The Family of Jacob

Sermon given for the 4th Sunday of Lent–a mini-series.

Scripture connections: (using the New Living Translation)

Genesis 25:19-26

     This is the account of the family of Isaac, the son of Abraham. 20 When Isaac was forty years old, he married Rebekah, the daughter of Bethuel the Aramean from Paddan-aram and the sister of Laban the Aramean.

     21 Isaac pleaded with the Lord on behalf of his wife, because she was unable to have children. The Lord answered Isaac’s prayer, and Rebekah became pregnant with twins. 22 But the two children struggled with each other in her womb. So she went to ask the Lord about it. “Why is this happening to me?” she asked.

     23 And the Lord told her, “The sons in your womb will become two nations. From the very beginning, the two nations will be rivals. One nation will be stronger than the other; and your older son will serve your younger son.”

     24 And when the time came to give birth, Rebekah discovered that she did indeed have twins!25 The first one was very red at birth and covered with thick hair like a fur coat. So they named him Esau.[a] 26 Then the other twin was born with his hand grasping Esau’s heel. So they named him Jacob.[b] Isaac was sixty years old when the twins were born.

Genesis 28:10-17

     10 Meanwhile, Jacob left Beersheba and traveled toward Haran. 11 At sundown he arrived at a good place to set up camp and stopped there for the night. Jacob found a stone to rest his head against and lay down to sleep. 12 As he slept, he dreamed of a stairway that reached from the earth up to heaven. And he saw the angels of God going up and down the stairway.

     13 At the top of the stairway stood the Lord, and he said, “I am the Lord, the God of your grandfather Abraham, and the God of your father, Isaac. The ground you are lying on belongs to you. I am giving it to you and your descendants. 14 Your descendants will be as numerous as the dust of the earth! They will spread out in all directions—to the west and the east, to the north and the south. And all the families of the earth will be blessed through you and your descendants. 15 What’s more, I am with you, and I will protect you wherever you go. One day I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have finished giving you everything I have promised you.”

Genesis 28:20-22

“. . . If God will indeed be with me and protect me on this journey, and if he will provide me with food and clothing, 21 and if I return safely to my father’s home, then the Lord will certainly be my God. 22 And this memorial pillar I have set up will become a place for worshiping God, and I will present to God a tenth of everything he gives me.”

Genesis 32:24-29

     24 This left Jacob all alone in the camp, and a man came and wrestled with him until the dawn began to break. 25 When the man saw that he would not win the match, he touched Jacob’s hip and wrenched it out of its socket. 26 Then the man said, “Let me go, for the dawn is breaking!”

But Jacob said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”

     27 “What is your name?” the man asked.

He replied, “Jacob.”

     28 “Your name will no longer be Jacob,” the man told him. “From now on you will be called Israel,[a] because you have fought with God and with men and have won.”

     29 “Please tell me your name,” Jacob said.

“Why do you want to know my name?” the man replied. Then he blessed Jacob there.

 

Reflection: The Family of Jacob

Working through the stories of the Old Testament Bible is showing some interesting life patterns. Obviously the stories of Adam’s and Noah’s family are related because they offer new beginnings—the first a creation story and the second a re-creation story.

Abraham’s story has an interesting comparison to Jacob’s story, too. Obviously, giving birth to sons was an ancient cultural expectation (and really some cultures today still have similar values). The first-born son carried on the family lineage. Therefore, if a woman was barren, the lineage was jeopardized.

Abraham’s wife Sarah was barren and so was Jacob’s wife Rachel. The pressure to have sons lead both wives to encourage their husbands to have a child through their hand-maiden, through a surrogate in today’s terms.

This similarity is interesting, but really is not a major focus of the lessons Jacob’s family can teach us today. The lesson Jacob’s family has for us is not wrapped up in the genealogical similarities and differences, but rather a lesson on forgiveness.

Forgiveness is a common theme in all the stories of the Old Testament families. As humans, we make mistakes. As faithful followers of God, we must learn to accept our human mistakes and ask for forgiveness.

Jacob was a twin, but he was the second one born. His twin was Esau and, by the ancient culture’s standards, would take over as head of the family upon his father’s death. But, Esua focused on hunting and on immediate needs rather than using farsighted planning; so when he was hungry, Jacob easily traded his birthright with him for a hearty stew.

The family dynamics changed at that moment. God’s story does not follow the human culture; it follows human decisions.   Humans make mistakes, use poor judgment, manipulate situations, and cheat each other. Jacob was human and he made mistakes; so why is his story preserved?

A profile of Jacob includes this analysis:

  1. Strengths & accomplishments—father of the 12 tribes of Israel; 3rd in the Abrahamic line of God’s plan; determined & willing to work long and hard for what he wanted; and a good businessman.
  2. Weaknesses and mistakes—when faced with conflict relied on his own resources rather than going to God for help; and tended to accumulate wealth for its own sake.

This analysis compares to many humans, male and female. All of us have strengths and weaknesses. We all are susceptible to temptation; we all make the wrong decisions; yet we also are given certain gifts that we can choose to use or to ignore. Jacob used his gifts to get what he wanted.

Not only did he trick his own twin to get his birthright, but he also tricked Esua later to get his father’s final blessing.   Jacob’s role as the father of the 12 tribes of Israel was the result of trickery. How easy to miss the lesson of God’s forgiveness when the story appears to be based on human weakness.

God knows we are weak. He knows we are gong to make mistakes, but he also accepts us for our weaknesses. And amazingly, when we maintain a faithful life, we have the potential to take a negative and make it into a positive—with God’s help.

Jacob tricked Esua, and then his mother Rebecca urged him to go and stay with her brother Laban. The story is complicated as Rebecca wanted Jacob to marry one of her people; and even when he finds Rachel, his uncle continues the trickery and he ends up with Leah.

One trick seems to lead to another. Yet, one of Jacob’s strengths—hardworking—drives him to reach his ultimate goal of marrying Rachel as well as Leah. At the same time, Jacob was a successful businessman and became wealthy.

And beneath Jacob’s human story lies faithfulness in God woven into the story through Jacob’s dream:

     10 Meanwhile, Jacob left Beersheba and traveled toward Haran. 11 At sundown he arrived at a good place to set up camp and stopped there for the night. Jacob found a stone to rest his head against and lay down to sleep. 12 As he slept, he dreamed of a stairway that reached from the earth up to heaven. And he saw the angels of God going up and down the stairway.

     13 At the top of the stairway stood the Lord, and he said, “I am the Lord, the God of your grandfather Abraham, and the God of your father, Isaac. The ground you are lying on belongs to you. I am giving it to you and your descendants. 14 Your descendants will be as numerous as the dust of the earth! They will spread out in all directions—to the west and the east, to the north and the south. And all the families of the earth will be blessed through you and your descendants. 15 What’s more, I am with you, and I will protect you wherever you go. One day I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have finished giving you everything I have promised you.”

 

The dream moved Jacob into action, building a memorial pillar where he had the dream and names it Bethel. And he made a vow:

“. . . If God will indeed be with me and protect me on this journey, and if he will provide me with food and clothing, 21 and if I return safely to my father’s home, then the Lord will certainly be my God. 22 And this memorial pillar I have set up will become a place for worshiping God, and I will present to God a tenth of everything he gives me.”

 

The dream establishes the faithful relationship Jacob has with God. The complicated story of Jacob’s life as he goes on to his uncle’s land and earning his wives, Leah and Rachel, teaches that God is with us always.

Not one of you can look back at your lives and say it was simple because you believed in God. Each one of you can look at your life and recognize that you made mistakes, but God never left your side. Jacob was not a model of perfection, but God used his weaknesses and his strengths to carry the story forward.

The Story: God loves us. God forgives us.

Jacob’s story is complicated and begins with his birth in Genesis 25 and ends with his death in Genesis 49. The twists and turns in Jacob’s life are really no different than those you and I experience in our own lives.

When Jacob decided to seek out Esua and make amends, he was so worried that Esua would be angry that he sent gifts and even sent others before him with messages before he risked crossing into Esua’s land.

And that night, while alone, Jacob wrestled with God:

     24 This left Jacob all alone in the camp, and a man came and wrestled with him until the dawn began to break. 25 When the man saw that he would not win the match, he touched Jacob’s hip and wrenched it out of its socket. 26 Then the man said, “Let me go, for the dawn is breaking!”

But Jacob said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”

     27 “What is your name?” the man asked.

He replied, “Jacob.”

     28 “Your name will no longer be Jacob,” the man told him. “From now on you will be called Israel, because you have fought with God and with men and have won.”

     29 “Please tell me your name,” Jacob said.

“Why do you want to know my name?” the man replied. Then he blessed Jacob there.

Jacob’s story shows us how God used him to continue developing the nation of faithful followers. The story is filled with human faults as human stories continue to be filled with faults. Yet, the Old Testament story continues through the Jacob’s lineage as we learn of his youngest son Joseph.

The families of Adam, Noah, Abraham and Jacob share common themes: God’s unconditional love, the value of faithfulness, and the forgiveness of sins. The stories are preserved by the generations so you can learn the truth of living a God-centered life. You may wrestle with God, but remaining faithful will maintain the relationship throughout eternity.

Closing prayer:

Dear Father of all the generations,

You are with us always,

Waiting on us to accept your love.

You are with us when we do wrong,

Waiting for us to admit our mistakes.

You offer us forgiveness

When we turn back to you.

 

Thank you for the work of the faithful

Shared in the stories of your servants.

Thank you for sending us Jesus Christ

Who showed us how to live faithfully.

Thank you for speaking to us personally

Through the presence of the Holy Spirit.

 

May we be your disciples

Working to transform others

Through unconditional love, too. –Amen

 

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