Our church has been going through the book of Genesis and I love it. It is full of people's stories--people just like you and me. They displayed both strengths and weaknesses. They had moments in which their faith shone bright and moments when their their unbelief is on display for all to see. Their lives were a mixture of good deeds and moral failures. And in all of that are some very valuable lessons for us.
One of the stories I have meditated on is Jacob's story. The name Jacob means supplanter, which has been interpreted as one who deceives, seizes, circumvents, or usurps. When Rebekah became pregnant her tummy was so active that she asked the Lord what was happening and He told her she was carrying twins and the older would serve the younger. Jacob was given the name supplanter because when Esau was born, Jacob had a hold of his heal as if he were trying to supplant his brother's position as the first born. Esau was favored by his father because he was a man's man who loved to hunt and provided game. Jacob on the other hand was favored by his mom as he liked to work around the tents.
There came a day when Jacob was cooking stew and Esau came in from the countryside famished. He demanded Jacob give him some of the stew he was cooking. Jacob saw an opportunity and told him he could have some of his stew if he would sell him his birthright. Esau who gave into his catastrophic thinking said, "Look, I am about to die, what good is the birthright to me?" He then swore an oath to Jacob granting him the right of the first born--all for a bowl of lentil stew.
Several years later when Isaac was old and his eyes were weak, he called Esau to him and told him that because of his age he didn't know when his death would occur. He instructed him to go hunting and to make him a tasty stew from the game so that he could give him his blessing before he died. Little did he know that Rebekah was listening. She devised a plan and instructed Jacob to bring her two goats so she could prepare a tasty stew for Isaac to eat so Jacob could receive the blessing. She helped him dress so Isaac would think Jacob would was Esau. A lot of people think that just Rebekah and Jacob were wrong because they were deceptive. But I also think Isaac was culpable too for being deceptive. I can't imagine Rebekah not telling him what the Lord had told her about the twins she was carry and I can't imagine that the family hadn't at some point discussed the fact that Esau had sold his birthright to Jacob for a bowl of stew. Another question that troubles me is how Isaac lived twenty more years after claiming he was on his deathbed.
Jacob takes the food into his father, claiming to be Esau. When his father questions how he was able to find the game and cook it so quickly, Jacob told lies, telling him God gave him success in hunting. Isaac asked him to come close so he could feel for the hair on Esau's hands because he knew the voice sounded like Jacob's. When he felt the hair Rebekah had applied to his hand and arms he asked him if he was really Esau and Jacob claimed that he was. After eating the stew Isaac spoke the blessing of the first born over his second born son.
When Esau returns he is enraged to find Jacob had received the blessing and threatens to kill him as soon as his dad dies. So Jacob flees to his mother's family and there he experiences deceit and manipulation for twenty years at the hand of Laban, who had become his father-in-law. Eventually he leaves with his wives and children and livestock he had accumulated to return home. Fearing his brother's reaction, he sends gifts ahead and puts his family where he thinks they will be safe. All alone he enters a wrestling match with a Man. They wrestle all night and as day was about to break the Man touched the socket of Jacob's hip and displaced it. That touch revealed that the power in the Man had been held back with restraint until the Jacob was at the end of himself. The Man tells him to let him go and Jacob tells Him that he won't let Him go unless He blesses him. The Man asked Jacob his name and Jacob has to admit aloud that his name is supplanter, deceiver, seizer, circumventer, or usurper. I can't help but believe that as he experienced Laban's treatment, he realized how he lived up to his name and how his actions had impacted others.
The Man ascribed a new name to Jacob, "Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome." When Israel asked The Man his name, The Man simply asked him why he asked, indicating that Israel already knew who He was. Then He blessed him and through that blessing Jacob realized he was face to face with God and that God had chosen to spare his life even though he, like all of us, deserved death.
In our culture we don't often talk about a father's blessing, but I think most of us can relate to wanting a parent's approval or favor. In our support groups women often share the deep pain they have experienced when they have perceived that either one or both parents has failed to meet their physical, emotional, or spiritual needs. Some of them became extreme perfectionists trying to earn their parent's love and words of approval. Some of them hid horrible secrets of abuse, hoping that someday the parent abusing them would begin to love them love, approve of them, or favor them over a job, a sibling, a step family. Some of them acted out in all sorts of ways believing the negative attention they got was better than no attention at all. Others have shared that they were bullied in school and that they so longed for acceptance and approval from friends.
Even though we know our women by their given names, we know there are other names they are hearing in their heads. Some of our women have shared the negative nick names they received from bullies, harsh parents, cruel siblings, unkind teachers, or neighborhood kids. All of them eventually share the negative words, messages, or negative beliefs they have ascribed to themselves in response to early childhood neglect, harsh words spoken to them, abuses of all kinds they have endured, bullies actions and attitudes towards them. Oh, those words are heartbreaking in light of the beauty we see in the women sitting in front of us--words like dirty, ugly, stupid, inadequate, invisible, dumb, not good enough, too much and too little, trash, and unworthy. Some of them also carry shame because they, like Jacob, did all sorts of things they are not proud of to gain love and approval from anyone who would give it.
Over time, our women begin to understand, like Israel did, that the blessing of an earthy flawed and deeply wounded parent could never heal the deep wounds or satisfy what their heart craves like the blessing of the Savior who suffered in the ways they have suffered and who has died for their sin in their place. They begin to grasp that they are healed by Jesus stripes and that it is by faith that they have been given the Father's blessing and they, too, have had new names ascribed to them--names like Cherished, Beloved, Beautiful, Redeemed, Restored, Empowered, Gifted, Rescued, Qualified to receive His Inheritance, Sealed, Without Blemish, and Reconciled, Seen, Heard, And, there are so many more names to be discovered in His Word.
It is funny that as many times as I have read Jacob's story and as many times as I have heard sermons on his life, it was not until now that I really grasped that the father's blessing Jacob thought he craved did not satisfy his heart like he thought it would. It was only in the wrestling he did with God to reconcile what he saw in front of him and what He knew God had promised his mama long before that He realized the blessing He truly craved all along was the blessing that only God Himself could give. That's true for you and it is true for me. We don't have to manipulate, lie, supplant, to get what the heart really needs...for all all it really needs is Jesus.