In the name of the F, S, and HS. Amen.
How long does it take to redeem a man? How long does it take for him to realize his redemption? With some people the light shines on them and bam, they immediately change. But for most of us, the change is a bit more gradual. For some, glacial might be a better descriptor for speed. It’s like a famous quote from St. Augustine: “God give me chastity…but not yet.” For these people, Jacob is your man.
Jacob finally gets the girl of his dreams, but also finds himself married to her (ugly) sister.**
But God looked with favor on Leah, because Jacob loved Rachel more, and God opened her womb. Maybe sibling rivalry from of old (R steals L’s dolls, then boyfriends). Leah gets even.
1. Rueben – “See a son” – maybe now he will love me
2. Simeon – “Heard” – because the Lord has heard that I am hated.
3. Levi – “Attached” – maybe now he will at least be attached to me
4. Judah – “Praise” – this time I will praise the Lord (she is done with Jacob).
Now the story gets really interesting, for with each marriage, Laban gives his daughter a servant Zilpah to Leah and Bilhah to Rachel.
Rachel: “Give me a child or I shall die.”
Bilhah (Rachel’s servant)
5. Dan – “Judged” – God has judged me, and has also heard my voice and given me a son
6. Naphtali – “Wrestling” – with many wrestlings I have wrestled with my sister and have prevailed.
Zilphah (Leah’s servant)
7. Gad – “Good Fortune”
8. Asher – “Happy” (Leah is really enjoying this game now)
Mandrakes and young Reuben (maybe 9 or 10)
9. Issachar – “Wages” – because God has given me my wages since I gave my servant to my husband.
10. Zebulun – “Honor” – maybe now he will honor me because I have given him six sons
D. – Dinah – “Avenged.”
But Jacob still had not biological children with Rachel—the girl of his dreams. Then God finally after humbling Rachel, heard the voice of her pleas for a child of her own, and blessed her with a son.
11. Joseph – “May he add”.
Getting right with Laban
Now he has a son with the girl of his dreams. Now it is time to get out of dodge.
20 years – 7 for “Rachel” (cheated for Leah), 7 actual years for Rachel, and 6 extra trying to have Joseph.
Laban tries to cheat Jacob for leaving.
Jacob: “I will again pasture your flock and keep it, only let me pass through all your flock and remove from it all the speckled and spotted sheep and every black lamb and the spotted and speckled goats. This shall be my wages.”
Laban removed all these animals while Jacob wasn’t looking and took them a three day journey away.
But through strange breeding rituals (Genesis 30:37-40) and selecting the strongest to breed, Jacob succeeds in getting his revenge on Laban, leaving him right back where he started. And Jacob packs everyone up in the middle of the night and heads out.
Laban notices all that has happened and pursues Jacob. Though when he gets close, God comes to Laban in a dream and tells him not to harm Jacob. Laban confronts Jacob (you didn’t even let me kiss my grand kids goodbye), to which Jacob shows Laban his error (20 years I served you and you changed the game 10 times, but if God had not blessed me, you would have received nothing, which he showed you last night.) Laban concedes.
And Laban and Jacob swore a covenant with each other that day, each would stay on their own side, because neither trusted each other.
Jacob ad Esau part 2
Now that Jacob was entering the land of his fathers, he still has that whole brother Esau wanting to kill him for cheating him earlier. (a lot to atone for) So Jacob comes up with a plan: send Esau a gift for all he cheated him out of.
200 female goats
20 male goats
300 milking camels and their calves
20 female donkeys
10 male donkeys
Then Jacob prays, and prays and prays. This new God had better work out.
He breaks the groups up and sends them to Esau with a note: These are from Jacob, please don’t kill him.
Then after these, Jacob plans to meet Esau the next day. And so that night he prays again.
And an angel appears to him and they wrestle all night long. And when the angel did not prevail against Jacob, he dislocated his hip, then says, “Let me go.”
Jacob: I will not let you go until you bless me.
Angel: What is your name?
Angel: “Your name is no longer Jacob but Israel (He who strives with God.)
Jacob: What is your name?
Angel: Why do you ask that? And he blessed him.
I think he told him his name, and it is quite possible that this was the pre-incarnate Jesus and by telling him his name, he blesses him. What ever happened, Jacob realizes he has just had a brush with death “For I have seen God face t face, and yet my life has been delivered.” See why I think it was Jesus?
Jacob then has to deal with Esau. He meets him head on (a first), but then brings his family in waves (just in case Esau is still mad).
Zilpah and her sons
Bilhah and her sons
Leah and her children
Rachel and Joseph (the favored)
Esau embraces his brother and his children and tries to give back the presents but Jacob won’t let him. And Esau goes his way, and though he invites his brother to stay with him, Jacob does not want to test him luck, tells him he will come, but instead goes another way.
God Strives with Jacob
Now, I told you those stories to tell you this one. Jacob’s name has been changed, so his inner core has as well, but he is not quite ready to fully change, as the interaction with Esau shows. But toward the end of Jacob’s story something changes. Throughout the story, even though his name is changed to Israel, he is still revered to as Jacob, except for two related instances.
Jacob and family were headed back to see his father after many years. On the way, presumably after the encounter with Esau, God again blessed Rachel with a child. But on the way, the time comes for her to give birth to the child, but I’m guessing this child was breach because this child’s birth would result in the death of Rachel. As she was dying, Rachel named him Ben-oni (Son of my sorrow) but Jacob said, no his name will be Benjamin (Son of my right hand). And then his beloved wife Rachel, the girl of his dreams dies there on the side of the road, and there Jacob makes her a tomb.
Right after this line in the Bible, Jacob is referred to not as Jacob, but as Israel—he who strives with God. Jacob in his greatest grief is now being comforted by God. Jacob is striving with God, and God is right there with him. And then when Reuben the old makes a play for the power of the family during this time, God is right there to comfort him in his pain and sorrow.
I have read this passage many times and missed this—it is very subtle, but these are the only times in the Jacob narrative that Jacob is referred to by his new name and I think it is very important what that means. Jacob has finally come to put his full trust in God—he has come full circle.
But this also tells us a lot about God. Sometimes, especially in tragedies, people look for God to deliver them from it. They ask the question “Where was God in all of this?” These three subtle words in Jacob’s time of grief show us that God is with us the whole time.
I think this is one of the least acknowledged aspects of our redemption. Some believe that Jesus Christ came to buy us back from an angry Father who would just as soon smite us as look at us. But this intimacy with Jacob shows us that God is not trying to wipe us out—he loves us too much—he is bringing us back to him, and the only way he can accomplish this is through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. He shows us in this that as we are going through the ups and down of our redemption, like Jacob, God is always there for us, right there beside us the whole way. And I think this is a very fitting place to end our story with Jacob, wrapped in the arms of his Lord–a redeemed man.
In the name of the F, S, and HS. Amen.
**If the sparse places, I chose to go with only the notes, so if you want it more fleshed out it is best to go to the audio.