Jacob was the twin-brother of Esau and the son of Isaac and Rebekah. He was the favorite of his mother. The name Jacob means “supplanter.” His encounter with God in Genesis 32:24–30 records the change of his name from “Jacob” (meaning “he grasps the heel”, figuratively, “he deceives”) to “Israel” (meaning “he struggles with God”). Jacob was the recipient of the Abrahamic blessings.
The following are some lessons I have learned from Jacob:
God knows us (Gen. 28:12-17). Jacob was alienated from his family. He discovered himself in the wilderness while on his way to Laban’s house. God disclosed Himself to Jacob while he was away from everyone who knows him. Jacob dreamed about a ladder that was set upon the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven. Angels were ascending and descending on it and God was standing at the top of it. The Almighty used the occasion to introduce Himself as the Lord God of Abraham and Isaac. He renewed the land promise and explained how Jacob’s seed would be as the dust of the earth.
God knows us. He created us and knows us best (Is. 55:8-9). We think we know the best course, and have all the answers and can handle everything that comes our way. How wrong can we be? “I know, O Lord, that the way of man is not in himself, that it is not in man who walks to direct his steps” (Jer 10:23). He knows what you are thinking. He knows what your life is all about. He knows our plans and desires. He is God and we are His creation.
God is fully capable of fulfilling His plans. The Scriptures says, “Once when Jacob was cooking stew, Esau came in from the field, and he was exhausted. And Esau said to Jacob, ‘Let me eat some of that red stew, for I am exhausted!’ (Therefore his name was called Edom.) Jacob said, ‘Sell me your birthright now.’ Esau said, ‘I am about to die; of what use is a birthright to me?’ Jacob said, ‘Swear to me now.’ So he swore to him and sold his birthright to Jacob. Then Jacob gave Esau bread and lentil stew, and he ate and drank and rose and went his way. Thus Esau despised his birthright” (Gen 25:29-34).
In the stories of Abraham and Jacob, God promised to do something great. It is remarkable that each of them resolved to try to assist God so that their dream could be achieved. We should never circumvent God’s principles in order to achieve God’s will. Jacob attempted to help God out by stealing his brother’s birthright and blessing. God does not need our assistance in fulfilling His purpose in our life. He needs our obedience. The supplanter, Jacob, demonstrated a selfish, greedy spirit. Being deceitful has no place in the Christian character. “Whoever desires to love life and see good days, let him keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit” (1 Pet 3:10). Truthfulness and honesty in all circumstances is the high road to take as we go through life.
God has a purpose and plan for your life. While Jacob was serving Laban for twenty years, God’s plan had not lessened. God had a plan for Jacob’s life, and it would be fulfilled. God pledged to bless Jacob, and He did.
Just as God had a plan for Jacob’s life, God has a plan for yours (Jer 29:11). Our purpose in life is to serve and worship God. May we remember, “Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand” (Prov 19:21).
God wants you to seek Him. The Bible records the following: “And Jacob was left alone. And a man wrestled with him until the breaking of the day. When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he touched his hip socket, and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. Then he said, ‘Let me go, for the day has broken.’ But Jacob said, ‘I will not let you go unless you bless me.’ And he said to him, ‘What is your name?’ And he said, ‘Jacob.’ Then he said, ‘Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed.’ Then Jacob asked him, ‘Please tell me your name.’ But he said, ‘Why is it that you ask my name?’ And there he blessed him. So Jacob called the name of the place Peniel, saying, ‘For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life has been delivered’” (Gen 32:24-30).
As Jacob wrestled with God, God told Jacob it was time for Him to go, but Jacob would not “permit” God to go until he obtained His blessing. We finally see a reliance on God’s divine power and guidance. God desires us to reach the point in our lives where our relationship with Him is more important than anything else in the world. We are to “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness” (Matt 6:33). God wants us to “seek the Lord while he may be found; call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon” (Isa 55:6-7).
God wants us to pray to Him in all situations. We read in Scripture: “And Jacob said, ‘O God of my father Abraham and God of my father Isaac, O Lord who said to me, “Return to your country and to your kindred, that I may do you good,” I am not worthy of the least of all the deeds of steadfast love and all the faithfulness that you have shown to your servant, for with only my staff I crossed this Jordan, and now I have become two camps. Please deliver me from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau, for I fear him, that he may come and attack me, the mothers with the children. But you said, “I will surely do you good, and make your offspring as the sand of the sea, which cannot be numbered for multitude”’” (Gen 32:9-12).
Jacob was a person of prayer. He decided to return to his home, country and family. He trusted God to return him safely. Jacob worked as a peacemaker with Esau when he met him and bowed to the ground seven times. This helped Esau manifest a friendly spirit toward Jacob. We are reminded that prayer is essential in our relationship with God (Phil 4:6). Christians are to approach God the Father “praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication” (Eph. 6:18).
God will reward obedience. The Bible gives us the record of the end of Jacob’s life: “And Jacob said to Pharaoh, ‘The days of the years of my sojourning are 130 years. Few and evil have been the days of the years of my life, and they have not attained to the days of the years of the life of my fathers in the days of their sojourning’” (Gen 47:9). Scripture then gives us a glimpse of the final moments of the life of this great patriarch: “When Jacob finished commanding his sons, he drew up his feet into the bed and breathed his last and was gathered to his people” (Gen 49:33).
The New Testament says, “And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment” (Heb 9:27). We must never lose sight of the fact of death and judgment. Jacob was disobedient in many things, but because of areas of obedience, God by His grace blessed him. He is mentioned in Hebrews 11:9, 20 and 21 as one of the great heroes of the faith. God blesses the faithful.
You reap what you sow. Paul warned, “Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap” (Gal 6:7). Jacob had a tough life of twenty years serving Laban. He was fearful of Esau, and his children dishonored him because of his disobedience. Jacob reaped many negative things in his life because he planted deceit and disharmony. Our actions will bring results, either positive or negative. It is up to each of us to determine that we will sow righteous seeds and “as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Gal 6:10).