Every story has a beginning and we can find this story begining in Genesis 25:24 And when the time came to give birth, Rebekah discovered that she did indeed have twins! And those twins were mentioned in the scripture that was read earlier. Hebrews 11:20 It was by faith that Isaac promised blessings for the future to his sons, Jacob and Esau.
Now the story didn’t have a really great beginning. If you think you have problems getting your kids to get along you ain’t’ seen nothing. This was the family that put the fun in dysfunctional. Sometimes I will be talking to a parent and they will be describing their kids fighting and say “I don’t understand it, they got along great until . . .” But with Jacob and Esau they were at each other’s throats almost from day one.
We should start at the beginning because the beginning is usually the best place to begin, and so we read in Genesis 25:24-26 And when the time came to give birth, Rebekah discovered that she did indeed have twins! The first one was very red at birth and covered with thick hair like a fur coat. So they named him Esau. Then the other twin was born with his hand grasping Esau’s heel. So they named him Jacob. Isaac was sixty years old when the twins were born.
Kind of a cute thing that Rebekah did, not. Esau sounds like the Hebrew word of hairy, and Jacob meant heel grabber, which was a colloquial term for someone who couldn’t be trusted, a deceiver, and a manipulator. The name of her second son became a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy. If we continue to read we discover the two boys had a bad case of sibling rivalry. And this wasn’t something new, listen to the description of Rebekah’s pregnancy. Genesis 25:22-23 But the two children struggled with each other in her womb. So she went to ask the Lord about it. “Why is this happening to me?” she asked. And the Lord told her, “The sons in your womb will become two nations. From the very beginning, the two nations will be rivals. One nation will be stronger than the other; and your older son will serve your younger son.”
Now in hindsight we see how the prophecy came to be fulfilled, how Jacob would go on to become one of the religious leaders that the Jews would look back to as a man of God. He would be included in both of the genealogies of Christ, would be spoken of in Hebrews chapter 11 as a champion of the faith, and would receive over 360 mentions in the Old and New Testament alike.
But it wasn’t always like that, sometimes we look at these folks in Hebrews 11 and figure that they had it all under control. The reality is that Jacob’s early life was a little bit like this (Use clip from Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.)
You’ve probably clued in by now right? The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde was written by Robert Louis Stevenson in 1886 and became the basis of numerous movies. Including the clip I just showed that was from 1932 . The very names of Jekyll & Hyde have come to represent a duality of nature. The good and evil side that lurks inside each person. This was an idea that Stevenson had toyed with for a while; what would happen if you could separate the evil from the good, or for that matter the good from the evil. The horrifying conclusion that Stevenson came to is that when you are operating in your own strength that evil can overcome the good if given a chance. When Mr. Hyde was turned loose he took over Dr. Jekyll’s complete being.
Stevenson’s novel is a classic, it’s still being read a hundred and twenty five years after it was written and even people who haven’t read the book or seen the movie know the story line, and the term Jekyll & Hyde has crept into common usage in the English language. But even though it is a classic story it isn’t all that original.
The dual nature of man has been a reality since the beginning of time, when we first meet Adam and Eve’s son Cain he is worshipping God and then just 5 verses later he murders his brother. The Bible is full of Jekyll & Hyde behavior. Men and women who struggle with the desire to do what is right while trying to rein in the compulsion to do what is wrong.
Probably every person who has chosen to follow Christ has felt that struggle at some time. But one of the best scriptural examples of this Jekyll & Hyde behavior would be Jacob. Son of Isaac, grandson of Abraham, twin brother of Esau. The very same Jacob who is listed in Hebrews 11 as a hero of the faith.
But that was Jekyll part of Jacob that made the Hebrews list. His early years, not so much. It was during those years that Jacob spent struggling with the Hyde part of his personality. And perhaps the helpful part of Jacob making the list is the hope that it offers for each one of us.
Listen to his story, Genesis 25:27-28 As the boys grew up, Esau became a skillful hunter. He was an outdoorsman, but Jacob had a quiet temperament, preferring to stay at home. Isaac loved Esau because he enjoyed eating the wild game Esau brought home, but Rebekah loved Jacob.
A little more rivalry is being set up, Esau the man’s man, this was a guy that Tim Taylor would love, an outdoors man a hunter, big, hairy and he was his father’s favorite. Then there was Jacob. Jacob was the homebody, tended the sheep, and was a bit of a cook and Mom really did like him the best. When we look at the differences in the boys plus the very blatant favoritism shown to each by their parents then we can see how things are starting to be set up. The story is told over the next twelve chapters.
So let’s start by meeting Jacob the Schemer Remember what the name Jacob meant? Heel Grabber. Well, we see Jacob come into his own as the heel grabber at the end Chapter twenty five. Esau comes home from the woods, looked like a bear, probably smelled like a bear and was as hungry as a bear and Jacob has a pot of stew on the fire. Esau comes in takes one whiff and says “I’m starved! Give me some of that red stew!” Now that’s a pleasant attitude isn’t it? Aren’t you glad your kids don’t talk to each that way? And so Jacob says “No problem, big fellow, but trade me your birthright for it.” Do you remember when I spoke about the story of the prodigal son, and how the first born son would get 2/3 of the family’s estate? That’s what Jacob was asking for and Isaac had a pretty decent size estate. Now this may not have been very moral, but under Jewish law it was legal. And Esau said “Look, I’m dying of starvation! What good is my birthright to me now?” Now Esau may have been hungry but he wasn’t going die, but he wasn’t the sharpest knife in the drawer and so he agreed. Starting to get a picture of Jacob’s nature?
Jacob schemed to get Esau’s inheritance.
Next we meet Jacob the Liar
The next incident happens in Chapter 27. Isaac has become old and blind and wants to do the right thing by his eldest son before he dies by bestowing a blessing on him. That was the thing to do, and it was very important for Esau to have that blessing, after all he had given up his birthright. And so Isaac calls Esau to him and tells him to go hunting and bring him a meal of wild game so that he might bestow a blessing upon him. But unbeknownst to Isaac and Esau Rebekah has overheard the conversation, and as you might remember Jacob was her favorite.
So the fix was in, Rebekah gives Jacob the scoop and they plot to steal Esau’s blessing. Those are the right words too. Jacob bought Esau’s birthright, remember what I said, it may have been immoral but it wasn’t illegal, but now he was stealing Esau’s blessing.
It’s tough for us to grasp this entire concept of blessings, but it was a common occurrence in that day and age. And the blessing was different then the birthright. The birthright had to do with family inheritance, the family’s prosperity. The blessing from the father had more to do with personal success, or personal prosperity. And even though in our culture we would presume that everything from birthright to blessing should be split evenly between all the children that wasn’t the culture that this story took place in.
Rebekah went and got some of Esau’s clothing for Jacob to wear and then she covered his neck and hands with goatskins so that Isaac would think that it was really Esau that he was blessing. They weren’t kidding when they said the guy was hairy. Well, with Jacob’s disguise and Isaac’s blindness they got away with it and a blessing was passed on to the younger son.
But the reality is that Jacob stole what rightfully belonged to his brother. He lied to his father three times. The first was when he dressed up like Esau to deceive his father, the second was when Isaac asked who it was and Jacob claimed to be his brother, and thirdly when his father got suspicious because of his voice and asked him point blank “are you really Esau?” and Jacob answered “Yes Father I am”
Now Esau may have been a little slow but he wasn’t completely daft and so when he gets back and says “Hey dad I’m back and ready to be blessed” and then we read Genesis 27:33 Isaac began to tremble uncontrollably and said, “Then who just served me wild game? I have already eaten it, and I blessed him just before you came. And yes, that blessing must stand!”
I’m not necessarily saying that Esau took it bad but listen to his words in Genesis 27:41 From that time on, Esau hated Jacob because their father had given Jacob the blessing. And Esau began to scheme: “I will soon be mourning my father’s death. Then I will kill my brother, Jacob.”
Remember Jacob wasn’t the slow one and so he left, it was his mother’s idea, and she told him to stay with his uncle for a little while until Esau forgot what had happened to him. I wonder how long would it take for you to forget that your little brother tricked you out of your birthright and then stole your blessing? It was twenty years before Jacob would see Esau again.
Next we are introduced to Jacob the Dealer You don’t have to read very far in the story to discover that Jacob was a deal maker. Time and time again throughout his life you would see him playing the odds, making deals, trying to come out on top. If God crossed Jacob’s mind it was to try and make a deal with him. Even when God appeared to Jacob in a dream and told him how he would bless him, and how he would bless his descendants. Listen to what Jacob’s reply was in Genesis 28:20-22 Then Jacob made this vow: “If God will indeed be with me and protect me on this journey, and if he will provide me with food and clothing, and if I return safely to my father’s home, then the Lord will certainly be my God. And this memorial pillar I have set up will become a place for worshiping God, and I will present to God a tenth of everything he gives me.” Did you catch the deal maker at work here? “God if you do this, and if you do that, and if you do something else then you will be my God.”
And I’m sure that God wanted to say “Hey Jacob even if I don’t do that I will still be your God.” You see God being God is dependent on who He is not on what He does. And as we read the account of the next twenty years that Jacob would spend God is neither named or mentioned, it’s like Jacob has pushed God out of his life and forgotten the promises that were made. And if you’re familiar with the deal maker then you know that he got back some of his own during that time.
Maybe you don’t know the story. Jacob lands at Paddan Aram to live with his Uncle and discovers that Uncle Laban has two daughters. The youngest was a knockout, the Bible says that she was beautiful and had a good figure. The older sister, well depending on the version of the Bible you’re reading from the best she could do was that she had pretty eyes.
Jacob being a man fell in love with the youngest, Rachel, and struck a deal with her father to work for seven years in exchange for being able to marry her. This by the way was his first cousin, talk about your family tree being a wreath, being from a small island the question that often comes up in my family is: if you get a divorce are you still cousins?
Back to the story, Jacob works seven years, the wedding takes place there’s a big wedding feast the happy couple retires to the honeymoon tent and in the morning Jacob wakes up with. . . Leah, Rachel’s older sister, you know the one with the nice eyes.
The dealer had been dealt. I know the question that begs to be asked is “How could he have spent his wedding night with the wrong sister” I don’t know, maybe he was tired, maybe the tent was dark, maybe he’d had a little too much of the wedding wine.” Let’s not go down that road, let it be suffice to say he was not a happy camper in the morning.
So he confronts Uncle Laban who says “Oh didn’t I mention, in our culture the older sister has to be married first, sorry, but if you’re willing to work another seven years you can marry Rachel as well.” Jacob continued to work for Laban for another thirteen years during which time his Uncle changed the terms of his employment contract ten times always trying to get the better of Jacob. Finally Jacob gets tired of being on the short end of the stick and gets back in communication with God who sends him back home to make peace with his brother. You still with me here?
And so finally we have Jacob the Surrendered
It is during the trip home that we read the story of an encounter that would change Jacob’s life. It’s found in Genesis 32:22-33. Jacob meets with a man in the middle of the night and for whatever reason they begin to wrestle if I met a man in the middle of the night my first response wouldn’t be “Hey you want to wrestle?” but what can I say, Jacob married two of his first cousins. So they begin to wrestle and they wrestle all night long until daybreak, when it would appear that Jacob is getting the upper hand the man touches Jacob’s hip with one finger and throws it out of place.
Now there are a lot of questions that can be asked about this portion of scripture, like who was Jacob actually wrestling with? Was it God? An Angel or just another man. And if it was a supernatural being why was Jacob able to get the upper hand at times? Jacob says he saw the face of God but did he mean that figuratively or literally? Whoever it was that wrestled with Jacob said Genesis 32:28 “Your name will no longer be Jacob,” the man told him. “From now on you will be called Israel, because you have fought with God and with men and have won.”
Did he mean that Jacob had been wrestling with God right at that moment or that he’d been wrestling with God during that past twenty years? Inquiring minds want to know. But we probably never know this side of heaven. What we do know is that Jacob only seemed to be winning because whoever or whatever it was that Jacob was struggling with showed his superiority by touching his side and dislocating his hip. All it took was the touch of a finger, and if there was that much strength in a finger what else could he have done?
All we really know is that this was a turning point for Jacob. It was here that he chose to live as Jekyll and not Hyde, to serve God and not demand that God serve him. Up to this point the only time Jacob ever talked to God was when he was in trouble and he wanted something. It’s amazing how a little trouble can send us scurrying to God. Without wanting to sound callous I would imagine that ten years ago on September 11 that God heard a lot of unfamiliar voices. And I would imagine that right here in this group there are people who only talk to God when they have problems, the kid’s sick, they might lose their job, and their teens are rebellious.
We’ve all been there, haven’t we? We’ve all tried to make deals with God at one time or another, “God if you do this then I’ll go to church every Sunday, God if you do that then I promise I’ll give ten percent of everything I make to you, God if you do something else I promise that I’ll serve you faithfully.” Uh-huh.
The month before I accepted Christ as the manager of my life I was fishing on a herring seiner on the Gaspe coast of Quebec. My best friend had been trying his hardest to convince me to become a Christ Follower that summer and I wasn’t sure what I wanted.
Well actually I did know what I wanted; I wanted to make lots of money so I could drive fast cars. Now what I did when we were fishing was to trip the tow boat. In herring seining you have a net that’s like a ¼ of a mile long and tied to each end of the net was a boat. On one end was the fishing boat in this case the Ralli 2, on the other end was a tow boat which was like a little floating bulldozer. When we would get in the area of fish we’d put two guys in the tow boat and there they’d wait. And then there was one guy who stood next to the control to release the tow boat and that was me, see I was the engineer so I was the only person allowed to pull levers.
When you’d get over a school of fish the skipper would yell “Let her go” and I’d pull the lever that would start the tow boat sliding down a ramp on the stern of the seiner and it would pull the seine with it. Now I’ve said all of that to say that I would stand out there all alone many nights just me and God. And I’d try and make deals with Him. “You know God if you’ll let us have a really good season so I can buy the little Mazda RX7 I want then I will become a Christian.”
But you know what? God isn’t interested in deals, he’s interested in obedience and there isn’t anything that you can do that will earn you God’s favor. God didn’t have to bless Jacob, but he did. And God doesn’t have to forgive you but he will.
And there are times that we struggle with God over that issue of obedience and there are even times that it seems like maybe we are getting the upper hand, but we’re not. In Stephenson’s novel, the only way that Jekyll could destroy Hyde was to kill him, and in doing so he had to kill himself.
Something very similar had to happen to Jacob, he didn’t have to kill himself, instead he had to put to death his desire to always come out on top.
In the New Testament Paul talks about putting different things to death Colossians 3:5 So put to death the sinful, earthly things lurking within you. Have nothing to do with sexual immorality, impurity, lust, and evil desires. Don’t be greedy, for a greedy person is an idolater, worshiping the things of this world.
And in Galatians 5:24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to his cross and crucified them there.
And again in Romans 6:6-7 We know that our old sinful selves were crucified with Christ so that sin might lose its power in our lives. We are no longer slaves to sin. For when we died with Christ we were set free from the power of sin.
I don’t know what you’re struggling with, maybe nothing, maybe you and God have everything under control, and if that’s the case super. But if you are struggling to keep Hyde in his place it’s not going to work. You can’t do it by yourself, it’s only when you give it over to God and quit trying to do it in your own power that you will win and win you will. Listen to the promise made to you 1 John 5:4 For every child of God defeats this evil world, and we achieve this victory through our faith.
Do you have that victory? Do you want that victory?