I once visited a family who had built their own home. When I was there, it had already been several years since they had built it and they were living in it, but there were still a number of things that were not finished. Some of the wood trim was unfinished and so were several other things. They said they just didn’t have time to get around to it. I haven’t been back since, but I have wondered if they ever finished their house.
Have you ever seen cars which are obviously being repaired. There is primer on different spots on the body, and it seems evident that the owner is in the midst of fixing the vehicle, but the person is using the car. Once, I saw such a car and it looked like the person had begun to repair rust spots on the car. The only problem was that they were not finished and there was new rust forming in other spots. A job was started, but never finished.
Does God do that with us? God has prepared the way of salvation by sending Jesus to die on the cross. He prepared the soil of our hearts and called us to himself so that when we heard the gospel, we were in a position to accept it. Our part in salvation was only to receive the gift of God. When we received salvation, God put a new heart in us by the rebirth of the Holy Spirit. Once God has taken us this far, does he then leave us to complete the job ourselves? Does He stop working once He gets us to salvation or does God finish the job he starts in us?
There are many verses in Scripture which assure us that God does keep on working in us until he brings us to the complete maturity of being like Christ. Philippians 1:6 says, “being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” Hebrews 12:2 describes Jesus as “the author and perfecter of our faith...” In the KJV it uses the word “finisher.” I Thessalonians 5:24 also encourages us with a blessing and a promise, “May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it.”
We see a good example of how God does His work in the life of Jacob. Jacob was God’s chosen one who cared about the things of God and obeyed, but had a lot of problems truly trusting God and did a lot of things that were not suitable for a man of God. As we examine his life, we see how God worked in his life to bring him to a deeper faith. How was God at work in his life? How is God at work in your life?
I. God’s Chosen
A. Flawed Character
After last Sunday’s message, someone told me they had been reading Genesis and found that Jacob was “a terrible man, he makes me so mad.” We have seen some of his weaknesses. The story we looked at last week in which he bought his brother’s rights as the firstborn showed up what was revealed at his birth already - that he was a grasper. The other story we looked at reveals that he was willing to deceive in order to get his way. He joined his mother in fooling his father that he was Esau in order to get the blessing which Isaac had said he would give to Esau. Jacob had learned of the favoritism of his parents because he lived with it, but he didn’t really learn from it. When it came to his own family, he was the same. We see instances in which he showed lack of love for Leah and her children. Later when he was living with his uncle Laban, we see that he was also a manipulator. In Genesis 30:37 and following we discover that He tried to manipulate things so that he would receive the best and strongest flocks and herds.
We can get mad at him, but we know that we ourselves are also not perfect.
We may not have the same problems, but all of us have character flaws and sins which get in the way of being what God wants us to be. Although we are saved from sin, there are weaknesses and sins which still make themselves felt in our lives.
B. God’s Chosen
And yet, Jacob was God’s chosen instrument. We see that God chose him to carry the promises of Abraham and Isaac to the next generation.
Before his birth, it was revealed to Rebekah that he would be the chosen one. We read in Genesis 25:23, “The LORD said to her, “Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you will be separated; one people will be stronger than the other, and the older will serve the younger.”
In Genesis 28, God spoke to Jacob when he was fleeing from his brother and he was given the same promises which had been given to Abraham and Isaac - promises of many descendants, promises of the land, promises that all nations on earth would be blessed through him and promises of God’s care and presence.
The New Testament also reinforces that Jacob was God’s chosen instrument when it says in Romans 9:10-13, “…Rebekah’s children had one and the same father, our father Isaac. 11 Yet, before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad—in order that God’s purpose in election might stand: 12 not by works but by him who calls—she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” 13 Just as it is written: “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”
In part at least we saw last week how there was a seed of faith in Jacob. He was interested in God’s plan, He obeyed God and He acknowledged God. And yet when we look at all the character flaws, it is hard to imagine why he was God’s chosen and how God could use him.
Yet, we are not much different. God has chosen us to receive salvation even though we are not perfect and we wonder how God could call such imperfect people as we are His children. But he does and we rejoice in His choice of us and we rest in the wonder of His gracious gift.
II. God’s Work
But the current status is not the whole story. As we have already noted, God is at work in us to bring us to a deeper faith and to make us more fit to be his children. The stories in Genesis 28-35 reveal a number of ways in which God was at work in the life of Jacob.
Two stories bracket this entire section. The first is the encounter which Jacob had at Bethel when he was fleeing from Esau. He slept and while he slept, he dreamt that angels were descending from heaven and ascending. God spoke to him and gave him a promise of his care and presence. Jacob responded that if God would care for him, then God would be his God. It was a statement, not of doubt, but of “wait and see.” The other story takes place in Genesis 35 after Jacob had returned to the promised land. Once again, he went to Bethel and built an altar and gave thanks to God. He had changed his attitude from “wait and see” to one who worshiped and trusted God. What had happened in the intervening years to help him grow in faith?
Just to remind you of the story, after he left home, he traveled to the country in which his uncle Laban lived, he was his mother’s brother. When he arrived, he met Rachel and fell in love with her. He agreed with his uncle to work for him for seven years in order to have the privilege to marry Rachel, since he had no “bride price” which was normally paid for the right to marry. On the wedding night, he discovered, however, that Laban had switched brides on him and had given him Leah, Rachel’s older sister. Although he married Rachel a short time later, he had to work another 7 years for her, during which time 11 sons and one daughter were born to him. Then after 14 years, he wanted to increase his own holdings and worked for his uncle another 6 years. and he increased greatly in wealth and property. After 20 years, God told him to return to his home in the promised land. His wives agreed to go and they fled from Laban. After a confrontation with Laban, Jacob and all that was his were released to return home, but now there was the problem of meeting Esau. Jacob sent gifts ahead to Esau and prayed and also had a significant encounter with God. When he finally met Esau, Esau was no longer angry and there was a positive reconciliation and Jacob was able to return to his home land in peace.
During these 20 years, God taught Him to trust. What did God do to teach him? There are five things that God did to bring him to a deeper faith. God uses the same things to deepen our faith today and to work in our hearts so that we will love and serve Him more faithfully.
A. God Reveals Himself
The first thing God did was reveal himself to Jacob. Genesis 28:10-22 tells us about the time when he was leaving his home. Alone and having very little, he was traveling to his uncle Laban’s place. One night, as he stopped to sleep, he did not stop at a Holiday Inn, but slept on the ground and used a stone as a pillow. During the night, God revealed himself and he saw the glory of God and the presence of the protecting angels of God. He heard God speak to him, in a dream, about the promises which had been Abraham and Isaac’s and which were now to be his. When Jacob woke up, he remembered the dream and he was in awe of God. He said, “surely the Lord is in this place” and “How awesome is this place.” He was in awe of the wonder of who God was and marked the place with a stone. The encounter with God encouraged him on his journey and gave him the assurance that God was his God and would be with him.
There are times when God reveals himself to us in order to encourage us in our faith. More than once, I have been outside on a beautiful day. The warmth of the sunshine, the beauty of the things around me and the recognition that God is the creator of all this is a great encouragement to trust the power of the creator. Once when we were going through a crisis, a friend called and indicated that he didn’t know why, but he had been prompted by God to call us. This revealed God’s care for us. When I read the Bible it is amazing how often the passage will fit just what I need that day. It is a blessing when we come together in worship and either the songs or the words spoken encourage us in our faith. God uses all of these and other ways to reveal himself to us and encourage us to trust Him.
After this experience, Jacob put up a stone to mark the experience and whenever we meet God, we should also mark it, either by writing it down or by telling someone. That way we can better remember what God has done.
B. Face To Face With Ourselves
It is wonderful when God works in this way, but there are other times when God works in a very different way.
We already know that Jacob was a grasper, a deceiver and a manipulator.
When Jacob moved to live with his uncle Laban, he came face to face with someone who was exactly like him. After seven years of working with joy and thinking it but a moment, can you imagine the surprise when he realized that the wife he woke up with was not the one he had looked forward to waking up with for 7 years? Laban had deceived him.
Much later, when Jacob left his uncles farm and was on his way home, Laban pursued him in order to see what was going on and ask why he had left so quickly and quietly. Laban confronted Jacob and made some accusations and, in 31:38-42, Jacob defended himself before Laban and we get a glimpse of how Laban had treated him. Laban had demanded payment when animals were lost or stolen, he changed his wages 10 times, he probably would have sent him away empty handed.
So we see that the grasper has met a grasper. He has come face to face with his own weaknesses and sins and has seen how they affect other people and how damaging they are.
In Genesis 31:42, these hard lessons have finally brought him to realize that grasping and deceiving do not really accomplish what he hoped. He is brought to realize that in spite of all his efforts and all his grasping and deceiving, it is God who has prospered him. There he says, “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.”
Sometimes God allows us to see the results of our weaknesses and our sins. He allows us to experience the consequences of our wrong actions or he allows us to meet others who have the same weaknesses and to experience the frustration of those sins. As we see sin in others or as we fall into the traps we have set for others or as we stumble because of the wrong things we have done, we learn that doing things our way, being selfish, deceiving, grasping, trying to get away with sin do not accomplish blessing and righteousness. Instead, they only bring trouble. If we are wise, we will also learn to put our trust in God.
Hebrews 12:5,6 talks about God’s discipline which brings us to the life he has for us. It says, “And you have forgotten that word of encouragement that addresses you as sons: “My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son.” This also is a part of God’s working our life bringing us to faith.
C. God Blesses
Another way in which God drew Jacob into a deeper faith was that he blessed him. Jacob came to recognize that things went well, that he had everything he needed and that he had experienced blessing. Faith grew as he realized that all of it came from God.
In the section in Genesis 29:31 - 30:24 which describes the birth of his children, there are repeated phrases of what God did. In 29:31 it says that God “opened Leah’s womb,” in 29:33 it says that “the Lord heard,” in 30:17 that “God listened,” in 30:20 - “God has presented me with this gift,” 30:22, “God remembered Rachel.” Later when he met Esau, he spoke in Genesis 33:5 about “the children God has graciously given.” He knew that God had blessed him.
In other areas of his life we discover the same recognition. Two times he expresses his recognition that God provided. In 31:9 when convincing his wives that it was right to leave, he told them that God had taken Laban’s flocks away from his uncle and given them to him. Although he manipulated the breeding of the animals, when it came down to it, he knew that it was God who had blessed him. When he met Esau and was giving him the gift that he gave, he said in Genesis 33:11 “Please accept the present that was brought to you, for God has been gracious to me and I have all I need.”
More than once we have received a much needed gift - when someone paid our tuition for seminary, when people brought meals after Carla’s surgery and on many other occasions, God has provided so much blessing. More than once, God has given us gifts that were what we hoped for but didn’t even ask for. These blessings have encouraged us that God is good and can be trusted.
D. God Protects
Trust also grew in Jacob as he experienced God’s protection. When Jacob slept at Bethel on the way to his uncle Laban’s place, God promised in Genesis 28:15, “I …will watch over you wherever you go.”
God fulfilled this promise. When Laban cheated Jacob and was not friendly towards him, we read in Genesis 31:7 that Jacob recognized “God has not allowed him to harm me.”
Then as he left Laban and had to face the prospect of meeting a potentially angry Esau, Jacob was scared. When he heard that Esau was coming towards him with 400 men, he was terrified. But Jacob prayed. In Genesis 32:11 he prayed, “Save me, I pray from the hand of my brother Esau.” As we read on, we are relieved to find that Esau came in peace and did not attack Jacob and his family. God answered the prayer for protection.
The Bible has many promises of God’s protection for us. In Psalm 91:11,12, God promises “For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways; they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.” Although bad things do happen to Christians, we can have the faith that whatever happens, God knows about it and whether He protects us from all harm, uses it to bring a greater victory, is present with us in trouble or brings us to eternity, God’s protection is always evident. Hebrews 13:5 gives us another promise of God’s nearness in difficulty when it says, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”
How have you experienced God’s protection? How has it helped you come to a deeper faith in God?
E. God Teaches Dependence
One of the most interesting stories among those told about Jacob is the story of his encounter with God, when he wrestled with God himself. Through all the experiences Jacob had, he learned that grasping for things did not bring blessing, even though he did succeed in getting what he wanted.
Just before his meeting with Esau, he had a meeting with God in which he wrestled with God on the banks of the Jabbok. Jacob came to this encounter with his same grasping nature. He wrestled with God and said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” In the end of that story, we see a different Jacob. He had been crippled by God so that he limped. God changed his name from Jacob, which means grasper, to Israel, which means “God fights.” In his final weakness, he had come to the place where he knew that his own strength would never accomplish for him what God wanted to accomplish. He knew that it was in dependence on God that God’s will was done. One writer says about this incident, “Jacob is no longer the strong victorious controller of the divine but Israel who is totally dependent on God’s grace...”
Sometimes, God leads us through times in which we begin to realize that we cannot make it in our own strength. The best place we can get to in our life is to realize that we need God. When we do and we begin to discover that we can and must depend on God, we will come to a deeper faith, a trust that goes with us wherever God leads.
Finally in Genesis 35 we meet the new Jacob. He returned to the place where he had met God some 20 years earlier. He demonstrated confidence in God by building an altar. We read in Genesis 35:3 - “I will build an altar to God, who answered me in the day of my distress and who has been with me wherever I have gone.”
Throughout these years, it is evident that God was working in his life. Whether through blessing or allowing him to go through challenges, God worked in his heart and Jacob grew to a deeper trust in God. He was still not perfect, but he was a greatly changed man.
We know our own hearts and how weak our faith often is. Sometimes we grit our teeth and determine to have faith. We are called to trust, but how great to know that God is also at work in us and leads us through experiences which, if we will see them and embrace them, will lead us to a deeper trust.
May we yield willingly to the work God is doing in our life and praise Him that He is at work in us.