“Wrestling with God: Jacob’s Transforming Story to Grace!”
Hebrews 11:20-21 (ESV)
Pastor Jerry Ingalls
April 9, 2017
Today, I have the privilege of telling you more of the story of Jacob and Esau…the story that is in between our 2 verses for today. Everyone loves a good back story to fill in the gaps…
Listen to Hebrews 11:20 & 21, “By faith Isaac invoked future blessings on Jacob and Esau. 21 . . . By faith Jacob, when dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, bowing in worship over the head of his staff.”
There is a transforming story literally between the lines of today’s Scripture lesson. It is the story of Jacob; the story that is between the blessing he received from his father and the blessings he gave to Joseph’s sons, as if they were his own sons. Essentially, his whole adult life (between being a young adult and becoming elderly) is missing in Hebrews 11!
Today, I will tell you the story about Jacob. This is his story, but it’s also my story. It is the story of an encounter with God that forever changes his story from selfish pride and strength in self, to graceful humility and weakness of self. Is this your story too?
This is the story of what grace can do in your life…but you must be willing to leave today with a limp for it to become true in your life.
Let’s pray for God’s grace to prevail over us today…
Last week, I contrasted Jacob and Esau by how they valued the promises of God in their own lives. Jacob highly valued and prioritized the promise of God that was passed through his father’s blessing. The birthright and blessing were rightfully Esau’s (the first born), but through Jacob’s trickery and scheming, Esau sold his birthright for a single meal and then despised it (we read this story from Genesis 26:27-34 and highlighted its implications from Hebrews 12:15-17). This would not have been possible if it weren’t for Esau’s complete disregard for spiritual things; his focus was on the temporary pleasures and blessings of the world.
Let’s look at Esau quickly: The story of Esau giving up his birthright is bothersome: Why would anyone give up something so important for a temporary pleasure, for a comfort item?
We want to think that if Esau knew what he was doing he would have realized he was being shortsighted, foolish, rash… Eventually he did realize all this and he regretted it, especially since the consequences were so severe. How could a momentary lapse of discretion or judgement have such far-reaching consequences? God, where’s the grace for Esau? Is there grace for me when I am foolish, shortsighted, and make rash decisions?
So, I think we all choose things every day that are foolish because we are being led by our emotions or feelings or hungers in the heat of the moment. Then, when we look back and we realize how quickly it all turned bitter in our mouth, in our relationships, and then, then we regret it. When it turns bitter, then we hate it, but we can’t take it back… What do we do then?
I wonder if Esau didn’t really believe that the birthright would be taken from him, so what was the big deal: a free meal is a free meal; that’s all I need to know right now; isn’t right now what matters? We all have a great ability for self-deception and short-sighted decision making.
Do we care more about the next 15 minutes than we do the next 15 years? It takes us 5 minutes to buy something that takes 5 years to pay off. If you look at a credit card statement, it says “if you make the minimum payment, it will take 23 years to pay off the debt.” All for something we most likely really didn’t need, but wanted. And because our nature says we should have what we want and have it now, we choose not to wait on God’s plan or timing.
Maybe, in everyday ways, we are like Esau, in that we listen to the lie we tell ourselves that it’s no big deal. Surely, I won’t really lose my birthright. Surely, if I tell this convenient lie nobody will know and they’ll continue to trust me. Surely, if I cheat on this test it won’t really matter and I’ll get by. Surely, if I hit send on this picture no one else would ever see it and it won’t destroy my reputation. Surely, one more item on the credit card statement won’t cripple my household and paralyze my generosity. Maybe, we’re all like Esau in one way or another.
Selling his birthright flowed out of Esau’s calloused heart and tricking his brother for his birthright flowed out of Jacob’s desperate heart!
Esau and Jacob are three-dimensional people, warts and all. If you thought Esau was an easy target, you don’t have to look hard to find the character flaw that threads throughout Jacob’s story and eventually becomes the point of why Jacob is such an important biblical character that we all can honestly relate to, and by God’s grace for God’s glory, Jacob’s story can become our story, and all our stories can tell a better story—the story of God’s grace and faithfulness!
Jacob was a self-centered sinner to the core of who he was from birth! In fact, this was so obvious in Jacob that is why he was named Jacob (“heal-grabber” and carries with it the implied meaning of cheater or deceiver). From the womb, Jacob wanted what he believed and was prophesied to be his: the blessing and birthright of the 1st born son (Genesis 25:23-26). You know the type…everything is about them, their preferences, and how it impacts them. I know the type because I am a recovering self-centered sinner too. To be redeemed, I had to have an encounter with the God of grace, and walk with a limp!
Jacob was a self-sufficient schemer! Jacob was so desperate for what he thought should be his (and not his brother’s!) that he took matters in his own hands. He worked hard! He was stronger! He was more than capable of making his own way in the world! You know the type…they don’t need anyone else, they don’t want help or to admit that they need help. This is the self-made person that thinks they are better than others, because they’ve worked for everything they have. I know the type because I am a recovering workaholic and a recovering works-based legalist. To be redeemed, I had to have an encounter with the God of grace, and walk with a limp!
Jacob’s story is really about the faithfulness of God: God unrelentingly pursuing Jacob!
By God’ grace, God spoke over Jacob’s life from the womb: Genesis 25:23-26. God knew us before we were born and has spoken blessing over us. We have been born self-centered, but God knows that about us and still loves us and chooses to bless us!
By God’s grace, when God should have struck Jacob dead for his scheming and trickery, he met him in the wilderness as he ran for his life (the first time). When Jacob’s self-centered, self-sufficient scheming finally caught with him and what he deserved was death, God met him and showed him grace: Genesis 28:10-22. God meet us where we are with His grace!
Me too! How about you? [Romans 5:8]
By God’s Grace, after 20 years of continuing in his own self-sufficiencies and pride, after dealing with a man named Laban, who was his equal in self-focused snobbery and self-consumed scheming, lying, and deceiving, God met Jacob, so desperate, so fearful, so lost in himself, that it took God Himself to show up on the scene to intervene for Jacob. [Genesis 28 – 32]
Sound familiar? God has shown up once for all to intervene! [John 3:16]
What does it take for a person to realize that they are so lost they can’t save themselves? There was Jacob on the run again for his life, from Laban going back to Esau, uncertain of his own future…still scheming, still not trusting anyone but himself, still not believing the very promises of God that he had schemed for and stolen from Esau, because all this time he still didn’t get it; he still thought those promises were all about him being blessed and not about others being blessed through him. He had gone so far, but still had so far to go. What would it take to get through to this man? That would all change that night, the night before he was to be confronted by Esau (his brother he had tricked and stolen from; the man who promised to kill him) and his army of 400 armed men coming at him from across the river. The plan was set, he had schemed about every detail, figured for everything, but one thing: God!
Listen to God’s grace in Genesis 32:22-32, “The same night he arose and took his two wives, his two female servants, and his eleven children, and crossed the ford of the Jabbok.  He took them and sent them across the stream, and everything else that he had.  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.”  The sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel, limping because of his hip.  Therefore to this day the people of Israel do not eat the sinew of the thigh that is on the hip socket, because he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip on the sinew of the thigh.”
Jacob/Israel was never the same after encountering God! He left with a limp and right on time! God does for Jacob that which Jacob could not do for himself: touched by grace, a power that overwhelmed him:
God’s grace changes Jacob’s name to Israel. A man’s character is found in his name. When God asks Jacob his name, it is not because God did not know his name, it is because God is asking Jacob to confess his true nature as a self-centered, scheming man. But it took the severe mercy of God’s touch on Jacob’s hip to bring him to the end of his own self-sufficiencies. And at the confession of his own name, Jacob acknowledged his own character and his own desperate need for God. And God changed his name to Israel, meaning, “He who strives/wrestles with God.” Jacob was no longer defined by his sin, but by his relationship with God! [2 Cor. 5:17]
God’s grace restores Jacob’s relationship with his brother Esau: Genesis 33:1-11. In the light of having experienced the grace of God through personally wrestling with God, Jacob now sees the face of God in the very man he had once treated as an obstacle to the promises of God!
Don’t miss the miracle: Jacob had a new outlook on life! God changes your worldview when you have been saved from self by God’s grace; people are no longer obstacles to your plans and schemes, but now they are the objects of our affections and actions; we are now ministers of reconciliation! [2 Cor. 5:18, 19]
God’s grace heals Jacob’s desperate heart. We see this at the very end of his life, when he Jacob passed on the blessing to the next generation with peace in his heart because he had learned that day to trust in God and not in himself: “By faith Jacob, when dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, bowing in worship over the head of his staff.”
We see the evidence of this change in Jacob as Israel limps across the river and into the unknown future…not perfectly, but by God’s grace to tell a different story, no longer his own, but God’s story of grace. [2 Cor. 5:20, 21]
We each are touched by grace to give us a limp so that wherever we go, we will be reminded that God’s grace is our only sufficiency. [Paul had a thorn in his flesh (2 Cor. 12:7-10)!]
Jacob had a limp … What is your limp that reminds you that God’s grace is your sufficiency?