And Jacob was left alone. And a man wrestled with him until the breaking of the day. When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he touched his hip socket, and Jacob's hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. Then he said, “Let me go, for the day has broken.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” And he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” Then he said, “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed.” Genesis 32:24-28
The time finally arrives for Jacob to head back home. He has worked hard for Laban and both men are wealthy with much livestock.
Remember Jacob’s encounter with God on his way to Laban’s house (the ladder dream)? Well, years later Jacob has another encounter with God while traveling with his four wives (Leah, Rachel, and the two servants), twelve sons, daughters, and livestock back home from Laban’s house.
Jacob is scared out of his mind of Esau, the brother whose birthright he stole and fled from 20 years ago. Jacob sends everyone ahead in separate groups with gifts to appease Esau if and when they meet him along the way. While alone, Jacob has another more intimate and intense encounter with God.
Jacob wrestles with God! God asks Jacob his name. A chance to redeem himself…no longer pretending to be Esau to steal the blessing God already intended him to have. God blesses him, but Jacob is forever scared with a limp. A reminder of his encounter with God with every step he takes.
Jacob thought his biggest threat was his brother, but it was himself. David Guzik says, ‘before Jacob could be delivered from the hand of his brother, he had to be delivered from his own self-will and self-reliance.” In losing the battle, Jacob gains the blessing…and a new name. No longer Jacob the deceiver, now he is to be called Israel.
Questions: Do you have a “limp” – a reminder – from an encounter with God in your life? If God were to change your name based on an experience or promise, what would your new name be?
When Rachel saw that she bore Jacob no children, she envied her sister. She said to Jacob, “Give me children, or I shall die!” Genesis 30:1
Drama anyone? Rachel, still unable to have children, has Jacob marry and get her servant pregnant to give her sons (sound familiar…remember Jacob’s grandmother, Sarah, Abraham’s wife, did the same).
Meanwhile, Leah continues to have more sons. Until she doesn’t. So she also has Jacob marry and get her servant pregnant for more sons. What in the world?
Rachel finally gets pregnant and ultimately has two sons. Jacob loves Joseph, the firstborn of the sons from his beloved Rachel, more than the others. Here is a recap of the twelve sons of Jacob in order of birth:
Twelve sons. The twelve tribes of Israel from this mess.
Jesus comes through the tribe of Judah, born of Leah. The fourth son from the unloved Leah. God saw and loved Leah. God loves, even when we mess it up or don’t feel loved by those around us.
God can surely use all of our messes to accomplish His plans. But our mess and disobedience aren’t without consequences. Yes, God’s plan will prevail, but it doesn’t mean it will be easy or there won’t still be pain associated with our actions. This family, steeped in deception and manipulation, is full of turmoil, strife, jealousy, and hatred.
Challenge: Ask God to show you any places you may be deceiving or manipulating to get an outcome you are hoping for.
Reference: 12 Sons of Jacob
And Leah conceived and bore a son, and she called his name Reuben, for she said, “Because the Lord has looked upon my affliction; for now my husband will love me.” She conceived again and bore a son, and said, “Because the Lord has heard that I am hated, he has given me this son also.” And she called his name Simeon. Genesis 29:32-33
Jacob finally arrives at his uncle’s hometown. He immediately falls in love with Laban’s daughter, Rachel. Jacob agrees to work for his uncle for seven years in exchange for marriage to Rachel.
At last, after seven years, the day arrives to marry Rachel, but the deceiver gets deceived. Laban switches Rachel’s older sister Leah on the wedding day. Jacob finds himself married to Leah, but desperately in love with Rachel. You can’t say the Bible is boring, that is for sure! Jacob agrees to work for Laban seven more years to marry Rachel.
As you can imagine, family life is awkward. There is jealousy over the obvious love Jacob has for Rachel, but not Leah. However, Rachel can’t get pregnant while Leah delivers Jacob the prized gift…sons.
More jealousy, this time from Rachel. Leah has sons and she has none.
Names are significant in this culture, and the names Leah gives her sons says a lot. A sample of the names is in our passage today: names about affliction and trying to earn her husband’s love but feeling hated. It is hard not to feel her pain. But God sees and God will bless Leah through her sons.
Things are a bit out of control in this family. If you think God only uses people who have it all under control with perfect lives, these stories should give you hope. Through all of the pain and jealousy and hiding and heartbreak, God is working His plans. Though things may look and feel out of control, God is always in control.
Question: Have you experienced a time when everything felt horribly unfair and out of control, but later realized God was working in it all?
And he [Jacob] dreamed, and behold, there was a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven. And behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it! And behold, the Lord stood above it and said, “I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac. The land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring. Your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south, and in you and your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed. 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 promised you.” Genesis 28:12-15
Jacob, escaping the self-inflicted anger of his twin Esau, begins the journey to his uncle Laban’s house. As the sun is setting, Jacob lays his head on a stone to sleep and has a pretty spectacular dream.
In the dream, a ladder reaches into heaven. Angels travel up and down the ladder that is bridging earth and heaven. God, standing above the ladder, speaks to Jacob, reaffirming His promise and presence.
Jacob changes the name of the place to Bethel, meaning house of God.
Despite Jacob’s actions to date, God made a covenant and God intends to keep His promise. He can always be trusted to do what He says he will do. Jacob is on his way to a new life. To find a wife. To start a family. And now He receives not condemnation, but instead, a fresh revelation from God.
In Jacob’s dream, we see another glimpse of Jesus as the access to heaven. In John 1:51 Jesus says, “…hereafter you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.” On this side of the resurrection, we know it is not a ladder or a place that grants us access from earth to heaven, but the person Jesus.
Question: Have you ever paid attention to all the glimpses of Jesus God gave us, even in the early lives of those in the New Testament?