John Bradshaw - Jacob
This is It Is Written. I'm John Bradshaw. Thanks for joining me. Twins! Double trouble or a double blessing. Twins are a marvel. Three percent of pregnancies result in twins, and there are more twins being born now than there were a generation ago. Identical twins, also known as monozygotic twins, happen when a single egg is fertilized and then divides. And they're always the same gender. Nonidentical twins, dizygotic twins, come into existence when two separate eggs are fertilized and implanted in the womb. Conjoined twins are born physically connected to each other. The embryo only partially separates, so two fetuses develop joined together. There are astronaut twins, sporting twins, billionaire twins. There are twin towers and twin peaks and twin mattresses. But we're looking at, at actual twins.
One famous twins story is that of the "Jim twins" who were separated at birth, as chronicled by Dr. Nancy Segal in her book "Entwined Lives". They lived completely separate lives until they were reunited when they were almost 40 years old. Adopted by different families, they grew up 40 miles apart. Both families named the boys James. And they both went by Jim. They gave their pet dogs the same name. They married women who had the same name, not just once, but twice. They both had a son and gave them the same name, first and middle. They both drove Chevrolet cars. They even vacationed at the same beach in Florida. Of course, the Jims weren't the same in every respect, but that's a lot of similarities. The first twins in the Bible show up around 1800 BC. And they weren't just a marvel; they were a miracle.
We're continuing our ongoing series "Great Characters of the Bible," and we're looking at the life of a biblical twin, Jacob. Jacob and Esau were the twin sons of Isaac and Rebekah. God had promised their grandfather Abraham that through him "the earth would be blessed". One of the twins would be the line through which the Christ Child would be born. But these boys were not alike. They were as different as sunshine and rain. Esau was a hunter, while Jacob was more of a homebody. And their differences were demonstrated in their choices. One yielded his life to God, and one did not. And in their experiences we see salvation and redemption. We see failure and dysfunction. And we see the goodness and mercy and justice of God. Isaac was the son of Abraham. He married Rebekah, who couldn't have children.
Now, the inability to have children can be a real burden. Most couples who want children can conceive. But roughly 1 in 10 men and women are affected by infertility. So what Rebekah was facing was something that, at least today, isn't especially rare and shouldn't carry any sort of stigma. But Rebekah's case was different. It was known that the Messiah would come from Abraham's line through Isaac. Rebekah had to conceive, or there'd be no Messiah. In this case, Rebekah's infertility was an opportunity for God to intervene and to reveal that His hand was on heaven's plan for the world.
Genesis 25:21 says, "Now Isaac pleaded with the Lord for his wife, because she was barren; and the Lord granted his plea, and Rebekah his wife conceived". But Rebekah feared for her pregnancy. It seemed things weren't going well. "But the children struggled together within her; and she said, 'If all is well, why am I like this?' So she went to inquire of the Lord. And the Lord said to her: 'Two nations are in your womb, 'two peoples shall be separated from your body; one people shall be stronger than the other, and the older shall serve the younger.'" Twins! "And the first came out red. He was like a hairy garment all over; so they called his name Esau. Afterward his brother came out, and his hand took hold of Esau's heel; so his name was called Jacob". It's as though these boys came out fighting. They were fighting in their mother's womb.
Now, there's something we need to remember in order to understand the drama in this story. It was tradition that the firstborn son became heir to his father's property. But he not only inherited a double portion of his father's wealth; he was also designated to be the spiritual leader of the family. This was a big deal. The elder son was obligated to devote his life to God and live according to the will of God. But even though Esau was the rightful heir to Isaac's fortunes and the spiritual leader of the next generation, that didn't mean much to him, especially the spiritual leader part. He'd heard all about God, but that knowledge didn't change his heart. In fact, Hebrews 12:16 describes Esau as a "profane person..., who for one morsel of [meat] sold his birthright".
Jacob, however, didn't care as much about this fortune as he did about the spiritual blessings handed down to the firstborn. He'd been told by his mother that God would use him to lead the stronger nation. But instead of waiting on God to bring about His plan, Jacob decided to help God along. You know, that never works. God has His own timing, and when we interfere with that, we spoil God's perfect plan and make trouble for ourselves. This is what happened. One day Esau went hunting, evidently without any success. He came home starving, and he saw Jacob sitting by the fire stirring a pot of red lentils. You can imagine how good a pot of lentils cooked with onion and garlic smelled to hungry Esau.
And "Esau said to Jacob, 'Please feed me with that same red stew, for I am weary.' ... But Jacob said, 'Sell me your birthright as of this day.' And Esau said, 'Look, I am about to die; so what is this birthright to me?' Then Jacob said, 'Swear to me as of this day.' So he swore to him, and sold his birthright to Jacob. And Jacob gave Esau bread and stew of lentils; then he ate and drank, arose, and went his way. Thus Esau despised his birthright".
Esau disqualified himself to be the spiritual leader or priest of the family by what he had done. In fact, his life demonstrated that God wasn't his chief concern. He later married not one but two Hittite women, heathen women. That was well outside what was expected from or even permitted for one upon whom the birthright rested. Selling his spiritual blessing showed how little he respected God. Without even thinking about what he had just given away, Esau said goodbye and left. And Jacob ran ahead of God's providence, just as Abraham had in fathering Ishmael. But while we're looking at Esau's folly, we can't overlook the fact that Jacob does not come out of this smelling like roses. Jacob had a dark, deceitful streak. We look at that in just a moment.
Thanks for joining me on It Is Written. Jacob basically swindled Esau out of the birthright. Jacob coveted the birthright. And knowing Esau was desperately hungry and that Esau would've done just about anything for food at that time, he took advantage of not only his brother's hunger but also his carelessness about spiritual things, and he bought the birthright from him. Esau made a declaration: "I don't really care about this stuff". But Jacob made a declaration, too: "I can be a lowlife when I wanna be". And that wasn't the only time Jacob was prepared to stoop low in order to get what he wanted. Years later, Isaac called Esau and said, I'm now old, and I don't know how much longer I'll live. So "take your...bow, and go...hunting" and make some of that food I like so much, it seems likely that they would've eaten together, "that my soul may bless you before I die".
Isaac didn't know that Rebekah was in the shadows listening. She preferred Jacob and wanted to see God's will done, that Jacob would receive the birthright. As soon as Esau left, she hurried to Jacob and told him to bring two young goats from the herd and kill them and cook them the same way that Esau cooked venison. She was sure that Isaac would never know the difference. But Jacob wasn't so sure. Esau was hairy, and Jacob was not. If his father touched him, he'd figure out the deception, and he'd be more likely to receive a curse from his father than a blessing. But Rebekah was insistent. She said, "Let your curse be on me, my son; only obey my voice, and go, get them for me".
So Jacob was in a tough place. Does he disobey his mother, or does he outright deceive his father? So who was in the wrong here? Rebekah for instructing Jacob to deceive his father? Or Jacob for obeying her and deceiving his father, knowing full well that the truth would eventually come out? Or do we blame Esau for being so self-centered and caring so little for the birthright? Or maybe Isaac? If he'd simply obeyed God and given the birthright to the one God intended it to go to, this whole thing could've been avoided. Rebekah wanting Jacob to be Isaac's heir convinced Jacob to put animal skins on his arms, just in case Isaac grew suspicious.
Jacob had to have looked ridiculous, and he must have felt terrible for deceiving his father so egregiously. But the plan worked. Isaac blessed Jacob, saying, "Let peoples serve you, and nations bow down to you. Be master over your brethren, and let your mother's sons bow down to you. Cursed be everyone who curses you, and blessed be those who bless you"! But no sooner had Jacob left his father's presence than Esau entered with a pot of stew. It didn't take long to figure out what had happened. Rebekah and Jacob had succeeded in obtaining the blessing, but Esau was furious and wanted to kill his brother. Rebekah urged Jacob to flee for his life and go to her brother Laban. What a mess Rebekah found herself in. She lost her husband's trust. She lost Esau's love. And she never saw Jacob again. Jacob fled from the camp, leaving behind a disappointed father, a tearful mother, and a brother who wanted to kill him.
Deception never pays. Nobody wins when you run ahead of God. With nothing more than a staff, Jacob had to travel on foot hundreds of miles through a country inhabited by wild, roving tribes to the home of his uncle Laban. Compounding the physical hardship, Jacob was humiliated, lonely, and cast off. He didn't know if he would ever see home again. He had no one to talk to but God, and God listened as His wayward son poured out his heart. Then, exhausted, Jacob lay down on the ground with a stone for a pillow and fell asleep. It was then that God did a marvelous thing that's encouraged people like Jacob down through the years. He gave him a vision of a bright and shining ladder; its base rested on the earth, while the top reached all the way to heaven.
Angels were ascending and descending on the ladder, and above it sat the Lord. Jacob heard God's voice saying, "I am the Lord God of Abraham your father, and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you and your descendants". He then went on to reassure this lonely wanderer that through him all the earth would be blessed. It would be through his lineage that Christ would be born. And He reassured Jacob: "'Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have spoken to you.' Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and [he] said, 'Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it.'"
You know, this shows us something. You can be at your absolute lowest, and yet you can know that God is right there with you, encouraging you to look up. That ladder represented Jesus, who came to earth to connect this planet with heaven. Angels are constantly going up and down from heaven to earth and from earth to heaven on our behalf. God has not forsaken His people. And He hasn't forsaken you. He's the same God today that He was to Jacob. All you have to do is come to Him, broken and weary. Pour out to Him your fears, your heartaches, and your sins. And He will forgive you. Jacob felt God's presence so strongly in that place that he exclaimed, "This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven"!
Now, consider this. Jacob had done a truly lousy thing. He collaborated with his mother in deception. He swindled his brother, and he coldheartedly lied to his father, taking advantage of his father's advanced age and his father's blindness. That's low. But God didn't cast him off. Knowing Jacob was truly repentant, God renewed His covenant with him: "I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land". Genesis 28:15. I tell you, God is gracious and forgiving. This doesn't mean anyone should be blasé about sin. Mercy shouldn't lead you to be presumptuous. Jacob paid an enormous price for his sin, but God was forgiving. And just as He was willing to forgive Jacob, who out-and-out deceived his loving father, you know that God is willing to forgive you and restore you. Jacob finally arrived at a well and found that the shepherds there were from Haran.
That was where Abraham began his long journey; from Haran to Canaan. The shepherds knew Laban, Abraham's nephew, and introduced Jacob to a beautiful young woman. Many years before, his mother Rebekah met someone at this very same well and left home to marry Isaac. And now here was Rebekah's son. History was about to be repeated, with a certain wrinkle. Jacob lived and worked with his uncle Laban for 20 years. The first seven years of labor was to earn the hand of Rachel. The Bible says his love for Rachel was so great that those seven years seemed to him like "a few days". But Laban deceived the deceiver and gave Jacob Leah instead of Rachel. Jacob was now stuck with a woman that he didn't even love, and Laban continued to swindle Jacob. He changed Jacob's wages 10 times. He lied to him. His sons treated Jacob harshly because Jacob's sheep were healthier than theirs and his animals bred prolifically. The cheater was being cheated. So can a trail of lies turn into a blessing? We'll find out in just a moment, along with the prayer that will completely change your life.
Eventually Jacob left Laban's home to return to Canaan. And he knew that along the way he was gonna come face to face with his brother Esau, the man who wanted to kill him. Knowing he was in a tough situation, Jacob prayed. In a lonely mountain region, Jacob fell upon the ground in deep distress. About midnight a man appeared from out of nowhere. Jacob thought someone had come to kill him, tried to fight the man off. The two wrestled and fought for hours until just before daybreak. When the stranger saw that Jacob would not let him go, he touched Jacob's thigh, and instantly it was injured. Then Jacob knew he'd been contending with Someone with more than human power.
So Jacob clung to Him and pleaded for mercy. The Stranger said, "Let me go, for [it is daybreak]". But Jacob said, "I will not let You go unless You bless me"! Genesis 32:26. And there's that prayer: "I will not let You go unless You bless me". How could that prayer change your life? Let's say you're in the middle of a trial of some kind. Maybe your marriage is failing. You have financial troubles. Your children are making poor decisions. Pray Jacob's prayer: "I will not let You go unless You bless me"! God, my faith is in You. I have no other hope. I'm holding on to You, and I'm not letting go. God answers prayers like that.
Now, that doesn't mean that you get everything you want. It means that even when things don't work out, you hang on to God, and you don't let go. I spoke once with a dear lady who asked me to visit her in a nursing home in which she lived. She said to me, "Pastor, I've only ever had cancer in a part of my body where I have two of something". She said, "I lost a kidney to cancer, but I had one more. I lost a breast to cancer, but I had one more. I lost an eye to cancer, but I have another eye". And then she said, "But I only have one liver". She had liver cancer, and the doctors could offer her no hope at all from a medical point of view. I said to her, "So, so how do you feel about that"? She smiled at me, smiled at me, and she said, "Pastor, me and Jesus are going to get through this together".
I officiated at her funeral service, and I know that on the day when the dead in Christ shall rise, she's gonna come up out of the grave offering praises to God. Like Jacob, she never let Him go, and He did bless her. You're gonna get to meet that lady one day; I'm sure of it. And what does God do with faith like that? "He said to [Jacob], 'What is your name?' He said, 'Jacob.' And He said, 'Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel; for you have struggled with God and with men, and have prevailed.'" Now, this is interesting. Years later, the prophet Jeremiah compared Jacob's struggle to a battle that God's children would go through just before the Second Coming of Jesus. "We have heard a voice of trembling, of fear, and not of peace.... all faces are turned into paleness? Alas! for that day is great, so that none is like it: it is even the time of Jacob's trouble; but he shall be saved out of it". That's Jeremiah 30, verses 5 through 7.
The prophet Daniel also referred to Jacob's trouble when he wrote, "At that time Michael shall stand up, the great prince who stands watch over the sons of your people; and there shall be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation, even to that time. And at that time your people shall be delivered, every one who is found written in the book". Daniel 12:1. Which suggests to me that even in the great conflicts soon to come to this world, if you just hang on to Jesus by faith, He's gonna see you through. For 20 years Jacob had struggled with the guilt of his deception and the fear of losing his life. He obtained a victory that night when he finally made the Lord his total dependence. And that's what trials coming to the world call us to exercise: total dependence on the Lord. Jacob and Esau were reconciled. That was a miracle in itself. The Bible says, "Esau ran to meet him, and embraced him, and fell on his neck and kissed him, and they wept".
You can imagine Jacob's relief. I can imagine Jacob saying to himself, "God has been faithful again, and I haven't deserved any of His blessings". Jacob and Esau buried their father together. That word "together" paints such a beautiful picture in my mind: twin brothers who once hated each other now side by side, regretting the past, but looking forward to the future. Their story illustrates how broken relationships can be mended and restored by the grace of a loving God. It also illustrates how your choices determine your course in life. Both Esau and Jacob had been instructed in the knowledge of God, and both were free to walk in His commandments. The decision to follow God has eternal consequences. The decision to walk apart from God also has eternal consequences.
God extends the invitation to follow Him. He says in Joshua 24:15, "Choose you this day whom [you] will serve". Jacob became Israel, which means something like "a prince of God" or "he rules with God". Jacob's 12 sons became the progenitors of the 12 tribes of Israel. Jacob wasn't the perfect man, but then neither was his grandfather, and the Bible calls him "faithful Abraham". Jacob, who became Israel, a twin, a miracle birth, and a life of faith. How is it with you? Which Jacob do you relate to? The man of faith who trusted God, who repented, who was chosen by God to produce a great nation? Or do you relate better to the faulty Jacob, the conniver, the calculating Jacob? There's a little or, or maybe a lot of that in everyone. We're all faulty. But if you are flawed Jacob, you can be victorious Israel. Hold on to God by faith. Refuse to let go until He blesses you. And watch God transform your life and prepare you for eternity.
Our Father in heaven, I am grateful today for the encouragement found in the story of Jacob, brought into this world by miraculous means and then brought back to Your heart by the miracle of repentance. You show us in the life of Jacob that You're not done with people when they fall into sin, and that people who do even despicable things can be drawn back to Your heart and to a place of victory.
Friend, you might see yourself as flawed Jacob. God sees you as victorious Israel. Would you be victorious Israel right now? Would you accept that heart change, that new name, that change of mind and change of life from God? If you want that, would you open up your heart to God right now? Tell God you wish for Him to come into your life. Let's pray that prayer.
Father, right now there's someone, or some ones, asking You to fill their hearts with Your presence. We thank You that in the moment of surrender, we have the assurance of salvation. Keep us now, dear God, we pray. In Jesus' name, amen.