son) to quickly prepare some stew and to serve his father, pretending to be Esau. She thinks of all the details, including gloves of goatskins (to simulate Esau’s hairy hands) and dressing Jacob in some of Esau’s dirty clothes – Isaac said he could “smell” his son Esau when Jacob served the stew.
Though Isaac wonders about the quickness of “Esau’s” hunt, and is a bit suspicious about the timber of Jacob’s voice, Jacob’s deceptive costume and skillful lies persuade his father that Jacob is indeed Esau. Isaac then pronounces a blessing on Jacob, whom he believes to be his eldest son.
Later Esau returns, prepares his dad’s favorite stew and brings it to him. The plot is now exposed and Isaac, “trembling violently” explains that he has already given the eldest son’s blessing to Jacob; a blessing given, even under such deception, cannot be called back.
Esau is furious with Jacob and holds a murderous grudge against him. He plots to kill Jacob as soon as his own aged father is dead and the period of mourning is over.
Rebekah, getting wind of Esau’s plan, warns Jacob and persuades Isaac to send him off to her relatives to find a “proper wife”. Isaac sends Jacob off with another blessing – a blessing of fruitfulness and prosperity.
The Scripture does not say whether anyone went with Jacob. It seems that he traveled alone, as no servants are mentioned.
In a place called Luz Jacob stops to spend the night, sleeping out under the stars, with a rock for a pillow. He is now estranged from his family, not knowing if he will ever see his aging father alive again. He has no road maps, only the stars and sun to guide him. No streetlights, no friendly faces along the way. He must have felt afraid for he was not an outdoorsman, and as far as we know had never traveled far from the tents of his parents. You might be thinking, “He got what he deserves, the liar, the cheat.” But let’s not be too hasty. God desires mercy rather than judgement.
Casting blame aside, can you relate to Jacob’s fearful journey? Being forced by circumstances to face a situation you are totally unequipped to handle. Alone in a place with no one to rescue you? Knowing that you are vulnerable to wild animals or bandits, without knowledge of how to fight back? Traveling in darkness and unfamiliar territory and heading to a place where you have never been?
There is evidence in the narration that Jacob had not before this time developed a personal faith in God.
Jacob lies down to sleep and has a vivid dream. In the dream he sees a stairway into heaven, resting on the earth. Angels are going up and down the stairs and the Lord stands at the top of the stairs. The Lord speaks to Jacob and identifies himself as:
“the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac.”
The Lord does not say, “I am your God.” Yet, God makes promises to Jacob of blessing, success, prosperity, numerous progeny, and protection. He ends by saying,
“. . . wherever you go I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I done what I have promised you.”
Jacob awakens from his dream and is amazed! In spite of all he has done, taking advantage of his brother, his lies and his deception of his aging father, stealing what was not lawfully his – in spite of all this, God chooses to bless him! He has a destiny.
Jacob’s response is found in Gen. 28:16-19: “When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he thought, ‘Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it.’ 17 He was afraid and said, ‘How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven.” 18 Early the next morning Jacob took the stone he had placed under his head and set it up as a pillar and poured oil on top of it. 19He called that place Bethel . . .” – which means house of God.
“Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it.” Does this thought speak something to you as it did to me?
Jacob was in a place of danger, all alone, uncertain about his future – a situation he had never been in before – yet, he could say, “the Lord is in this place with me, even though I was not aware of it.”
How about you? Are you living in a place that is unfamiliar territory? Are you uncertain about your future? Do you feel alone in it? Are you afraid? Are you wondering where God is?
If we could only see behind this place we think of as the “real world” into where God and the hosts of angels dwell. If we could get a vision of that realm of timelessness, all of our doubts, frustrations, and fears would end.
Wherever you are, whatever you are going through right now – shattered dreams, broken relationships, sickness, lack of a job, piles of bills with no way to pay them, tiredness and discouragement, ask God to give you a dream or revelation of Him. Ask the Lord to cause you to be aware of His presence in the midst of your troubling circumstances. Learn to call the place where you are, “Bethel” – the house of God – and you will begin to experience His presence there.
God was true to His promises to Jacob and his descendants, as the Scriptures reveal in the Old and New Testaments. And He will keep His promises to those who trust in Him, to those who embrace the life He has given them in the sacrifice of His Son and the gift of His Holy Spirit. And that includes you.
How about you? Have you found God in a wilderness of your experience? Share how God has revealed Himself to you in the midst of bad circumstances. I’d love to hear from you.
©2011, Marcy Alves
Posted on January 19, 2012, in Christian Growth, God Encounters, Reflections, Uncategorized and tagged Abraham, Bible reading, Christianity, deception, Esau, finding God, God with us, God’s blessing, God’s care, hope, Isaac, Israel, Jacob, Jacob & Esau, Lord, Old Testament, relationship with God, trust. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.