Greg Laurie — The World Changer Who Wrestled with God
Here we are in Hebrews 11 with an amazing collection of characters in what I call the hero's hall of faith. Or world changers. Some of the people that made it in are expected. People like Moses, Noah, Enoch, and of course Abraham. Then there are some surprising entries as well like Abel and lot and Samson. Now a new name. Jacob. If we are honest about Jacob we would have to admit this guy was a rascal big time. Yet he makes it into the hero's hall of faith reminding us that this is filled with ordinary people like us who changed the world. These were world changers and you too can be a world changer.
They discovered the secret of staying on top is not talent. It is not opportunities or status. It is faith in God. These people were far from perfect. In fact they were far from it. They failed often. But they are not in the hero's hall of faith because they were great people. They are in it because they had faith in a great God. Here is what I find fascinating. You will not find a single mention of any of their sins in this chapter. Trust me they sinned. Abraham as we already discovered lied twice about his wife Sarah saying she was his sister. Isaac did the same thing. Sarah laughed at the promises of God and the list goes on. These winners did not always collect medals. Sometimes they collected scars. But not one word of their failure is mentioned. Why? Because they were forgiven and God gives second chances. They were looked at for what they became. Not what they were.
Now when God looks at you he sees a work in progress. You probably see your flaws. I know that I do. Have you ever looked into a magnifying mirror? That is just disturbing when you see everything up close. I can't look at that. Right? Sometimes we see our flaws and our shortcomings and our sins and it is not a bad thing to see those things. But don't be identified by that because you are a new person in Christ. Old things are passed away. All things become new. God doesn't just see you for what you are in the moment. He sees you for what you can become. He saw the potential in the life of each of these world changers and he certainly saw it in Jacob.
So when we hear that phrase the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, understand it is another way of saying the God of ordinary people. Abraham? Flawed. Isaac. Definitely flawed. Jacob big time flawed. But he is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He is the God of second chances. Here is what we learn about Jacob in the hero's hall of faith. Look at Hebrews 11:21. "By faith Jacob, when he was dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, and worshipped, leaning on the top of his staff". This particular event happened toward the end of Jacob's life and we will revisit it in a moment.
Let's go back to the very beginning of Jacob's life. Let's think of him now as a baby in the womb of his mother rebekah. He was there with his brother Esau. Jacob and Esau were twins. You might say they were wombmates you see. The circumstances of their birth are quite interesting. Esau was born first. How did he even get the name Esau? The name Esau means hairy. Not as in harry but as in hairy because well he was hairy. He was a hairy kid. Is that a good name to give to a child? You draw attention to the fact that they are covered in hair. You are living in a time where parents seem to be going out of their way to give really unusual names to their children.
I read the other day some of the names that have been given. I am not making any of these up. One couple named their child Freak. Is that a good name for a kid? Here is our little boy Freak. Can he come stay overnight at your house? I don't want a Freak in my house. Poor kid. Come on. Another kid was named Duda. Duda. Seriously? Another was named Cougar. That is going to be trouble for her when she gets older. I am just telling you. Hi. My name is Cougar. Ok. Bye. See you. I wish these were made up. Another couple named their child Hitler. Seriously? Another named their child Xanax. Oh please. Another named their kid Hurricane. Another couple named their child Superman. Really? You are going to name your child Superman. Another couple, I am not making this up I hate to say it, named their child Butt. These poor kids. Ha ha ha. He said Butt. One of the minions. Right. Never mind. Some of you get it. Some of you don't. He said Butt.
Here is the thing. Studies have been done and they have found that when you name a child a strange name it can actually have an effect on their behavior later in life. Well I wonder if this had an effect on Esau. He was really something. Now right on the heels literally of Esau's birth comes Jacob. His name can be translated multiple ways. One is heel catcher because he was hanging onto his brother's heel. It also means supplanter or to trip up or overthrow. You know what? That is exactly who Jacob became. He was the guy who was always grabbing trying to get more. Jacob always wanted the advantage.
Esau liked to hunt, kill and skin his food and prepare it. Jacob liked to bake muffins pretty much. One day brother Esau comes in from the field. He is famished. He hasn't been able to kill anything that day. Meanwhile Jacob is cooking up this amazing stew. Esau comes up and says hey bro can I have some of that stew. Jacob says you can have all of the stew you want if you will give me your birthright right now. Esau says birthright, smirthright. Fill this bowl up with stew. You won't find that literally in the Bible. I am paraphrasing all right. He didn't care about the birthright. He cared about temporal gratification. He didn't care about the spiritual. He cared only about the physical. So he ate up his stew and traded his birthright.
Providing commentary Hebrews 12:18 says, "Make sure that not one of you is immoral or Godless like Esau who traded his birthright as the firstborn son for a single meal". Wait on the timing of the Lord. Don't rush things. The Bible says, "He makes everything beautiful in his time". Now we see Jacob has manipulated the situation and he has conned his brother and stolen the birthright. It even gets worse. Fast forward now and Isaac the father is getting older. He knows he is going to die soon. He decides he is going to give his blessing to Esau. He says son go out into the field and kill something and cook it up. Use the barbecue. You know how much I love it. Come to me and I will eat the meal and I will give you the blessing. Off Esau goes excited to get the blessing.
Well mom was listening you see. Rebekah was eavesdropping. It is really to eavesdrop when you live in a tent. She said this is not going to happen on my watch. She calls in Jacob. She says I am going to make up a little recipe just like your dad likes it. I will kill a couple of goats. I want you to cover yourself in animal skins and pretend to be your brother and take it to your dad and he will give you the blessing thinking you are Esau. Jacob is like I don't know if this is going to work mom. It will work. Trust me. She makes up the recipe. Bring it to dad. So of course Jacob does that and the father eats it. This is great. Is this really you Esau? You don't sound like Esau. Yeah it is me dad. It's me. Your voice sounds different.
Isaac says come closer so I can put my hand on you. He puts his hand on animal skin and says yeah it feels like Esau. Which shows you that guy was hairy man. Hairy was hairy for sure. Then Isaac pulls him a little closer. Let me smell you. [pshew] yeah you are Esau for sure. Get out of here and receive the blessing. Off Jacob goes. Meanwhile Esau shows up. Dad I am home. Here is your fresh meat. What do you mean you are home? I just ate the fresh meat. That wasn't me. Then Isaac realizes he has been conned and he says son I cannot give you the blessing. Your brother has taken it. Esau was so angry he said I am going to kill him.
So now Jacob heads for the hills. He runs away because his life is in danger. He ends up at a relative's house which is the house of Laban. There in the house of Laban he meets a beautiful woman named Rachel and he falls in love with her. He goes to Laban and says I want to marry your daughter. Laban who actually is more of a conniver than Jacob is makes a deal. I love this. Jacob just got a taste of his own medicine. The conniver met the conniver extraordinary. Laban says well I will tell you what. We have a tradition. If you want to marry one of my daughters you have to work for me for seven years and then she is yours. Jacob says I love her man. By the way the Bible says the seven years seemed as but a day for the love he had for her. That is a beautiful verse.
Now the seven years are completed. The marriage takes place. It is honeymoon night. And Jacob wakes up the next morning to kiss his beautiful bride Rachel and it is Leah her sister. I don't know how this was pulled off. I guess it was very dark that night. He goes to Laban and says what is going on. I worked for Rachel. Laban says well we have a tradition that we honor the rights of the firstborn over the next born. Hmm. I heard that somewhere. If you will work for seven more years I will give you Rachel. So Jacob agreed. There was a final little con that he pulled off on Laban. But his conniving ways continued on. Now he knows it is time to go home again. But he has to face his brother Esau. He is terrified that Esau will kill him. He was going to discover how hard it is to win over someone you have offended. Proverbs 18:19 says, "A brother offended is harder to win than a strong city".
That doesn't mean we shouldn't try. Maybe you are at a point in life where you look back and you think there are people that I have hurt. People I have offended. People that I have wronged. Don't cry over spilled milk. Nothing you can do. Yeah there is something you can do. You can go apologize. It is an amazing thing when you apologize how it can change a situation. The problem is a lot of people don't know how to apologize. They offer apologies that sound something like this. I am sorry if what I said offended you. Ok. That is not an apology. But I apologized. No you didn't. What you should say is I am sorry. I hurt you. I am sorry for hurting you. Forgive me. That is an apology. It is an amazing thing when someone has hurt you and they will say that. You are like wow. Ok. Not everyone forgives. But many do. The Bible says, "As much as it is possible, live at peace with all men". Jacob had wronged Esau. Now he is headed back to meet his brother. He doesn't know if Esau is going to kill him or what. But he is going to have an encounter with God.
Here is Jacob. He is all alone. His family is not with him. No one is with him. He is having to think about what he has done. The Lord comes to him as a wrestler verse 32 says. Now Jacob doesn't know who this is. He might think he is Esau. Oh man my brother is here already or somebody else. He doesn't know what he is really dealing with. All he knows is he is going to win. No one beats Jacob. Every negotiation Jacob comes out on top. Every deal Jacob is the one who benefits. But this guy is persistent. Then again Jacob is stubborn. And now minutes are passing. And now hours are passing. The angel or the Lord realizes that Jacob is just going to keep fighting because he is so stubborn. He wrenches his hip out of the socket.
Now game over. Wrestling match completed. He was waiting for Jacob to cry uncle or better yet father because Jacob loses. But in reality Jacob wins. You say what do you mean? When we lose by surrendering to God we ultimately win. Because Jacob goes from resisting to resting. He goes from cunning to clinging. He is crying out to the Lord. He goes from wrestling to nestling. There has to come a moment in every life where we surrender to God. It is not always easy. God's plans are often plans that we love and agree with. Then sometimes God's plans are different than ours. It is then that we have to say, as Jesus said in the garden of Gethsemane, "Not my will but yours be done". We might say Lord if it is possible let this cup pass from me but your will be done.
That was happening now in the life of Jacob. The Lord asks him an unusual question. Verse 27. "What is your name"? Now did God not know the name of Jacob? Why did he ask him for his name? Because it was sort of an admission. Again what does his name mean? Heel Catcher. Supplanter. Manipulator. What is your name Duda. Freak. Deceiver. Yeah. That is your name isn't it? That is a lousy name. I am going to give you a new name buddy. It is going to take you time to grow into this name. But from now on your name is going to be Israel. You will be called Israel because you have fought with God and with men and you have won. You say wait. I thought he lost. Yeah. He lost. And then he won. Because he did what God wanted him to do. What does Israel mean? It is translated multiple ways. One translation. One who God commands. Another translation. Let God rule. Another translation. One who fights victoriously with God. Even another translation. A prince with God.
Listen. All of those definitions are upgrades from heel catcher, supplanter, deceiver. This is exactly what Jesus meant when he said, "If you seek to save your life, you will lose it. But if you will lose your life for my sake you find it". You know you have your dreams and aspirations. That is all good. Here is my advice to you. Commit your life to God and understand that his plan for you is better than your plan for yourself. He may say no to this and no to that. But what he will say yes to later will be so much better and you will look back and you will say thank you Lord. That is where we find Jacob at the end of his life back at Hebrews 11. Let's look at that verse one last time. "By faith Jacob," verse 21. "When he was dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph and worshipped leaning on the top of his staff". Jacob, now Israel, is a changed man. He is worshipping at the end of his life leaning on his staff. That staff was a reminder of how God had broken him.
Remember David's words, "Thy rod and thy staff they comfort me". Have you ever wondered what that meant? When a shepherd would be guiding his sheep he would have two primary instruments. A rod and a staff. A rod was basically a rod. A club. A staff was that long crooked instrument. So when a sheep would go astray the shepherd pulls him in with a staff. He goes astray again. The shepherd pulls him in again. When needed he uses the rod. He used both in the life of Jacob. Now here he is leaning on his staff reflecting on his life. What is he doing? He is worshipping. I love that. He is worshipping at the end of his life. Listen. If you want to be strong spiritually at the end of your life be strong spiritually right now.