His name means: "He Grasps the Heel" (Figuratively, "He Deceives")
His work: As an indentured servant of his Uncle Laban for fourteen years, Jacob was a herdsman.
His character: With a mother who encouraged it, Jacob learned the art of cunning and deception. In stealing the paternal blessing from his older brother, Jacob was forced to run, experiencing the consequences of his behavior.
His sorrow: After seven years of hard labor as payment for Rachel, Jacob was deceived by her father, Laban, and was forced to work seven more. During these years he learned firsthand what his own deception had brought on his brother. Later in his life he thought he had lost his son Joseph to an attack by a wild animal.
His triumph: One of the greatest moments in Jacob's life happened when he was reconciled to his brother, Esau. At the end of his life, he recovered another relationship that appeared to have been lost forever—he discovered that his son Joseph was not only alive, but very successful in Egypt.
Key Scriptures: Genesis 27-31
A Look at the Man
Some people's lives seem to glide along with hardly a bump. Like a jockey in parallel cooperation with his horse, they are able to negotiate life's inevitable ups and downs in perfect sequence. No jaw-cracking collisions. No bone-jarring clashes.
And then there are folks like Jacob.
Like a puppy hanging on to someone's pant leg with his teeth, Jacob (meaning "deceiver" or "heel grabber") got dragged and jarred and slammed from one experience to another throughout his life. Of course, he could have let go and lived in relative peace. But that wasn't Jacob.
So what did God do with someone like him? Did he put him in the corner like a naughty child or forever consign him to life's detention hall? No. Instead of putting him away or hiding his adventure-packed story from us, God loved Jacob (Romans 9:13), paid attention to his growth by sending adversaries to challenge him, cared enough to make several personal visits to the man himself, and finally changed his life's course by changing his name.
Another great argument that has plagued intellectuals and laypeople alike is this one: Why does God elect some and not others? Why did God, for example, put his sovereign hand on the Jews in the Old Testament to the obvious exclusion of other peoples? Libraries are filled with volumes dealing with this worrisome question.
However, the real question should not be why God seems to overlook some but, considering our sinfulness and mutinous desires, why he chooses to favor anyone at all?
As we look back at Jacob's life, we see a man whom God loved with a special kind of affection. God saw Jacob as a paradigm of his people, capable of equal amounts of rebellion and repentance, disobedience and confession.
One of the confirmations of God's peculiar love for Jacob was his adversity-filled life. The conflicts within his family were obvious. Forever the younger brother, Jacob must have been slighted by his father's favoritism of his older brother. He may have felt manipulated by his mother's schemes as she used him to fulfill her own plans. He understood frustration in the house of Laban. And he knew the relentless dread of living as a fugitive. In all of these, Jacob was culpable, but God was preparing him for greatness.
For believers, God's presence through the person of the Holy Spirit is constant. But there are only a handful of times when Scripture records a face-to-face encounter between God and people. In his first dream, Jacob sees God standing at the pinnacle of the stairway to heaven. "I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go," the Lord said to Jacob. Twenty years later God meets Jacob in the form of a man. As a perfect template of Jacob's spiritual journey, Jacob grapples with a man sent from the Lord. And then, just before the man leaves the crippled Jacob, he gives him a new name and blesses him when he asks for it. At last Jacob learns that the blessing that counts comes from the Father of all.
You may know someone just like Jacob. You may be someone like Jacob. God loves you. Adversity is his gift to you. His presence through his Spirit is real. And he has given you a new name. You're a Christian.
Reflect On: Genesis 28:10-22
Praise God: For being with you even when you didn’t know it.
Offer Thanks: For God’s determination to keep his promises.
Confess: Any tendency to “help” God by using the wrong means.
Ask God: To give you greater confidence in his ability to provide for you as well as for those in your care.
Today's reading is a brief excerpt from Men of the Bible: A One-Year Devotional Study of Men in Scripture by Ann Spangler and Robert Wolgemuth (Zondervan). © 2010 by Ann Spangler. Used with permission. All rights reserved. Enjoy the complete book by purchasing your own copy at the Bible Gateway Store. The book's title must be included when sharing the above content on social media.
With a mother who encouraged it, Jacob learned the art of cunning and deception.