logo Living Water Christian Fellowship logo
Home Recent Sermon Multimedia Sermons News & Events Our Vision Donate Now Through CanadaHelps.org!

"Crisis, Competition, and Connection"

July 24, 2011 Genesis 32:6-8(9-12),22-32; 33:10f


At what point does someone in leadership become responsible for the actions of those under them? Some would say that when you're chief of a department, "the buck stops here." But to what extent can you insist those under you are responsible for actions about which you had no knowledge?

This week, news tycoon Rupert Murdoch testified before an investigation in Britain into the phone-hacking scandal that brought down the News of the World tabloid. Mr Murdoch interjected that he was 'humbled' by recent events. It's a bit surprising that he would use THAT word, as to be 'humble' can be a good virtue to which to aspire. If anyone was hoping Mr Murdoch would admit he was sorry, or issue an apology, they would have been disappointed. When pressed by officials on the question of responsibility for the breaches and bribery that transpired, Mr Murdoch refused to say he was responsible for actions of his employees.

As we continue our look at the life of Jacob, we see a significant transformation in his character, from one who was shifty, deceitful, and evasive, to one who is real and wrestles with his responsibilities, coming to admit his dependence on God in true humility. How does he get there? What brings him to such a healthy change in his disposition?


When we left Jacob last week, he was en route to his parents' relatives in Haran, far to the north and east, in order to find a wife, and to escape the murderous grudge of his brother Esau, whose birthright he had swindled and whose blessing he had outright stolen through craftiness and disguise. At Bethel he'd had a spectacular vision in which God promised His support and protection to Jacob unconditionally; Jacob had responded very conditionally - YHWH would be his God only IF the LORD protected and provided for him on his journey.

But God provides for Jacob in a way beyond expectation: more than materially, God leads Jacob into circumstances that impact his character. The chief tool God uses to accomplish His design is Jacob's future father-in-law, Laban, who also happens to be Jacob's mother's brother. The name "Jacob" means "deceiver", but Laban proves even more deceitful than Jacob. He beats Jacob at his own game! In Laban God is in a way bringing Jacob face-to-face with himself. It's in the course of this being deceived repeatedly that Jacob starts to recognize how painful it must be for other people to be treated that way by him. In the course of time Jacob 'grows up', he matures, to the point of accepting responsibility even when it means absorbing a loss rather than always trying to get the advantage.

Laban out-cons Jacob in two key areas: his wife and his wages. Jacob is smitten by the beauty of Laban's younger daughter Rachel and happily agrees to work 7 years to gain her hand in marriage. You can get an idea of the passion and intensity of his love by Genesis 29:20, "So Jacob served seven years to get Rachel, but they seemed like only a few days to him because of his love for her."

Look out, Jacob - you're about to get some cold water thrown on your amorous ardour! But then, what would you expect from a redneck rural herdsman who names his oldest girl 'cow' [Leah] and younger girl 'ewe' [Rachel]? Think of the possibilities - father Laban calls out, "Hey Ewe!" Leah answers, "Yes?" Laban retorts, "Not you - I mean Ewe!"

Although Jacob thinks he's toiled 7 years to marry Rachel, when the wedding night comes and it's dark, Laban takes his older daughter Leah, the one with the not-so-pretty eyes, to Jacob - who doesn't find out about the swap until the morning after. Now there's an eye-opener! Laban sure 'put one over' on Jacob that time! Genesis 29:25 must be one of the most understated passages in the Bible - "When morning came, there was Leah! So Jacob said to Laban, "What is this you have done to me? I served you for Rachel, didn't I? Why have you deceived me?"" Ah - who's the deceiver now, Jacob?

Laban explains it's not 'customary' to give the younger daughter before the older one. The shrewd fellow knows he's now entitled to twice the dowry if Jacob wants Rachel as well. It's not a hard sell. After a week with Leah, Jacob's given Rachel as well - provided he works another 7 years for Laban!

There's also trickery in the matter of wages after the 14 years for the two daughters are up. In 30:32 Jacob proposes Laban give him the speckled or spotted sheep and goats and dark-coloured lambs to be his wages; that way it'll be easy to track if he has any that don't belong to him. Laban agrees, but before Jacob can take those so marked out of the flock, Laban sends his sons in that very same day to remove them and keep them for himself. Many times over the next six years Laban continually changes the terms trying to get the advantage; Jacob says in 31:41, "you changed my wages ten times" but that's likely a round number. While Jacob resorts to superstition trying to get the flocks to produce more 'speckles' and 'spots', in the end God shows him in a dream that God Himself was superintending the breeding of the flocks in Jacob's favour (31:12). Why? 31:12b, "For I have seen all that Laban has been doing to you." God the ultimate Judge is looking out for Jacob, and shifting prosperity to him from those who try to cheat him out of his due.

Finally, God has blessed Jacob with wealth to the point Laban's sons become jealous; Laban's attitude cools toward him, and God tells Jacob it's time to head back to the land of his fathers Abraham and Isaac. Fearing opposition from the hard-bargaining Laban, Jacob slips away with all his family members (including 11 sons) and many animals. Laban finally hears about it and catches up to him after 7 days with his private security force. Listen for traces of growth and maturity in Jacob's statement of self-defence summarizing his case. What do you hear of responsibility? Of maturity? Of lessons learned the hard way? Of growing to the point of absorbing loss for the sake of relationship? Of growing in reliance upon God and recognition that Jacob needs Him? Genesis 31:38-42, "I have been with you for twenty years now.Your sheep and goats have not miscarried, nor have I eaten rams from your flocks. I did not bring you animals torn by wild beasts; I bore the loss myself.And you demanded payment from me for whatever was stolen by day or night.This was my situation: The heat consumed me in the daytime and the cold at night, and sleep fled from my eyes. It was like this for the twenty years I was in your household. I worked for you fourteen years for your two daughters and six years for your flocks, and you changed my wages ten times.If the God of my father, the God of Abraham and the Fear of Isaac, had not been with me, you would surely have sent me away empty-handed. But God has seen my hardship and the toil of my hands, and last night he rebuked you." Does that sound like someone who has grown up at last, and learned to accept responsibility - even when it hurts?

Laban acknowledges he has no case. Also he's been warned by God in a dream the night before to watch what he says to Jacob! (31:24) So the two conclude a covenant to leave each other in peace and not trespass beyond a stone marker. Thus ends a significant chapter in Jacob's life in which he has had to grapple with his own nature, come face-to-face with his own sinful tendencies, and realized he needs to learn to trust in a gracious God rather than his own cunning or devices.


The tyranny and unfairness of Laban may be past, but a new threat looms as Jacob prepares to continue his homeward journey. In 32:6 messengers report Jacob's brother Esau - the one who'd vowed under his breath to eventually murder Jacob - is coming to meet Jacob accompanied by 400 men! V7 reveals Jacob's emotional reaction: "great fear and distress." As a precaution he splits his family and herds into two groups, in hopes that one may escape if the other is attacked. But look closely at his prayer in vv9-12. To me, this doesn't sound like the old Jacob, the one who hedged his bets at Bethel, giving only conditional allegiance. Jacob prayed: "O God of my father Abraham, God of my father Isaac, O LORD, who said to me..." He's respectful in address, and uses God's special personal name "YHWH"; also it's not just his ancestors' God, but the one who has spoken to him (Jacob) personally. Jacob has shifted from it being his ancestors' God to HIS God.

Another noteworthy aspect of the prayer is that Jacob bases it on God's word and promises. V9, God had said to him to go back and he would make Jacob prosper; again in v12, "But you have said, 'I will surely make you prosper and will make your descendants like the sand of the sea, which cannot be counted.'" Jacob's asking not on the basis of his own merit, but on the basis of what God has already promised.

Note in the centre of the prayer in v10 how Jacob admits his unworthiness and acknowledges how God has been wonderfully good to him. "I am unworthy of all the kindness and faithfulness you have shown your servant.I had only my staff when I crossed this Jordan, but now I have become two groups." (NRSV 'two companies') This sounds like genuine humility.

And v11 holds an unadorned call for help and honest admission of Jacob's feelings: "Save me, I pray, from the hand of my brother Esau, for I am afraid he will come and attack me, and also the mothers with their children." Jacob is being real, admitting he's afraid, and needing help; not only protection for himself, but his wives and their families. This is not the prayer of a brash trickster; this is from the heart.

Late that night, when Jacob's left alone in the camp, he goes much further than just 'wrestling in prayer' - he actually wrestles with an embodiment of God! Whether an angel or some manifestation of Christ pre-incarnate, we're not sure. Though Jacob can't seem to outright win, neither is he losing; finally v25 as day breaks, the man from a dimension beyond strikes Jacob's hip so it's wrenched (perhaps a reminder Jacob's dealing with One far greater than himself?). Still Jacob doggedly hangs on, saying in 26, "I will not let you go unless you bless me." He has this deep sense he can't go on without God's blessing. (Is he relating just a bit to Esau's loud and bitter cry back in 27:34 at finding out his father Isaac had no blessing left for him?) The man renames him "Israel" ie "he struggles with God" because, v28, he has struggled with God and men and overcome. Conferring a name signifies mastery, ownership; in a way God is claiming Jacob as his own. And Jacob wants to be God's; he's desperate to the core to be God's.

And so the stranger - who declines to reveal His own name, as God may choose to reserve such mystery and majesty to Himself - the stranger blesses Jacob, v29. Jacob knows by now who it is anyway; as he says in v30, "I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared." He is awed by this grace that has been given him, to have been one-on-one with the Almighty yet not evaporated on contact. Great grace and blessing indeed! He calls the place Peniel, "face of God". He has been changed by the history with Laban, but now even more by this encounter with the Lord. His life is marked by a new kind of dependence; v31, "The sun rose above him as he passed Peniel, and he was limping because of his hip." (Ge 32:31)

Can you relate to what happened to Jacob? Have you experienced God's grace and transforming power, perhaps through the 'school of hard knocks'? Have hardships and disappointments chipped away at some of the bravado and cockiness you may have exuded in former years? From the wrestling comes grace, and a new appreciation of how much we genuinely NEED God. Life is not about doing things for ourselves or even 'for' God; life is about learning to let God love others and act in His power and do things through us. When He moves in spite of our limps, our frailties, our imperfections - when it's obvious something good has been accomplished that we couldn't take credit for on our own: THAT brings Him glory.


After this all-night wrestling match, the dreaded showdown with Esau turns out to be almost anticlimactic. It turns out God has been at work in Esau's heart as well as Jacob's; forgiveness has replaced the bitterness and hatred that had resulted from Jacob's conniving thievery. Let the music swell and the video switch to slow-motion and kleenexes be passed out as we read 33:4, "But Esau ran to meet Jacob and embraced him; he threw his arms around his neck and kissed him.And they wept." (AWWW!) The same God of all being who has multiplied Jacob's children and flocks has also multiplied mercy in his long-estranged brother.

God has been so good to both brothers that the whole matter of birthrights and blessings and inheritance rights is almost a joke, irrelevant. Esau it turns out can say (33:9), "I already have plenty, my brother." They practically fall over each other in the gift-giving: Jacob's over 500 animals for Esau, and the elder brother's offer to accompany Jacob and provide an armed escort the rest of the way.

Esau at first politely resists Jacob's gift, but the latter prevails, and his insistence hints greatly at how appreciation for God's goodness has completely displaced the previous deceitful scheming. 33:10-11, "If I have found favor in your eyes, accept this gift from me.For to see your face is like seeing the face of God, now that you have received me favorably.Please accept the present that was brought to you, for God has been gracious to me and I have all I need." Favour seen in Esau's face; favour experienced in God's graciousness - Jacob knows and admits freely he's been blessed. His humility shows again in addressing Esau as 'my lord' and referring to himself as 'your servant' (33:5,8) and bowing to the ground 7 times as he approached his brother - considering the hurting in his hip, that must have been painful!

V11, "Please accept the present that was brought to you..." The word translated 'present' is literally 'blessing': Jacob is returning a blessing, though he'd stolen it earlier. And in a way this is exactly the direction God has been shaping his life toward. Back in the 'stairway-to-heaven' vision at Bethel the Lord has unconditionally promised Jacob, 28:14: "All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring." Jacob had come from the womb grabbing, holding onto his twin brother's heel; but he's finally learned life is not about grabbing for yourself, but giving to others...BEING a blessing not SEIZING the blessing.


We began with a story from the news of how a magnate found the scandal he was embroiled in 'humbling'. We've seen how God used circumstances to bring Jacob to a better appreciation of his real nature and need for God; in limping, Jacob discovered a liberating true humility and dependence on God, even though he had 'overcome' so to speak.

Dr HA Ironside felt he was not as humble as he though he ought to be. Showing his concern, he asked an elder friend what he could do about it. His friend replied, "Make a sandwich board with the plan of salvation in Scripture on it and wear it, then walk through the business and shopping area of downtown Chicago for a whole day."

Ironside followed his friend's advice. Upon completing this humiliating experience, he returned to his apartment. As he took off the sandwich board, he caught himself thinking, "There's not another person in Chicago that would be willing to do a thing like that."

What is true humility? Andrew Murray offers this definition: "Humility is perfect quietness of heart. It is to expect nothing, to wonder at nothing that is done to me, to feel nothing done against me. It is to be at rest when nobody praises me, and when I am blamed or despised. It is to have a blessed home in the Lord, where I can go in and shut the door, and kneel to my Father in secret, and am at peace as in a deep sea of calmness, when all around and above is trouble.

"The humble person is not one who thinks meanly of himself, he simply does not think of himself at all."

May the Lord orchestrate the circumstances of our life, as with Jacob, to help us learn to be humble so we can be a blessing to others, not swindling them or misrepresenting ourselves; so that we can have that "blessed home in the Lord" that no one can disrupt and that gives true quietness of heart. Let's pray.