Every Christian parent would love to raise a child like Joseph. He was intelligent, confident, highly skilled, and able to persevere through times of difficulty. He also possessed a relationship with the Lord that enabled him to resist the kinds of temptation that destroy so many. Many of today’s politicians could learn a lot from a man like Joseph.
Joseph’s character is especially amazing when you compare it to the character of his ten older brothers. They were mean, ruthless, and uncaring. What made the difference between Joseph and his older brothers?
First of all we need to note that every child has their own unique personality and a free will. Many times we have seen children, who were raised in the same home, turn out differently. Yet at the same time we cannot overlook the power of a parent’s influence upon their child. One of the first things I ever learned in my studies about the family is that the most influential people in a child’s life is their parents and second only to the parents is the grandparents. Having studied the life of Joseph many times I have concluded that it was the change in his father Jacob that helped Joseph to become who he was. Several years ago I developed this simple formula to describe Joseph’s life:
Jacob’s Example + Jacob’s Love = Joseph’s Character
This week we will examine Jacob’s example. Next week we will look at his love.
There is a great verse of scripture found in the eleventh chapter of the book of Hebrews that tells us a lot about Jacob’s example before Joseph – Hebrews 11:21 By faith Jacob, when he was a dying, blessed both the sons of Joseph; and worshipped, leaning upon the top of his staff.
That verse may not seem like much at first, but it tells us a lot about the road Jacob traveled from the cradle to the grave.
I. His Birth
Jacob wasn’t always a man of faith. Even though the Bible teaches us that God chose him while he was still in his mother’s womb, Jacob didn’t begin as a man of God. He began somewhat as a scoundrel.
Genesis 25:19 And these are the generations of Isaac, Abraham’s son: Abraham begat Isaac: 20 And Isaac was forty years old when he took Rebekah to wife, the daughter of Bethuel the Syrian of Padanaram, the sister to Laban the Syrian. 21 And Isaac intreated the LORD for his wife, because she was barren: and the LORD was intreated of him, and Rebekah his wife conceived. 22 And the children struggled together within her; and she said, If it be so, why am I thus? And she went to enquire of the LORD. 23 And the LORD said unto her, Two nations are in thy womb, and two manner of people shall be separated from thy bowels; and the one people shall be stronger than the other people; and the elder shall serve the younger. 24 And when her days to be delivered were fulfilled, behold, there were twins in her womb. 25 And the first came out red, all over like an hairy garment; and they called his name Esau. 26 And after that came his brother out, and his hand took hold on Esau’s heel; and his name was called Jacob: and Isaac was threescore years old when she bare them. 27 And the boys grew: and Esau was a cunning hunter, a man of the field; and Jacob was a plain man, dwelling in tents. 28 And Isaac loved Esau, because he did eat of his venison: but Rebekah loved Jacob.
Jacob and his brother Esau were twins. They were not identical twins as some, but fraternal twins; meaning that two eggs had been conceived in the womb of Rachel at the same time. The two boys were as different as night and day.
Scripture says that Esau grew up to be a skillful hunter. He was an outdoorsman. There’s certainly nothing wrong with that, but Esau’s wild ways went beyond his desire to hunt. If you study his life and that of his ancestors, you find a group of people who were as wild and untamed as the great outdoors themselves.
Jacob, on the other hand, was very different. In the passage we just read we see that Jacob was – a plain man, dwelling in tents. Some have interpreted that to mean that Jacob was a sissy, a mama’s boy. Maybe he was; however I believe that this description is telling us not only about his nature and character, but about his upbringing.
While Esau was out hunting, Jacob was at home, spending time with his mother, Rebekah. Who was Rebekah and what was she like? The first time we meet Rebekah we find her at work. (see Genesis 24) When she meets the servant sent by Abraham, she offers to draw water for him and his camels. John Phillips, in his commentary on this passage, estimates that it probably took at least 50 gallons of water to water the servant’s camels. Many estimate that it took a whole lot more, perhaps as much as 200 or 300 gallons. To say the very least, Rebekah was a hardworking, industrious woman. Therefore we might conclude that Jacob was raised to be the same. Studying his life you see a calculating person with a certain amount of business savvy and shrewdness. This is reflected both in his name and in his actions.
Note again what it scripture says about his birth –
24 And when her (Rebekah’s) days to be delivered were fulfilled, behold, there were twins in her womb. 25 And the first came out red, all over like an hairy garment; and they called his name Esau. 26 And after that came his brother out, and his hand took hold on Esau’s heel; and his name was called Jacob:
Jacob might have been plain but he wasn’t passive. There was no way this mamma’s boy was going to let big brother get the best of him. Strong’s Concordance defines the name Jacob to mean: “supplanter.” What is a supplanter? I looked that word up in the dictionary and found it mean – “to take the place of another, as through force, scheming, strategy, or the like.”
God had already determined that the younger son, Jacob, would receive the birthright and blessing. Yet like so many of us, Jacob had a hard time trusting God and waiting upon Him. This can be seen in an episode that happened a few years later as the two boys were growing up.
Genesis 25:29 And Jacob sod pottage: and Esau came from the field, and he was faint: 30 And Esau said to Jacob, Feed me, I pray thee, with that same red pottage; for I am faint: therefore was his name called Edom. 31 And Jacob said, Sell me this day thy birthright.
Normally the birthright went to the eldest son. It meant a double portion of his father’s inheritance and the position of leadership within the family. For Jacob and his family, it also meant a special place in the plan of God. The one who received the birthright would be a part of God’s plan to bring a Savior to the world. Note how Esau felt about the birthright.
32 And Esau said, Behold, I am at the point to die: and what profit shall this birthright do to me? 33 And Jacob said, Swear to me this day; and he sware unto him: and he sold his birthright unto Jacob. 34 Then Jacob gave Esau bread and pottage of lentiles; and he did eat and drink, and rose up, and went his way: thus Esau despised his birthright.
Esau was a man of the world, living only for today. Scripture says that he despised his birthright which means that he scoffed at it. ‘Who cares?’ someone might say today. ‘Who needs a birthright? I want what I want, now!’
Jacob on the other hand, coveted the birthright. By the grace of God it had already been promised to him, yet he couldn’t wait on God. He had to ‘do something’ on his own in order to secure the privilege. And so he seized the moment and grasped the birthright.
Yet still this wasn’t enough for Jacob. In a later incident, he and his mother tied animal skins on his arms and neck, and clothed him in some of Esau’s clothing in order to pretend that he was Esau and thus secure the blessing from his father, Isaac. (see Genesis 27) Because of Jacob’s foolish and self-willed actions, he had to wait 30 years before he was able to enjoy the blessings of the birthright.
Many see Jacob as a symbol of the believer who hasn’t yet learn to submit their life to God. Paul calls such people – ‘Carnal Christians.’ Carnal Christians are those who are still living for their flesh, instead of living for the Lord.
II. His Battles
Esau, being the wild man that he was, hated his younger brother. Note what scripture says concerning Esau’s discovery of Jacob’s deception –
Genesis 27:41 And Esau hated Jacob because of the blessing wherewith his father blessed him: and Esau said in his heart, The days of mourning for my father are at hand; then will I slay my brother Jacob.
Jacob was a shrewd, conniving young man who sowed a lot of bad seed before he got his life turned around. First there was the battle with his brother Esau, and then there was the battle with his father-in-law, Laban. Time will not allow us to study all the details of their struggle, but it can be summarized by a verse of scripture –
Genesis 31:41 Thus have I been twenty years in thy house; I served thee fourteen years for thy two daughters, and six years for thy cattle: and thou hast changed my wages ten times.
It was twenty years of deceiving and being deceived.
III. His Brokenness
God is not content to let His children wander in sin forever. Paul wrote – “Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.” (Php 1:6) God will always finish what He begins and it is His desire to conform us into the image of His Son.
Genesis 31:3 And the LORD said unto Jacob, Return unto the land of thy fathers, and to thy kindred; and I will be with thee.
“Jacob, it’s time to stop running. It’s time to stop swindling. It’s time to face your problems and deal with them. It’s time to become the man of God I have called you to be.”
A. His Fear
Jacob is apprehensive about going home. The last thing he heard from his brother Esau was – ‘One day I’ll kill you.’ Now God is telling Jacob to go home and face Esau.
Genesis 32:3 And Jacob sent messengers before him to Esau his brother unto the land of Seir, the country of Edom.
6 And the messengers returned to Jacob, saying, We came to thy brother Esau, and also he cometh to meet thee, and four hundred men with him. 7 Then Jacob was greatly afraid and distressed …
1. He Plots
Jacob is told that Esau is coming with an army of four hundred men. Not knowing what else to do, Jacob reverts back to what he has always done – he plots out a way to save himself.
Genesis 32:7 … and he divided the people that was with him, and the flocks, and herds, and the camels, into two bands; 8 And said, If Esau come to the one company, and smite it, then the other company which is left shall escape.
2. He Prays
Genesis 32:9 And Jacob said, O God of my father Abraham, and God of my father Isaac, the LORD which saidst unto me, Return unto thy country, and to thy kindred, and I will deal well with thee: 10 I am not worthy of the least of all the mercies, and of all the truth, which thou hast shewed unto thy servant; for with my staff I passed over this Jordan; and now I am become two bands. 11 Deliver me, I pray thee, from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau: for I fear him, lest he will come and smite me, and the mother with the children.
It’s too bad that many of us plot before we pray. We often wait until we have no other option before we go to God. Often we say, “Well I guess all we can do is pray”, showing that we think plotting is more effective than praying.
B. His Fight
Genesis 32:24 And Jacob was left alone; and there wrestled a man with him until the breaking of the day.
Please note, Jacob is not wrestling with the man; the man is wrestling with Jacob. The secret visitor initiates the match. All night long they wrestle. Jacob has a strong will and it’s not easy for him to give up. But then the man does something to Jacob –
25 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.
He crippled him. He broke him.
C. His Faith
26 And he said, Let me go, for the day breaketh. And he said, I will not let thee go, except thou bless me.
Jacob is no longer resisting. He is now relying. Jacob realizes that this man is no ordinary man. ‘Bless me!’ Jacob pleads. Jacob is like that soul that finally comes to Jesus and finds themselves weeping. They’re not weeping because they are sad. They are weeping because they are finally experiencing relief from all the weight they have been carrying.
V. His Blessings
27 And he said unto him, What is thy name? And he said, Jacob. 28 And he said, Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel: for as a prince hast thou power with God and with men, and hast prevailed.
Jacob won by losing. Theodore Epp, who was a dear man of God and Bible teacher of a years past, entitled this chapter in his book on Jacob – ‘The Carnal Man Becomes a Spiritual Man.’
29 And Jacob asked him, and said, Tell me, I pray thee, thy name. And he said, Wherefore is it that thou dost ask after my name? And he blessed him there. 30 And Jacob called the name of the place Peniel: for I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved.
The name ‘Peniel’ can be translated as ‘facing God.’ Actually a better translation might be – ‘turning to face God.’ Instead of running from God and resisting Him, Jacob finally turned to face God. The result was that God blessed him.
By the way, who was this mysterious man that wrestled with Jacob? Many believe that it was a pre-Bethlehem appearance of the Lord Jesus. The technical term is a – ‘theophany’, a God-appearance. Some might ask, ‘Why would Christ spend a night wrestling with Jacob?’ Why does Christ spend the time He does wrestling with us? The victory Christ seeks is not in defeating us. The victory He seeks is bringing us to the point of depending upon Him.
26 … And he (Jacob) said, I will not let thee go, except thou bless me. Jacob is no longer resisting. Now he is relying. His words are much like the words Annie Hawks wrote in a song a century ago –
I need Thee, oh, I need Thee;
Every hour I need Thee;
Oh, bless me now, my Savior,
I come to Thee.
Consider once again what we read from the book of Hebrews –
Hebrews 11:21 By faith Jacob, when he was a dying, blessed both the sons of Joseph; and worshipped, leaning upon the top of his staff.
Note – he worshipped – leaning on the top of his staff. For the rest of his life he had to walk with a cane. For the rest of his life he was in a constant state of dependence. Yet in that state of brokenness, Jacob was blessed and able to bless. He finally became the man God had called him to be.
And as we will see next week, it was in that state of broken dependence that Jacob made a positive impact upon Joseph.
Jacob’s Example + Jacob’s Love = Joseph’s Character