CH 7 THAT MAN

That Man discusses the dual nature of humanity and how duplicity produces prayers that create obstacles in our relationship with God. Jacob’s desperate prayer and famous wrestling match, commonly attributed to an angel or theophany, was a struggle with . . . Sorry, I’m not going to spoil the surprise. I will tell you this. Jacob wasn’t wrestling with an angel or theophany.

After Jacob returned from Paddan Aram, God appeared to him again and blessed him.  God said to him, “Your name is Jacob, but you will no longer be called Jacob; your name will be Israel.” So he named him Israel.  Genesis 35:9-10, NIV

 On two occasions, God promised to change Jacob’s name to Israel. God made this promise through an angel while Jacob was camped at the Jabbok River and again sixteen years later when Jacob fulfilled his vow at Bethel. Yet hundreds of years after the promise was made God declared to Moses, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.”[1] Why did God say Jacob?  Shouldn’t God have said, “I am the God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel”? Obviously, God had not changed Jacob’s name yet.  More than a thousand years after God announced his name to Moses, the Apostle Peter called his God, “The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob…”[2] Why did Peter say Jacob? What about the promise to change Jacob’s name to Israel?  The descendants of Jacob call themselves Israel today, but it is unlikely God does.  Israel is still acting like Jacob. The nation of Israel has never embraced Jesus as their Messiah. 

From the time God promised to change Jacob’s name, Jacob is sometimes called Jacob, sometimes Israel, and sometimes Jacob and Israel are addressed in the same sentence as though they are two different people – or two different nations.  Let us not forget that God saw two nations in Rebekah’s womb.[3]  As went the man, so went the nation Jacob became.  A people cannot rise higher than the man who leads them, and Jacob was a man divided.  

 TWO OF ME

Everyone possesses a dual nature. The Apostle Paul aptly described our conflict in his letter to the Romans: 

 I do not understand what I do.  For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.  And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good.  As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me.  I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature.  For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out.  For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do-this I keep on doing.  Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.  Romans 7:15-20, NIV

 I was aware of this conflict before I became a Christian and read the book of Romans. To this day, I remember sitting in my High School geometry class oblivious to a word the teacher said, because evil thoughts and good thoughts were at war in my mind.  A friend had invited me to participate in something I knew was wrong, and I did not want to do it.  Yet, for some inexplicable reason, there was something in me that wanted to do it.  What I wanted to do, I did not do.  What I hated, I did repeatedly for almost two years and did not understand why I could not stop doing what I did not want to do.  What a miserable state I found myself in! Thankfully, I was not the first to encounter this conflict.  Paul also declared in his letter to the Romans, “What a wretched man I am!  Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God – through Jesus Christ our Lord![4]

Today, I can thank God for the misery and be grateful for the war that I lost.  If I had won the battle to do what is right by my own strength, it is highly unlikely I would have called on a power greater than myself for help.  When I came to the end of my strength and admitted defeat, God through Jesus Christ our Lord rescued me as well.[5]

Paul said,  “…if I do what I do not want to do I agree that the law is good.[6] My struggle to do good was a witness I could trust.  My struggle bore witness that I knew the law was good, or I would not have been struggling to obey it.  The struggle to do good bore witness that I am not greater than the law that produces sin, because I had to call on someone greater than myself for strength to obey the law of my conscience. 

We often lose the battle to do good and end up doing evil because we are struggling with the law, and the law is spiritual.[7] When we struggle with sin, we are fighting a spiritual battle without spiritual power, unless we have received God’s Spirit of grace.  However, receiving God’s Spirit does not guarantee a victorious life. Christians continue to sin after they are saved and filled with the Spirit.  Those who have received God’s Spirit must also walk in the Spirit or they will sin again.  God is the law and only the Spirit of God’s grace can deal with the Spirit of God’s law.  In other words, only God can successfully deal with God!  Therefore, God gave us a mediator who is fully God and fully man.  After Jesus was raised from the dead, he took his place at God’s right hand to intercede for us.[8]

We don’t have to be Christian to have the Spirit of God’s law in our heart.  We don’t even have to believe God exists to know the right thing to do.  Communist countries, what few are left, don’t believe God exists yet their constitutions include moral laws.  Such nations vindicate God for giving us law.  How can we complain about God giving us laws to obey when we accept the need for law whether we believe he exists or not?  We know that law is right and necessary.  Therefore, 

  All who sin apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, [apart from the law given at Sinai] and all who sin under the law will be judged by the law.  [The law given at Sinai will judge the nation Jacob’s children became] For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous.  (Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, [The law God gave to Moses] do by nature things required by the law [that God gave to Moses], they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, [that God gave to Moses] since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them.) Romans 2:12-15, NIV  

 We can thank Grandpa Adam and Grandma Eve for making us a law unto ourselves as God is.  When they ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, they passed on the knowledge of law from flesh to flesh.  Adam and Eve were the first, the head, therefore the consequences of what they did gave sin and death to all their flesh descendants.  Even babies who have committed no sin suffer the consequences of Adam and Eve’s actions, which is death.  Jesus was sinless, yet he willingly suffered the consequence of Adam and Eve’s sin.  When Jesus was resurrected, he became the firstborn from the dead so humanity could have a new head and enjoy the consequences of his obedience – eternal life.

 A MAN DIVIDED

By his natural instincts Jacob did the things required in the law given to Moses.  He became, in Paul’s words, “a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts.[9] Jacob knew law is right, but he didn’t know how to use law correctly. His lack of knowledge made him a double-minded man who prayed without wisdom.[10]

It is spurious to believe praying long enough, loud enough, often enough, or intensely enough will produce whatever we want from God.  Jesus told us not to be like the pagans who think they will be heard for their many words.  The book of Ecclesiastes warns us to “Guard your steps when you go to the house of God.  Go near to listen rather than to offer the sacrifice of fools, who do not know that they do wrong.  Do not be quick with your mouth, do not be hasty in your heart to utter anything before God…[11]  

Many years ago it dawned on me that most of what I said in prayer was a feeble effort to manipulate God into doing what I thought should be done.  When my demands were not met, I did not hesitate to complain and even get angry with God.  I prayed like a double-minded fool “because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be.[12] 

I attended two churches that embarked on ambitious prayer campaigns in a quest for revival.  Both of those churches died.  At one of the churches, I faithfully arose at four o’clock in the morning to attend a daily prayer meeting.  We prayed that God would “move.”  After praying for more than a year, God “moved,” but not in the way I expected.  God exposed sin in the pastor’s life.  Since it was a large church, the daily newspaper recorded every fact and tidbit of gossip.  Talk radio hosts could not answer their phones fast enough and local TV stations regularly updated the city on the “Holy War.”  The scandal became a traumatic event for every church in the city.  Eventually, the church disbanded into several smaller churches, and I moved on disillusioned and confused.  Our prayers were supposed to bring a revival, not a disaster. 

When the next church I joined started a serious prayer campaign, I was a little older and wiser in the Lord.  I had learned from experience that God will tell us what he is doing through the good and perfect gifts that come down from the “Father of lights.”[13] Jesus commanded us to hear what the Spirit is saying for good reason.  The spiritual gifts give us light.  This time, I not only listened intently when God spoke, I wrote down the prophetic utterances and the date they were given. 

Within two months after the church started praying for revival, an utterance came forth saying, “You cry for revival but you are not revived.  Your heart is far from me.  Do not give me lip service that I cannot honor.  I seek true worshipers who worship me in spirit and truth that I can honor.”  That same month the music minister left and the church struggled to find an adequate replacement for years.  Every few months over the next year, a similar message about lip service came forth. 

Finally, two years after we started praying and were oft rebuked, a message came forth saying, “You cry out for revival.  I have heard you, but you have heard me too.”  The following month an utterance came forth that “the kings of the earth are able to keep their treasures safe.  We are his treasure, his jewels and he is able to keep us safe.”  Soon thereafter, people began leaving the church in mini-exoduses, two families here, and three families there.  The leadership told us the people who left didn’t want God, but the people who left went to other churches and flourished.  Conflicts and division arose in the church.  The leadership exhorted us to combat the devil by praying longer, harder, louder, and more enthusiastically. 

God is a good shepherd who never fails us.  Sometimes the people God sets in stewardship over his treasures fail.  The Spirit never said that the devil was fighting us.  For almost two years the Spirit said to the church, “Your heart is far from me.”  Twice the Spirit told us “I have heard you but you have heard me too.”  God told us the truth through the gifts of the Spirit.  The flesh in the pulpit either lacked discernment or refused to accept the truth. 

It wasn’t the devil hindering the revival for which we diligently prayed.  The problem was disobedience in the church’s leadership.  Unfortunately, the leaders were convinced the problem was disobedience in the sheep.  Moses’ ministry proved that it does not matter what the sheep do.  The sheep were rebellious during Moses’ entire ministry.  God never abandoned them. Instead, he performed awesome miracles to help them because he respected Moses and counted him a friend. God judges a church by its leaders because the people sitting in the pews do not have the authority to make changes in a church. 

At the end of that year, the Lord spoke to us one last time. “I have heard you but you have heard me too.  Do not stand before me in unbelief.”  After that declaration, God stopped talking.  A prophetic utterance from the Spirit became rare.  The few that did come forth were questionable.  People continued to leave the church and ministries within the church continued to dry up until the church was one-fourth the size it was before we started praying.  Three years after my family left the church, the pastor resigned. Today this church is growing again under new leadership.

We should pray but it is far more important that we listen. We need to remember what God has already said and what God is presently saying, or our prayers will be an insult to a God of absolute integrity.  The second church and Jacob had the same problem.  They listened but they didn’t hear.  They heard but they didn’t believe.  They wanted God to keep his word to them, but they didn’t want to obey God.  They wanted to do good things, but they didn’t want to do it God’s way.  They knew how to flatter God, but they didn’t know how to honor God.  They served God, but their hearts were far from him. 

Before God gave his law to Moses, Jacob moved his relationship with God from grace to law. Jacob knew about the covenant of grace God made with Abraham.  He desired to be included in the promised nation, but he did not want to obtain the blessings of the covenant God’s way.  In his quest for control, Jacob made a vow that complicated his relationship with God.  As Jacob fled from his father-in-law, he encountered some of God’s temple messengers who wanted to know if Jacob was going to Bethel.  In response, Jacob summoned Esau believing his brother would refuse to come, so he would not have to keep the vow he made at Bethel. When Jacob heard that his brother Esau and four hundred men were on the way, he prepared for the worst and once again prayed in vain. 

 Then Jacob prayed, “O God of my father Abraham, God of my father Isaac, O LORD, who said to me, ‘Go back to your country and your relatives, and I will make you prosper,’ I am unworthy of all the kindness and faithfulness you have shown your servant.  I had only my staff when I crossed this Jordan, but now I have become two groups.  Save me, I pray, from the hand of my brother Esau, for I am afraid he will come and attack me, and also the mothers with their children.  But you have said, ‘I will surely make you prosper and will make your descendants like the sand of the sea, which cannot be counted.'” Genesis 32:9-12, NIV

 Jacob still did not know who his father was because he called both Abraham and Isaac “my father” in his prayer.  Abraham followed the Spirit.  Isaac followed the lust of his flesh.  Jacob called both the Spirit and the flesh “father”.  He couldn’t have it both ways.  When God appeared to Jacob at Bethel, he plainly said, “I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac.”  Like Jacob, we too must learn to walk in the steps of Abraham’s faith and no other. 

John the Baptist warned the religious leaders of his day to “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.  And do not think you can say to yourselves’, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham.”[14]  Jesus confirmed that being a descendant of Abraham’s flesh was not enough when he threw diplomacy out the window and told the children of Jacob their father was the devil.[15]  Jesus was speaking to people who prayed, fasted, and did their utmost best to obey the law. 

Jacob was a direct descendant of Abraham, but he acted like his father – the devil. He was carnally minded; therefore, his desires and God’s desires were in conflict.  Jacob prayed carnally because his thoughts were carnal.  He did not set his mind on the same things the Spirit of God did.  If you are double-minded, you should stop praying and start listening until you understand. 

The balance of Jacob’s prayer insulted a God who cannot lie. First, Jacob reminded God of his promise to bring him home safely.  God promised to bring Jacob home again before Jacob even thought to ask him.  Did Jacob think God would change his mind and fail to do what he promised?  Jacob saw God in the same light as he saw himself, someone who can’t be trusted.  Jacob tried to manipulate his circumstances by declaring how unworthy he was.  Then Jacob proved how unworthy he was by fearing his brother instead of his God.  Did Jacob really think Esau could stop God from fulfilling his promise?  Did Jacob think God would be caught unaware? If Jacob truly believed the gospel Abraham had taught him, he would have known that even death can’t rob us of the things God has promised.

Jacob expected God to keep his word while he looked for a way out of keeping the vow he had made at Bethel.  “God,” Jacob whined, “I can’t die. You promised to make my descendants like the sand of the sea, which cannot be counted.”  God never promised to make Jacob’s descendants like the sand of the sea.  When God spoke to Jacob at Bethel, God said, “Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east, to the north and to the south.[16]   God said “sand of the sea” once to Abraham, long before Jacob was born, and he was talking about one seed meaning Jesus.[17]

Words are important to God.  He is precise in what he says, when he says it, and to whom he says it.  Jacob attempted to be precise as well.  He reminded God about the sand of the sea promise because of the context in which God spoke this promise.  After the angel stopped Abraham from offering Isaac as a sacrifice, God promised to make Abraham and his seed “as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore.”  Then God promised Abraham his “…descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies,…”[18]  The last time Jacob saw his brother, Esau was making plans to kill him.  Jacob believed it was his right to conquer his enemies, so he craftily reminded God of the “sand of the sea” promise.  Jacob’s vain thoughts produced a vain prayer.  Esau wasn’t Jacob’s enemy. 

Not only was Jacob confused because he was trying to walk in the flesh and Spirit at the same time, he was a third generation believer trying to deal with a God he did not know.  He was a direct descendant of Abraham’s flesh but not Abraham’s spirit.  Jacob had one hand on grace and the other hand on law, which made him double-minded and in desperate need of ministry. 

 MINISTERING SPIRITS

 Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?  We must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away.  Hebrews 1:14-2:1, NIV

 We must pay careful attention to the things we have heard because God sends angels to minister to us, and they will not waver from God’s spoken word. God sent angels to intercept Jacob as he fled from Laban because Jacob was drifting away.  If Jacob had paid attention to the things Abraham taught him, it would have solved his problem.  It was God’s will that Jacob live as Abraham did, a stranger and foreigner in the land of Canaan.  It was also God’s will that Jacob would die believing God would raise him from the dead as Abraham did. Bethel was on the road to Canaan, a glaring reminder of the vow Jacob had no desire to keep, so Jacob began to drift in the wrong direction. 

After Jacob prayed for God to keep his word, he concocted his own plan to appease his brother.  Jacob called on the Spirit and then walked in the flesh.  In other words, he asked for God’s wisdom, and then walked in his own wisdom.  Before Esau arrived at Jacob’s camp, he received nine gifts from Jacob.  The Apostle Paul recorded nine gifts of the Spirit in his first letter to the Corinthians.  Jacob’s gifts were not gifts from the Spirit.  They were gifts from a man who did not trust God to solve his problem.  After Jacob sent his gifts to Esau, he settled down for the night but could not sleep.  Worried that he had not taken enough precautions to protect his family, Jacob arose in the middle of the night and sent his family across the river to a safer place.

 So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak.  Genesis 32:24,NIV

 It is commonly accepted that Jacob wrestled with an angel.  Others believe the “man” was a theophany.[19]  There are problems with both of these opinions.  The Bible says Jacob wrestled with a “man.”  The Hebrew word ‘enowsh that was translated “man,” means a mortal man or a man in general.[20] An angel is not a mortal man.  Jesus did not become a mortal man until he was born.  This leaves us with an intriguing question, “Who was that man?”

The balance of the story strongly implies that it was an angel or even God.  Jacob even said, “I saw God face to face.[21]  Can we really trust what a double-minded man says?  Jacob did not understand Godly things.  He was like the pastor who claimed the devil was fighting even though the Spirit repeatedly said the problem was in hearts that were far from him. 

There is some uncertainty with whom Jacob wrestled, because we are left with nothing more than the pronouns, “he” and “him” in Genesis 32:25. We know that Jacob was there.  There were definitely angels present because the Bible says the angels of God met him.  However, I have already established that the angels were present to minister to Jacob.  Now let me stir up your thinking by contradicting years of Christian teaching on this subject by introducing a third person into this story.  I cannot, in good conscience, apply a Hebrew word that means “a mortal man” to an angel or to Jesus before he was born.  Nor do I believe Jacob could restrain an angel from leaving if the angel wanted to leave.  Angels are greater than men in power and might.[22]  The angel proved he was stronger than Jacob when he touched Jacob’s hip and knocked it out of joint.  An angel could have left anytime he wanted. 

 All of us know and have wrestled with the man who kept Jacob up all night.  The New Testament tells us who Jacob wrestled with that night. 

  This I say therefore, and testify in the Lord, that ye henceforth walk not as other Gentiles walk, in the vanity of their mind, Having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart: Who being past feeling have given themselves over unto lasciviousness, to work all uncleanness with greediness.  But ye have not so learned Christ; If so be that ye have heard him, and have been taught by him, as the truth is in Jesus: That ye put off concerning the former conversation the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts; And be renewed in the spirit of your mind; And that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.  Wherefore putting away lying, speak every man truth with his neighbour: for we are members one of another.  Ephesians 4:17-25, KJV

 Paul commanded God’s people to put off the old man which is corrupted by our deceitful lusts. The man Jacob wrestled with was his “old man.”  Jacob was a man divided, trying to walk in the wisdom of the flesh and the wisdom of the Spirit simultaneously.  He wanted the blessings that come through God’s grace but sought to obtain them through the vow he made at Bethel.  Jacob was wrestling with himself!

The angels had come to minister to Jacob by bringing his thoughts in line with the will of God, but Jacob’s old man resisted. Jacob’s vain thoughts about himself and his place in God’s plan darkened his understanding and alienated him from the life of God.  His prayer and actions after he prayed proved it.  Instead of trusting in God and his gifts, Jacob trusted his own plans and the gifts that he could give. 

 OUT OF JOINT

And when he saw that he prevailed not against him, he touched the hollow of his thigh; and the hollow of Jacob’s thigh was out of joint, as he wrestled with him.  Genesis 32:25, KJV

 There are six pronouns in Genesis 32:25 that mak the verse difficult to understand.  Many assume the angel knocked Jacob’s thigh out of joint in his struggle to leave. Why would an angel God sent to minister to Jacob struggle to get away from him?  Who do the six “he’s” and “him’s” in this passage refer to?  Let’s consider verse 25 this way: And when the angel saw that Jacob prevailed not against the old man, the angel touched the hollow of his thigh and the hollow of Jacob’s thigh was out of joint, as Jacob continued to wrestle with himself. 

When the angel saw that Jacob could not prevail against the old man, the angel pointed to the problem. In Jacob’s day, a hand was placed on the thigh when a vow was uttered.  The angel pointed to the broken vow when he touched Jacob’s thigh and knocked it out of joint.  Jacob lacked the strength to overcome the old man because there were oaths out of joint in Jacob’s life.  The oath God swore to Abraham that would have governed Jacob’s thoughts and kept him from walking in the vanity of his own mind like the Gentiles do. The second oath out of joint was the vow Jacob made that he had no intention of keeping. 

 And he said, Let me go, for the day breaketh.  And he said, I will not let thee go, except thou bless me.  Genesis 32:26, KJV

 Was the angel pleading with Jacob to let him leave?  It appears Hosea would answer yes. 

  He struggled with the angel and overcame him; he wept and begged for his favor.  He found him at Bethel and talked with him there the Lord God Almighty, the Lord is his name of renown! Hosea 12:4, NIV

 Genesis and Hosea appear to say the same thing, until you dig a little deeper. God hid his wisdom for his people to find.

Sometimes we think we have the truth until the surface is washed away. I watched a fascinating special interest story on the news one evening.  A teacher had given her third grade class a lesson in marketing.  She showed her class that a bag of chocolate chip cookies guaranteed more than 1,000 chocolate chips per bag.  Then the teacher had her students count the chocolate chips on each cookie.  When the results from each student were tallied, it appeared the cookie company had lied.  The students counted less than 1,000 chocolate chips.  The class sent a letter of protest to the cookie company.  The cookie company responded by sending a representative with a special solution that dissolved the cookie but not the chocolate chips.  The students counted the chocolate chips again.  This time the tally was more than 1,000 chocolate chips because of the additional chips inside the cookie.  The cookie company had not lied.  The students had only counted the chips on the surface. 

On the surface, it appears Jacob wrestled with the angel and overcame him, but we are reading translations of the original text. Why would Jacob need to wrestle a blessing out of an angel?  God withholds no good thing from his people.  Hosea 12:4 in The Interlinear Bible reads, “Yea, he had power over the angel, and prevailed: he wept, and made supplication unto him: Bethel, he found him and there he spake with us…”

Jacob had power over the angel because Jacob had the power to choose.  When God offers help, we are free to accept his help or reject it.  Jacob rejected the angel’s help.  He wrestled with himself, wept, and made supplication to God by the Jabbok River, but he did not find God.  The Interlinear Bible says Jacob found the one he was making supplication to at Bethel.  God did not speak to Jacob when he wrestled with the old man.  God spoke to Jacob when he went to Bethel and fulfilled his vow. 

Jacob still had a long road to travel before he overcame the old man.  When the angel pointed to Jacob’s problem by touching the hollow of Jacob’s thigh, he ignored the solution and continued to wrestle with himself.  Jacob ignored the solution to his problem, because he couldn’t accept that he was the problem.  The angel grew weary of dealing with Jacob. He could not help Jacob until he was ready to accept the truth.  The sun was rising and the angel said, “Let me go, for the day breaketh,[23] but Jacob wanted a blessing first. 

It is irritating to watch someone ignore the solution and still demand a blessing.  If Jacob had listened to the messenger God sent, he would have found the strength to conquer the old man by becoming spiritually minded.  The only way to keep the old man in check is to walk in the desire of the Spirit.  We cannot walk in the Spirit until we understand God’s covenants. 

Jacob did not know what he really needed but God did.  Jacob needed to listen.  He was struggling because he did not know who he was.  When Jacob begged for a blessing, the angel began the counseling session by asking him a simple question, “What is your name?”  The Hebrew word translated name means reputation.[24]  Jacob thought he was a good man because he had done good things.  He worked hard, prayed, and made plans to provide for his family, but God knew the truth.  From the time Jacob came out of his mother’s womb, he was a treacherous rebel. 

 Listen to this, O house of Jacob, you who are called by the name of Israel and come from the line of Judah, you who take oaths in the name of the LORD and invoke the God of Israel–but not in truth or righteousness–  you who call yourselves citizens of the holy city and rely on the God of Israel–the LORD Almighty is his name:… I knew how stubborn you were; the sinews of your neck were iron, your forehead was bronze… Well do I know how treacherous you are; you were called a rebel from birth.  Isaiah 48 1-2, 4, 8, NIV

 In reply to the angel’s question, “What is your name?”  he said, “Jacob,” which means a heel-catcher or supplanter.[25]  He lived up to his name when he cheated Esau out of his place in the family.  Jacob was born with an evil heart, but that hardly made Jacob unique.  Jeremiah declared, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it![26]  God knows our hearts are deceitful but convincing us of that truth is a challenge.

Everyone knew who Jacob was except Jacob.  God had good news, if Jacob would only listen.  The evil destroying Jacob’s life was not his fault.  After the flood that killed all of humanity except Noah and his family, God said, “Never again will I curse the ground because of man, even though every inclination of his heart is evil from childhood.”[27]  God blessed Noah, and has been blessing humanity from that day to the present time. 

Jacob did not need a blessing.  He needed a new man to dwell in his heart. You can suppress who you are, but that does not change who you are.  When pressure is applied, the real you will surface, often to your own amazement and dismay.  Jacob could not change his character, but there was hope.  The angel had a message from God. 

 …Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel because you have struggled with God and with men and have overcome.  Genesis 32:28, NIV

 What’s this? Seems like the angel should have said,  “you have struggled with God and me and have overcome,” if indeed Jacob struggled with an angel.  Yes, but the angel said, “you have struggled with God.” I know. I already proved that Jacob was struggling with the old man.  No, I am not contradicting myself.  Who do you think the old man is, my friend? The old man is the aspect of God humanity received when Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden.  The old man is the Spirit of law, or the knowledge of good and evil that is passed on from flesh to flesh.

Jacob was assured his name would no longer be Jacob, “the supplanter,” but Israel, “one who rules as God.” This promise to the man, Jacob, was a promise to the nation he would become.  The nation of Israel has never ruled like God and neither did Jacob in his lifetime.  The firstborn from the dead, Jesus, and all that are his will rule like God does.  Since Jesus has not yet returned to establish his nation on the earth, there is still time to become a citizen of the nation who will rule like God. 

As soon as the angel told Jacob he would be given a new reputation, Jacob wanted to know the angel’s name.  The all night wrestling match with the old man had not changed Jacob.  He tried to change the subject by talking about the angel’s reputation because he didn’t want to face the truth about himself.  Knowing who someone else is will not change who we are.  We will change when we acknowledge who we are. 

Jacob limped back to his family and proved that he had not changed.  The first thing Jacob saw was Esau running to give him a hug and a kiss because all was forgiven.  God had fulfilled everything in the covenant Jacob made at Bethel.  Once again, Jacob lied.  Jacob told Esau he would come to Seir, but Jacob never showed up.  He went to Succoth and took an inventory of his cattle to determine how much fulfilling his vow would cost.  Jacob was not willing to pay the price, so he betrayed God.  From Succoth Jacob went to Shechem where he purchased land and settled down to raise his family.  God told him while he was living in Haran to return to the land of his kindred.  Why did Jacob settle in Shechem where he had no kindred?

The old man still controlled Jacob and he continued to walk in the vanity of his mind.  His vain thoughts left him alienated from the life of God.  Consequently, Jacob was still greedy.  He did not want to give God the tenth he promised.  Jacob believed in God, but his mind had not yet been renewed so that he could put on the new man, “which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.[28] 

 MY SHEPHERD

The Bible says Jacob overcame when he kept his vow at Bethel and God had promised to change Jacob’s reputation – yet Jacob remained in bondage to the old man after he obeyed God.  Did God lie to Jacob?  No!  God cannot lie.[29]  When God makes a promise he is not limited by time and his plan spans generations. 

Shortly before Jacob died, he said to Joseph, “…May the God before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked, the God who has been my shepherd all my life to this day,…”[30] God is not a magician.  God is “my shepherd all my life!”  When I am good, he is my shepherd.  When I am bad, he is still my shepherd.  He never stops being a good shepherd.

 God never abandoned Jacob even when Jacob was at his worst.  Developing character takes time. If we don’t willingly submit to God’s will for our life, the only thing that will change our character is God ordained suffering.  Not suffering alone because suffering does not always change us for the better. God ordained suffering changes our character.  

Jacob lived in Shechem for fifteen years before God judged him for refusing to keep his vow.  Jacob’s sons made an agreement they never intended to keep and it destroyed Jacob’s reputation.  Jacob thought his life was ruined but in the midst of this disaster God visited Jacob with the solution. The disaster brought the presence of God.

Jacob wept and begged for God’s favor at Bethel, but all he got was a promise.  Jacob’s weeping and begging did not change him.  The promise did not change him.  The angel blessed Jacob before he left, and the blessing did not change him.  Jacob changed when God showed mercy by speaking to him in the midst of tragedy!  God’s mercy gave Jacob the strength to call his house together and be the leader he was born to be.  Jacob demanded Rebekah to give him the idols she stole from her father.  Then Jacob told his family to get ready, they were going to Bethel to worship the God who answered him in the day of his distress.  Jacob finally got a clue that the strange gods Rebekah taught the family to worship were not worthy of worship. 

We are changed from glory to glory.  God’s glory is his mercy.  However, the mercy God gave Jacob by coming to him in the midst of this disaster did not fix all of Jacob’s character problems.  Jacob removed the foreign gods from his house, but he did not get rid of them because they still held some value to him.  The person in possession of the idols possessed the rights to the inheritance the idol represented, so Jacob hid the idols under an oak tree instead of destroying them.[31]  Jacob was making progress, but he was still far from perfect.  An earthly inheritance was more important to him than his heavenly inheritance.  Nevertheless, God protected Jacob. The men from the neighboring cities did not pursue Jacob’s family in retribution for killing every man in Shechem.  After Jacob built the promised altar at Bethel, God appeared to him again. 

…Thy name is Jacob: thy name shall not be called any more Jacob, but Israel shall be thy name; and he called his name Israel…Genesis 35:10 KJV

 God called him Israel but God calls things that are not as though they are.[32] God saw Jacob hide Rebekah’s idols under the tree.  Even though Jacob kept his vow at Bethel, his name remained Jacob because he only corrected one covenant that was out of joint.  Jacob’s thoughts about the covenant God made with Abraham were still out of joint.  Hosea revealed something else God told Jacob at Bethel. 

  But you must return to your God; maintain love and justice, and wait for your God always.  Hosea 12:6, NIV

We must do more than return to God.  We must maintain love and justice while we wait for God to fulfill his covenants. The way Jacob dealt with his sons after he returned to Canaan revealed Jacob sorely lacked the ability to maintain love and justice while he waited. After Rachel died, Jacob transferred his love to Joseph and made his other sons so angry they wanted to kill Joseph, just as Esau once hated Jacob enough to kill him. 

Jacob failed to walk in God’s ways just as his parents had.  But there was still hope for Jacob. God promised to change Jacob’s character and God knows how to turn swine into sons.


[1] Exodus 3:6, NIV

[2] Acts 3:13, NIV

[3] Genesis 25:23

[4] Romans 7:24, NIV

[5] Romans 7:25

[6] Romans 7:16, NIV

[7] Romans 7:14

[8] Romans 8:34; Hebrews 7:25

[9] Romans 2:14-15, NIV

[10] James Chapter 1

[11] Ecclesiastes 5:1-2, NIV

[12] Romans 8:7, KJV

[13] James 1:17, KJV

[14] Matthew 3:8-9, NIV

[15] John 8:44

[16] Genesis 28:14, NIV

[17] Genesis 22:17

[18] Genesis 22:17, NIV

[19] An appearance of Jesus before his birth. 

[20] ‘enowsh (en-oshe’); from OT:605; properly, a mortal (and thus differing from the more dignified OT:120); hence, a man in general (singly or collectively): (Biblesoft’s New Exhaustive Strong’s Numbers and Concordance with Expanded Greek-Hebrew Dictionary.  Copyright (c) 1994, Biblesoft and International Bible Translators, Inc.) OT 582

[21] Genesis 32:30, NIV

[22] 2 Peter 2:11

[23] Genesis 32:26, KJV

[24] NAME: shem OT:8034, “name; reputation; memory; renown.” (from Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words, Copyright (c)1985, Thomas Nelson Publishers)

[25] OT:3290Ya` aqob (yah-ak-obe’); from OT:6117; heel-catcher (i.e. supplanter); Jaakob, the Israelitish patriarch:(Biblesoft’s New Exhaustive Strong’s Numbers and Concordance with Expanded Greek-Hebrew Dictionary. Copyright (c) 1994, Biblesoft and International Bible Translators, Inc.)

[26] Jeremiah 17:9

[27] Genesis 8:21, NIV

[28] Ephesians 4:24, KJV

[29] Hebrews 6:18

[30] Genesis 48:15, NIV

[31] Werner, Keller, The Bible as History (Barnes & Nobles Books, 1995), 68.

[32] Romans 4:17

About Teena Myers

Teena Myers is the Chairman of the Westbank Southern Christian Writers Guild, author of three books and a freelance writer.
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