Jacob is Just Like Me
Out of all of the characters in the Bible, I identify with Jacob the most. He’s not very athletic, he’s quiet, and he’d rather stay home and cook than hunt animals. He prefers to read than make war. His brother Esau is far more successful in worldly ways than he is. Until he’s on his own, Jacob does everything his mother tells him to do, including stealing his brother’s blessing.
Jacob eventually leaves home. On the way to his brother-in-law Laban’s place, Jacob has a vision where God tells him that he and his descendants will be blessed and God will watch over him. He had a “conversion,” so to speak. This was God drawing Jacob to Him. But this conversion does not take away Jacob’s troubles in life. In fact, his real troubles have really only begun.
He falls for Laban’s daughter, Rachel, who is beautiful, and he promises to work for Laban for seven years to win her hand. Seven years! That is a long time to wait for a girl. When Laban, Rachel, and Leah deceive Jacob into marrying Leah instead, what does Jacob do? Instead of being angry at Rachel, threatening Laban, leaving, or laying down a boundary, in classic dependent fashion, he agrees to work for Laban for another seven years in order to get Rachel.
Over this time, his father’s blessing pays off and God shows Jacob how to make his flock large and strong. By the time he leaves Laban, after putting up with his father-in-law’s evil and manipulative ways for twenty years, Jacob is a wealthy man. He has two wives, many servants, and twelve children.
And now the rubber meets the road. He is on his way back to Canaan and fixing to meet up with his brother, Esau. Jacob is nervous; he did his brother wrong years ago. He sends scouts ahead who report that Esau has an entire army of men with him! Jacob is terrified and gets a little desperate. He sends a bunch of gifts – I mean, a lot of gifts – more than 550 animals! He separates his people into two camps and sends his loved ones and all of his remaining possessions across the river.
Alone in the night, Jacob is contemplating the potential loss of everything that he has accumulated in his life: his wealth, his wives, his children, even his own life. He has no idea what tomorrow will bring. A man, an angel, comes and wrestles with Jacob all night long. The rabbi scholar Rashi says that this man was Esau’s guardian angel. With whom is Jacob really wrestling? A man? An angel? God? His own fears? He is at a turning point in his life.
Either he can give in to his fears and fight for control over his life, or he can stop wrestling and start clinging.
The angel dislocates Jacob’s hip and Jacob cries uncle. This is the moment that Jacob stops trying to be in control, stops trying to please, stops trying to make up for his past mistakes, and gives up fighting his own fleshly nature. His heart changes; he has given it to God. It is this change, this acceptance of his dependence on God, that prompts him to insist on a blessing.
The next day, it turns out that Esau is not angry with Jacob at all. They argue over the gifts and Jacob ends up giving him all the animals out of love rather than out of fear. From here on, you don’t hear about Jacob making any more big mistakes again. He becomes Israel, in both name and character. He has trusted God to control his life and protect him.