How do I know if the decision I make today lines up with God’s plan? When I read about Jacob, I wondered about his decision-making ability. In a way, I feel sorry for Jacob, whose name meant “heel-catcher; supplanter,” (Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible). He is always characterized as being a deceiver. His deceits were many: stealing his brother’s birthright, receiving the eldest son’s blessing from his father Isaac, sneaking off with his two wives and his children in the middle of the night from his father-in-law. He’s even faulted coming out of his mother’s womb with his hand holding onto his twin brother, Esau’s, heel. Yet God spoke with him in dreams, confirming his love, protection, and destiny for Jacob. As I read these passages, I was struck with how Jacob’s deceptions seemed to line up with God’s plan all along.
First, I considered that Jacob was naturally passive in accepting the circumstances of his life. Genesis 25:27 says, “…but Jacob was a peaceful man, living in tents.” Multiple times he is presented with a dilemma that allowed little time for brainstorming. The request by Jacob for Esau to sell his birthright for a bowl of stew, which might easily have started out as a tease of sibling rivalry between Esau and Jacob, turned somber once Jacob realized how Esau despised his birthright. Therefore, Jacob did not hesitate at once to make Esau swear to sell it for a bowl of stew. Also, it was his mother, Rebekah, who knew the prophecy that Jacob was to rule over his brother and so commanded Jacob to deceive his father on the very day Isaac was to give the blessing meant for Esau (Gen. 27:8-13). Then we see Jacob passively laboring 20 years for the unscrupulous Laban, Rachel’s father. There is no evidence that Jacob grumbled; in fact, his first seven years of work was as if “a few days because of his love for her.” (Gen. 29:20) Yet Jacob was forced to leave quickly and secretly after learning that Laban might seek to turn him out without his wives and children and all that he had earned (Gen. 31:41-42). Another instance of Jacob’s passive nature was when Dinah, Jacob’s daughter, was defiled by a Canaanite prince. Jacob did not respond but allowed her teenage brothers to negotiate the conditions of marriage. Neither did Jacob participate in his sons’ treacherous intentions to kill the prince, his father, and all the men of their tribe. The outcome was that Jacob had to move his family again to prevent being a target of revenge. Jacob may have been passive, but he abhorred the violence wrought by his two sons, Simeon and Levi, in vindicating their sister Dinah. Before dying, Jacob cursed their anger, and despised their cruelty (Gen. 49:5-7).
Second, Jacob’s passivity does not preclude his strength, insight, and perseverance as evidenced from the ‘Jacob wrestles with God’ narrative. Genesis 32: 24-32 is “quite simply one of the most perplexing stories in the entire Bible,” according to one writer in “Why We Wrestle with God – A Commentary on Genesis 32:22-32. walktosiloam.com This author holds the view that Jacob’s entire life was one of deceit, that he was a coward who would sacrifice his family and livelihood before facing his brother, and that he had no relationship with God before the wrestling match. Then, being immobilized by a dislocated hip, Jacob finally was humbled and begged for a blessing. However, I do not see Jacob’s long night of wrestling with the man only as Jacob’s personal epiphany (like that of Job at the end of his discourse with God). God’s plan for Jacob is solidified in this scene. The identity of the man who starts the grappling is unclear. Some commentaries say this man was an angel of God, some say a preincarnate Jesus Christ; The Torah commentary says the man was the guardian angel of Esau representing evil. What is obvious is that Jacob was once again struggling for his destiny and his life. In prevailing with the man even after being struck with pain that should have ended the wrestling, Jacob obtained rightly the blessing that he was charged with acquiring deceitfully. This is confirmed by Jacob’s name change to Israel, which comes from the root words “to prevail; have power” and “God,” and can be translated “he who rules as God,” (Strong’s).
Over the years I have often reflected on the cause and effect of many of my decisions. I readily acknowledge that my decisions were based on what I knew at the time, that I acted on what I believed to be best for others and/or myself, and that I hoped for a good outcome without knowing all the possible consequences. Yet, like Jacob, there were many times when I felt chased or threatened into making choices that today bring shame (Jacob sent waves of gifts to Esau and bowed seven times to the ground before approaching him). And though God has redeemed some of these rash decisions, memories also bring into sharp focus the realization that all decisions should be laid before our Lord, God. Thankfully, being able to look back at my decisions have led to greater spiritual insight and a closer relationship with God. God’s perspective is instruction.
Father God, You alone are holy and You alone are omniscient. I come to You in times of trouble, in days of plenty, when experiencing sorrow or joy. I thank You that You make me content, give me rest, and calm my fears. When I am perplexed, and I seek resolution, not an impulsive reaction, but well thought out solutions, it is then I call You Mighty Counselor. Lord Jesus, be my help in these times. Do not allow me to be overcome with anxiety or overwhelmed with ignorance and helplessness. Speak truth and wisdom to me, please. I have only this temple to honor You; fill it with Your glory so that I may reflect Your light of grace and mercy to others. I ask that You bless all You have placed in my sphere of influence, even those who would seek to harm me. For I am Yours, and I am in Your hands. What a blessing! Amen.