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Courageous Faith Series

Overcoming the Obstacles: “Hanging Tough In The Tough Times” – Jacob

19 January 2020

Let’s remember that we seek to follow the Divine Promiser and His promise which transforms ordinary people into “children of promise” (Gal. 4:28). It is God’s promise which encourages our hearts and lifts our souls. His promise keeps us going when the going gets tough.

As we studied Abraham last week and “The journey of Faith” this week we take a look into the life of Jacob and how he had obstacles to overcome. He was “hanging tough in tough times.”

Overcoming the Obstacles: Hanging Tough in the Tough Times – Jacob

“Everything rises and falls on leadership!” How many times have we heard that statement? It has become the maxim that runs entire corporations and their management decision. Whatever is wrong with the organization is usually a reflection of what is wrong with the leader on the corporate level as well as on the personal level.

The success or failure of leaderships shows up first in the home. The biblical plan for the man is to be the head of the home. His loving leadership is intended to build a canopy of protection over his wife and children. When the man is not the spiritual leader he ought to be, the whole family suffers. If he doesn’t set the example, there will always be conflicts that could have been avoided.

God calls men to be leaders at home, in the church, and in the community. But men will never succeed in the church or in the community until they succeed at home, because being the right kind of husband and father is essential to having the right kind of family. It won’t work fully without godly male leadership. God can certainly bless the efforts of believing mothers, and He often does. But His ideal plan is to work through both parents, with the man taking the spiritual leadership. And with the privilege of leadership comes the responsibility of leadership.

The husband’s responsibilities toward his wife are to:

1. Love her (Eph. 5:25),

2. Honor her (1 Pet. 3:7),

3. Trust her (Prov. 31:11),

4. Praise her (Prov. 31:28),

5. Sanctify her (1 cor. 7:14),

6. Protect her (Ruth 1:9),

7. Provide for her (1 Tim. 5:8),

8. Teach her (1 Cor. 14:34, 35),

9. Cheer her (Eccl. 9:9),

10. Befriend her (Song of Solomon 5:16).

As fathers, men also have basic duties to fulfill in a biblically based Godly Family. We need to set the example for our children by modeling attitudes and behaviors we expect from them. Raising children has never been easy, but it has always been rewarding. Parenting is one of the greatest joys of live, both for us and our children.

Dad’s responsibilities toward his children are to provide a:

1. Positive example (Psa. 103:8-13),

2. Spiritual Heritage (1 Pet. 1:4),

3. Financial Security (2 Cor. 12:14),

4. Biblical instruction (Deut. 6:6-9),

5. Consistent Discipline (Prov. 22:6),

6. Practical Advice (Eph. 6:4),

7. Future Blessing (Mark 10:13-16).

A Divided Family

After Abraham died, Isaac received confirmation from God that the promise given to his father, Abraham, would continue through his family line. The Bible tells us that Isaac had twin sons – Esau and Jacob. However, they were not identical twins. Esau, the eldest, was the rugged, masculine, macho type. He had red hair – lots of it – all over his body, which fit his masculine image. He quickly became his father’s favorite because he loved the outdoors – especially hunting and everything that goes with it. Isaac was the typical proud father who enjoyed reliving his youth through his son.

Jacob, on the other hand, was a quiet, less rugged, smooth skinned boy, and definitely not an outdoorsman. The Bible says that he was Mama’s favorite. He liked to hand around the kitchen and help prepare the food. However, the favoritism of Dad toward Esau and Mom toward Jacob created division in the family. Eventually that division surfaced as rivalry and a competition arose between the boys.

Isaac and Rebekah lived very prosperous and peaceful lives – except for their two sons. Esau and Jacob were at each other constantly. They wore their parents out. And they brought pain and heartache to their lives.

In ancient Near Eastern families, two traditions were vitally important. When the father neared death, he always gave his eldest son the birthright and the blessing. The birthright automatically gave the eldest the position of leadership in the family when the father passed on. The blessing meant he received a double portion of his father’s inheritance. In other words, he got twice as much as the other brothers.

Ripped Off By your Own Brother

One day Esau came home from a long, unsuccessful day of hunting. He was famished. Meanwhile, Jacob had been at home all day making a big pot of chili (or red bean soup as the Bible describes it).

Jacob teased Esau: “Hey, Big Red, did ya catch anything today?”

“No I didn’t, Mama’s Boy, and I’m starving. Give me some of that red stuff.” Esau reached for the chili, but Jacob pulled it away.

In Genesis 25:31 Jacob insisted when he says, “First, sell me your birthright,”

Yes, Jacob might have been joking. However, there is always a little truth behind every good joke. In Hebrews, Jacob’s name means “conniver, manipulator, deceiver.” In literal teams it is translated “supplanter” – one who steals the place of someone else. And remember, in this family there was a big inheritance at stake.

Yet, Esau was so hungry, he didn’t care. Genesis 25:34 says that he “despised his birthright.” That means he took it lightly.

In Genesis 25:32 we read, “What good is the birthright to me when I’m about to die of hunger?”

So he exchanged his birthright for a bowl of Jacob’s soup. He probably figured he could beat Jacob u anytime he needed to anyway. But God noted a character flaw in Esau’s attitude. Esau did not take the responsibility of leadership seriously.

There has always been an argument over whether leaders are born leaders or whether they become leaders. Certainly some people seem to show leadership qualities from a very early age. Natural gifts, talents, and physical prowess can lend themselves to one’s success. Esau was certainly born with a natural physical advantage.

But leaders are also made and developed by their response to their natural circumstances. Some, like Jacob, have to learn to lead. In fact, his physical weakness enabled him to develop a psychological edge over his brother.

The Ultimate Deception

Time passed and Isaac became ill. His eyesight was failing him. In fact, he was nearly blind, and he thought he was going to die. According to ancient tradition, Near Eastern patriarchs didn’t write down their last will and testament. They gave it verbally. Isaac called Esau in to give him his blessing.

“Son,” Isaac said, “I want you to go hunt some wild game for me. Prepare it how I like it so I can have one last good meal, and I will give you the blessing before I die.”

The Bible says that Rebekah was eavesdropping the whole time. She ran to Jacob, her favorite, and said, “We’ve got to do something! Your brother is going to get the blessing! Why don’t you go in and tell him you’re Esau? I’ll fix some venison the way he likes it. You can take your meal in first, and beat your brother to the blessing.”

“But Esau is big and tough and hairy. What if Father reaches out to touch me and figures out who I am?” questioned Jacob.

“We’ll put goat skin on your arms so if he touches you, he’ll think your Esau for sure. Remember, he’s practically blind!” said Rebekah.

Sure enough, they deceived old Dad. Isaac unknowingly gave the blessing to the wrong son – Jacob. However, the irony is that before the twins were born, God had predicted in Genesis 25:23, “the older [Esau] would serve the younger [Jacob]”. It was God’s original plan for Jacob to have the blessing. God knew that Esau would not be a responsible leader before he was even born. But instead of waiting for God to work it all out, Rebekah and Jacob interfered and took matters into their own hands. They tried to do it their way, but they ended up creating a mess. Really, there are no real shortcuts to success.

When Esau returned and discovered that Jacob had stolen the blessing, he was furious!

“Isn’t he rightly named Jacob {“deceiver”}? He has deceived me these two times: He took my birthright, and now he’s taken my blessing!”

Esau vowed to kill Jacob, so Isaac and Rebekah were forced to send Jacob away. The family was now divided not only by favoritism and rivalry, but also by physical distance. And, tragically, Rebekah never saw Jacob again.

Deceiver Meets Promise Keeper

Jacob left home in a hurry, promising to return in “A few days.” But he was gone for twenty years. Jacob fled from Esau to Haran, in Syria, where his Uncle Laban (Rebekah’s brother) lived. En route between Beersheba and Haran, Jacob stopped to rest for the night. The Scripture says that he used a stone for a pillow (no wonder he had a dream!). He dreamed of a stairway (KJV, “ladder”) that came down from heaven with angels ascending and descending on it. At the top of the stairway, the Lord stood and said in Genesis 28:13, “I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac.”

Notice, God did not say “I am your God” to Jacob, because He wasn’t. Jacob’s life was a mess! He had tricked his brother out of the birthright, stolen the blessing by deceiving his father, and now he was running for his life. He was leaving the very land he had hoped to inherit by stealing the blessing. But God intervened. He came to renew the promise He had made to Abraham and Isaac. God implies that He is willing to be Jacob’s God also.

In Genesis 28:13-15 we read, “I will give you and your descendants the land on which you are lying…I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.”

What an amazing promise! God was telling Jacob He would stay with him, take care of him and bring him back to where He planned for him to be. God was promising to do for Jacob what he could not do for himself – bless him, protect him, and bring him home again.

God does not expect us to be perfect to receive His promises. He meets us right where we are because we could never get to where He is. Just like God promised to help Jacob, He promises to help us. Nothing we do can cause God not to keep His promises. He is the ultimate Keeper of Promises! 2 Timothy 2:13 tells us that even “if we are faithless, He will remain faithful, for he cannot disown Himself.” He cannot be anything else but faithful to His promises.

Jacob woke up, but instead of being excited about God’s presence, he was scared to death! He was afraid because he had seen God face-to-face. Usually when we have sin in our lives, we are not in a big hurry to see God face-to-face because we know that our built will be exposed. But we need to have our sin exposed in order to recognize our need for God to remove it and replace it with His grace.

A New Direction

Considering the number of mistakes he had already made, Jacob finally made a wise choice. He came to a point of genuine conversion. He totally committed his life to God, saying in Genesis 28:21-22, “The Lord will be my God…and of all that you give me I will give you a tenth.” The fact that he promised to tithe is dramatic evidence that he had been changed. The taker promised to become a giver. And that meant a whole new direction in his life.

Then Jacob did something else to indicate his commitment to God. He built an altar of worship. On that alter he poured out oil, which he had carried for his long journey. It was the only valuable thing he had with him. He did not have an animal sacrifice. He simply gave all that he had. He called that place Bethel, which in the Hebrew language means “the house of God.” There was no building there. There was no structure there. It was just a hillside on the edge of the Canaanite city of Luz, but it was the place where Jacob met God.

It is interesting to observe over the years that our relationship to the Lord’s church (the people) tends to run parallel to our relationship with God. When we are in a right relationship with God, we enjoy being with the Lord’s Church (the people). But when we are not in a right relationship with God, we do not want to be around the Lord’s church (the people). So when people say, “I’ve kind of gotten out of the church,” what they really mean is, “I’ve gotten away from God.”

When we obey the gospel of Christ and are immersed. The moment we “rise to walk in newness of life” it is amongst the Lord’s people that we should desire to be with the most! Bethel became the most important place in Jacob’s life. It would mark every major turning point in his walk with God.

What Goes Around, Comes Around

Jacob had come to a turning point in his life at Bethel, but he still had some tough obstacles to face and a lot of growing up to do. The consequences of the bad choices he had made earlier in life were about to catch up with him. When he got to Haran, he received a “taste of his own medicine.”

Jacob arrived in Haran looking for his Uncle Laban. He didn’t have a telephone directory, and there were no street addresses. So, he went to the well on the edge of town, hoping to find somebody who could direct him to Laban’s house. When he arrived at the well, the young single girls of the city came out to water the sheep. Somebody had left the stone on the mouth of the well, and the girls couldn’t roll the stone away.

Jacob thought, Hey, here’s a chance to show off my muscles and impress the girls.

“Step aside, ladies. I’ll roll the stone away. No sweat!”

He rolled the stone away, and then met the eyes of a girl who really made his adrenaline flow. It was love at first sight! In fact he went right up and kissed her! In Genesis 29:11 it says, “Jacob kissed Rachel and began to weep aloud.” I don’t know if he was disappointed, or if she bit him on the lip! Actually, they were both overjoyed to meet one another. Jacob probably wept because he was relieved to find someone who cared about him.

Love At First Sight

Jacob soon discovered that Rachel was Laban’s daughter. She was his cousin. Actually, his “kissing cousin” now. “I’ve traveled a long way to find your father,” Jacob might have said. “Did I mention that my parents wanted me to find a wife among your people while I’m here?”

“This is great! You can stay with us. We have plenty of room!” Rachel replied, looking like she had just won some competition!

Rachel took Jacob home to Laban. Now Laban was thrilled to see Jacob because he remembered when Abraham sent an entourage up to Haran to find a wife for Isaac. They had selected his sister, Rebekah. But most all, he remembered all of the gold and silver and precious goods that they had brought. Laban literally ran to meet Jacob.

“Jacob!” So good to see you! How’s your money…I mean your family?” Little did he know that Jacob had left home in a hurry and didn’t bring anything with him – not even a credit card!

Jacob fell in love with Rachel. One day he mustered up the courage to ask Laban if he could marry her. He didn’t have any money for a dowry, so he agreed to work for Laban for seven years to pay for the dowry. Jacob was so madly in love that the Bible says in Genesis 29:20, he “served seven years to get Rachel, but they seemed like only a few days to him because of his love for her.” He lost all sense of time. But it made him forget about all his problems back home. Finally, the day of the wedding arrived.

In the Near East, the bride was traditionally covered in veils during the marriage celebration. Realistically, you couldn’t even tell what she looked like. Some fathers may have started this tradition so they could get rid of their daughters! Well, Laban decided he couldn’t allow the younger daughter to marry before her older sister, Leah. So Laban switched brides. Because of all of the veils, poor Jacob didn’t even realize that he had the wrong girl until the next morning.

When God Provides

The great “deceiver” was deceived! He found out what it felt like to be taken for a fool. He complained to Laban, “What have you done! You gave me Leah, and I wanted Rachel!” But it was too late. It was then that Jacob made his next big mistake. Instead of seeking God’s will or waiting to see if maybe God had picked Leah, he made a decision and created another mess. If you read all of Genesis 29, you will discover that Jacob made his decision without ever praying or asking God what to do.

Jacob decided to marry both girls. He agreed to work another seven years for Rachel. But he married her as soon as the required seven-day honeymoon with Leah was over (Gen. 29:28). Now Jacob was married to two jealous sisters. Trying to earn his favor, they entered into the greatest childbearing contest known in the history of mankind. Within eight years he fathered twelve sons and a daughter.

From its beginning Jacob’s family was split by division. Favoritism and rivalry ruled the house. It was far worse than anything he and Esau ever experienced back home.

Men, by nature, like to fix things. When my wife tells me about a problem, she usually just wants me to listen. But I don’t want to listen. I want to fix it. We like to feel that we are capable of fixing any problem happening in our family. However, our biggest problem is that sometimes we cannot see God’s plan, and it is impossible to fix what you can’t see.

Jacob couldn’t see God’s plan for Leah in his life. He only saw the problem – he had the wrong wife! He did not realize that Leah would become the mother of Judah. And from the line of Judah would come David, and from the line of David would come Jesus – the ultimate fulfillment of God’s promise. That’s right! Jesus Christ came from Leah and not from Rachel.

Because Jacob interfered again, everything went wrong. Not only was Jacob’s own family divided, but Laban got angry with Jacob as well. The fourteen years of labor finally passed. Laban started paying Jacob for his work, but he unfairly changed Jacob’s wages and cheated him every time he had a chance. Then he complained that Jacob was stealing his livestock and cheating him. Once again, Jacob’s life was a mess.

Turning Back To God

In spite of his mess, God blessed Jacob as He had promised and caused his flocks and his wealth to multiply. Then God appeared to Jacob to remind him that HE was still with him and said in Genesis 31:13, “I am the God of Bethel, where you anointed a pillar and where you made a vow to me. Now leave this land at once and go back to your native land.” God did not literally say, “Go back to Bethel,” But His command implies that it was time for Jacob to go back to the “house of God.”

Instead of trusting God and facing Laban, Jacob “escaped” while his uncle was out of town. Laban pursued him, but God convinced Laban to let Jacob and all of his family leave. Surprise! God changed Laban’s heart! He could have changed it in the first place, but Jacob didn’t want to wait for him to do it. Instead, he ran way – just like he had run from Esau.

While Jacob was on his way back to Canaan, another problem occurred to him – Esau! What if Esau still wanted to kill him? Again, Jacob didn’t ask God about it. Instead, he sent messengers ahead of him to talk to Esau to find out if he was still angry. The messengers returned and reported, “Esau your brother is coming to meet you, and he’s bringing four hundred men with him.” Four hundred men Jacob panicked! Then he did something really brave and heroic. He sent his wives and his children on ahead, while he stayed in the back.

It was that very night that the angel of the Lord appeared to Jacob and physically wrestled with him. They wrestled all night long. Jacob kept saying, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” He was already guilty of stealing the blessing from his brother, and now he was struggling to keep the blessing of God in his life. He was going about it completely wrong! He was going after the blessing by his own power. God’s blessing isn’t something we can earn by our own merit. It is something He gives by His grace.

The angel finally blessed Jacob and said in Genesis 32:28, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel”. Israel means “a prince with God.” It also became the name of God’s chosen nation. Jacob left this encounter limping. His physical condition was altered as a reminder that he had struggled with God. And it was also a reminder that God would still fulfill His promise in spite of Jacob’s failures. Jacob would struggle with waiting on God for the rest of his life, but God would still keep His promise to make him into a mighty nation.

Later, Jacob caught up to his family and finally met Esau. It had been twenty years. Esau ran up to him and hugged him and wept. Obviously, God had changed his heart.

Esau expressed his greetings and asked, “Whose kids are these?”

“They’re mine!” Jacob replied.

“You can’t fit all these kids into Dad’s house,” Esau may have said. “Why don’t you move in with me, down in Edom?”

Jacob thought, I’m not going anywhere near that place! I’ll get down there alone with him, and he’ll try to kill me! Again, he didn’t talk to God about it. He told Esau, “You go ahead and tell your family that we’re coming. We’ll be there in a few days.”

Afterward, Jacob turned and headed the opposite way. At this point, Jacob was only about ten miles from Bethel, but instead of going on to Bethel, he turned around and went twenty miles north. Again, he took his problem into his own hands. Besides, what could go wrong!

Jacob settled his family just outside of the ungodly Canaanite city of Shechem, and everything went wrong. His daughter Dinah was kidnapped and raped. Then his sons killed every man in the town to get revenge. Once again Jacob is in trouble! Again, he had to run for his life.

Going All the Way

Finally, in desperation, Jacob cried out to God. And God appeared to him one more time. “Go up to Bethel and settle there, and build an altar to God,” The Lord instructed him. God also told Jacob to get his family in order. “Put away the strange gods,” He told them, “and change your clothes.”

This time Jacob listened. He gathered his family together and demanded that they give up their idols, change their clothes, and start looking and acting like God’s people. He finally became the leader that God wanted him to be. And he marched his family back to Bethel.

It was time to come back to the “house of God.” Jacob had been away for too long. Even though he got close to it, he didn’t get close enough. This time he really meant business with God and went all the way.

When Jacob arrived at Bethel, he built an altar to God. But this time he did not call it Bethel. This time he called it El Bethel, which means the God of the house of God (Gen. 35:7). Jacob was making it clear to his family that he was not just “going back to church.” He was going back to God. He was going back to the God of the “house of God.”

From this point on, God began to turn Jacob’s life around. Jacob had to learn that going back to the house of God would not change his life but going back to God would.

At the end of Jacob’s life he said, “My years have been few and difficult” (Gen. 47:9). God had a plan for Jacob before he was even born. Unfortunately, Jacob often interfered with God’s plan and brought unnecessary suffering into his life. Instead of waiting on God to give him the blessing, he took it by deception. In return, he himself was deceived by Laban and later by his own sons.

Jacob spent years running for his life, instead of trusting God’s promises. But God graciously pursued him until He brought him home. And that same God will pursue you until you surrender to His will and His plan for your life.

It was the Person, not the place that changed his life. Similarly, going to church and serving the church in some way are all good things. But they won’t change your life. Coming back to church might be the first step in the right direction, but it’s only the first step. You may need to come back to God Himself. 

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