The preacher Alexander Whyte wrote this about Jacob. “There was no Old Testament saint of them all who, first and last, saw more of the favour and forgiveness of God than Jacob. And yet, with all that, the great sins of Jacob’s youth and the great sinfulness of Jacob’s heart both found him out every day he lived down to the day of his death.”
My old Home Group leader, Barry, was a schoolteacher and so knew human nature better than most people. He had a word for people like Jacob. “Scumbag”. Jacob, he would say, was a scumbag through and through.
The stories about Jacob are an example of the Bible’s refreshing honesty. No cover ups. No spin. Just the true accounts of real people – many of them scumbags. Real people like Jacob whose lives teach us important lessons about human beings and God – about sin and mercy.
The story starts with ISAAC’s BLESSING
The Bible speaks about blessings more than 400 times. From Abraham onwards, the people of God have always known that “giving a blessing” and “receiving a blessing” carry real spiritual power. God gave Aaron’s descendants the priests the authority to declare blessings on his people.
Numbers 6 22 The LORD said to Moses, 23 ‘Tell Aaron and his sons, “This is how you are to bless the Israelites. Say to them:
24 ‘ “ ‘The LORD bless you and keep you;
25 the LORD make his face shine on you and be gracious to you;
26 the LORD turn his face towards you and give you peace.’ ”
27 ‘So they will put my name on the Israelites, and I will bless them.’
People brought their children to Jesus so that he could place his hands on them and bless them. The letters of the New Testament contain many examples of blessings.
2 Thessalonians 3 16 Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times and in every way. The Lord be with all of you.
We end all of our services with a blessing. Most often we declare,
“May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Love of God, and the Fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with us all, evermore AMEN”
These aren’t just empty words, a polite way of saying “The service is over. Thanks be to God”. We know God answers our prayers. But more than that the Bible teaches us that when we declare God’s blessing on somebody in accordance with God’s purposes, then our words will carry real spiritual power. In Luke 10 Jesus sent his disciples out to preach the gospel with these instructions.
6 “When you enter a house, first say, `Peace to this house.’ If a man of peace is there, your
peace will rest on him; if not, it will return to you. ….
People often expect Ministers to pray a blessing on them but actually EVERY Christian can declare God’s blessing on other people, and especially on each other. Blessings make a difference.
Which is why the story we heard last week is so significant.
Genesis 25 29 Once when Jacob was cooking some stew, Esau came in from the open country, famished. 30 He said to Jacob, ‘Quick, let me have some of that red stew! I’m famished!’ …
31 Jacob replied, ‘First sell me your birthright.’
32 ‘Look, I am about to die,’ Esau said. ‘What good is the birthright to me?’
33 But Jacob said, ‘Swear to me first.’ So he swore an oath to him, selling his birthright to Jacob.
34 Then Jacob gave Esau some bread and some lentil stew. He ate and drank, and then got up and left.
So Esau despised his birthright.
Jacob tricked his brother and Esau threw away Isaac’s special blessing which was his birthright as the older brother, sold for a bowl of lentil stew. Esau despised his birthright as heir of the family name and heir of all God’s promises. The way Esau showed contempt for his birthright demonstrated that he was not a suitable person to be God’s chosen heir and the channel of God’s wonderful masterplan of salvation.
But Esau sinned against God in other ways as well. Remember the lengths Abraham went to to ensure that Isaac’s wife was not a Canaanite or Hittite, who worshipped foreign Gods. Esau had annoyed Isaac and Rebekah by marrying not just one but two wives from the local tribes, the Canaanites and the Hittites.
Genesis 35 34 When Esau was forty years old, he married Judith daughter of Beeri the Hittite, and also Basemath daughter of Elon the Hittite. 35 They were a source of grief to Isaac and Rebekah.
Even before Jacob and Esau were born, God had told Rebekah that his plan of blessing would come through Jacob and not Esau.
Genesis 25 22 The babies jostled each other within her, and she said, ‘Why is this happening to me?’ So she went to enquire of the LORD.
23 The LORD said to her,
‘Two nations are in your womb,
and two peoples from within you will be separated;
one people will be stronger than the other,
and the elder will serve the younger.’
The younger brother would take the prominence usually held by the older brther. God knew in advance that Esau would turn out not to be a suitable heir. But even though Esau was not God’s choice, everything that Jacob did to steal that special blessing was wrong. He should never have taken matters into his own hands. Jacob also was a scumbag through and through.
Let’s list JACOB’S SINS
Firstly Jacob tricked Esau out of his birthright with that deal over a bowl of stew. But then he got involved in a plot to trick Isaac into blessing him instead of his brother. He took advantage of his father’s old age and blindness to trick him. That is why the name Jacob came to mean a deceiver, or a cheat.
It is no excuse that the idea came from their mother Rebekah, who preferred Jacob over Esau. Although to be honest, I think the story shows that Rebekah herself was not the dream bride she had first appeared to be. But that’s beside the point.
Genesis 27 5 Now Rebekah was listening as Isaac spoke to his son Esau. When Esau left for the open country to hunt game and bring it back, 6 Rebekah said to her son Jacob, ‘Look, I overheard your father say to your brother Esau, 7 “Bring me some game and prepare me some tasty food to eat, so that I may give you my blessing in the presence of the LORD before I die.”8 Now, my son, listen carefully and do what I tell you: 9 go out to the flock and bring me two choice young goats, so that I can prepare some tasty food for your father, just the way he likes it. 10 Then take it to your father to eat, so that he may give you his blessing before he dies.’
Jacob knew very well what he was doing was wrong. Never mind that deal with the bowl of stew, Jacob was still not entitled to the special blessing reserved for the older son.
11 Jacob said to Rebekah his mother, ‘But my brother Esau is a hairy man while I have smooth skin. 12 What if my father touches me? I would appear to be tricking him and would bring down a curse on myself rather than a blessing.’
He knew it was wrong, but Jacob went in with a simple disguise, clearly doing his very best to deceive Isaac.
15 Then Rebekah took the best clothes of her elder son Esau, which she had in the house, and put them on her younger son Jacob. 16 She also covered his hands and the smooth part of his neck with the goatskins. 17 Then she handed to her son Jacob the tasty food and the bread she had made.
Jacob impersonates Esau, and he blatantly tells lies.
18 He went to his father and said, ‘My father.’
‘Yes, my son,’ he answered. ‘Who is it?’
19 Jacob said to his father, ‘I am Esau your firstborn. I have done as you told me. Please sit up and eat some of my game, so that you may give me your blessing.’
Isaac asks the direct question and Jacob lies again.
23 He did not recognise him, for his hands were hairy like those of his brother Esau; so he proceeded to bless him. 24 ‘Are you really my son Esau?’ he asked.
‘I am,’ he replied.
On top of his lies, in the middle of all this, did you notice that Jacob actually broke the Third Commandment (although of course the Commandments would not be given to Moses for hundreds of years). Do not misuse the name of the LORD?
20 Isaac asked his son, ‘How did you find it so quickly, my son?’
‘The LORD your God gave me success,’ he replied.
So blasphemy. Invoking the name of God in his evil scheme. Of course it had not been God that had provided the food so quickly, but Rebekah. Misusing the name of the LORD. Did you notice just how Jacob phrased his answer?
‘The LORD your God gave me success,’
The Lord YOUR God. Not OUR God. Or MY God. There was no faith here. But Rebekah’s plan and Jacob’s lies worked. Isaac was deceived and gave to Jacob the blessing of the firstborn son which Esau had thrown away.
28 May God give you heaven’s dew and earth’s richness—
an abundance of grain and new wine.
29 May nations serve you and peoples bow down to you.
Be lord over your brothers, and may the sons of your mother bow down to you.
May those who curse you be cursed and those who bless you be blessed.’
The blessings of the firstborn son – the family name, the inheritance of God’s blessings of innumerable descendants and possession of the Promised Land. All would come to Jacob and not to Esau. No wonder Esau was not a happy bunny!
Esau despised his birthright. He was certainly not a worthy heir to Abraham and Isaac. But was Jacob really any better? Deception. Manipulation. Lies. Blasphemy misusing the name of the LORD. Not a very promising character to become the third of the Patriarchs, the heir of all God’s promises and the Father of all the children of Israel. Jacob was a scumbag – through and through.
So how on earth does Jacob end up as the hero of faith, getting more mentions in the Bible than even his grandfather Abraham who was called God’s Friend? Two weeks and three chapters into Jacob’s story and there has been absolutely nothing in Jacob’s life which we could look to as a fine example we could imitate. It has been a catalogue of sins we should all avoid like the plague.
The story really points us to GOD’s MERCY.
The point is this. If God could forgive somebody like Jacob there is hope for all of us. If God could turn Jacob’s life around, then he can change anybody. If God’s grace could be sufficient for Jacob, then that grace would be sufficient for any of us, whatever our situation.
And in the weeks to come we shall see how God did forgive Jacob. God did change Jacob. God’s grace broke into Jacob’s life in such a powerful dramatic way that Israel and the church can still rightly talk about the God of the Bible as the God of Abraham and of Isaac and of Jacob.
Jacob’s life is like the life of Great King David who was a murderer and adulterer. If God could forgive David, as he forgave Jacob, he can even forgive you and me.
Jacob reminds us of Saul who became the apostle Paul.
1 Timothy 1 13 Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief. 14 The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.
15 Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. 16 But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life.
If God could forgive Saul and transform him into the apostle Paul, God can forgive and change ordinary people like you and me in the same way. Paul wrote this about the ordinary Christians in the church in Corinth.
1 Corinthians 6 9 Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men 10 nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.
God is in the business of changing sinners into saints and atheists into missionaries. Starting with Jacob and all these other scumbags. God pours out his mercy and grace into our lives. Mercy is not getting the judgment and punishment we deserve for our sins. Grace is getting all God’s blessings we could never earn or deserve. Like the Corinthians, we are washed – our sins are washed away. We are sanctified – God is making us holy. We are justified – God has brought us into a right relationship with him: he has made it “just as if I’d” never sinned.
You may feel like a failure this morning. Conscious of sins in your life. Conscious of all the ways you have let God down this week. If we are honest, none of us are any better than Jacob. We’re all scumbags, through and through. We may feel we don’t deserve to be here in God’s presence – you’re right, we don’t. We may feel we don’t deserve God’s love and forgiveness and eternal life. We’re right – we don’t.
But today’s story reminds us that God can take even a scumbag like Jacob and use him in his wonderful plan of salvation and make him into a Patriarch. Our sins are great, but mercy of the God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob is even greater! Praise God!