lessons from jacob full

Waiting on God

Jacob was the only person in Genesis to talk about waiting on God. While prophesying over his sons, he stopped to exclaim, “I have waited for your salvation, O LORD!” (Gen. 49:18). The statement appears out of place in its context, but when you realize how waiting was so central to Jacob’s story, it makes sense. Even though it took many years, eventually he saw the day when God sent from heaven and saved him.

After Jacob, the Scriptures are virtually silent on the discipline of waiting on God until the advent of David. The whole thing burst to life in David’s writings. David’s psalmist anointing, which was fueled from a place of long and loving meditation in the word, necessitated an awakening to waiting on God in His presence. Perhaps it is not accidental that as the first scriptural writer to place considerable focus on the grace of waiting, David was also very taken with Jacob. David mentions Jacob in his writings more than any other patriarch.

After David, the next Bible author to pick up the banner of waiting on God was Isaiah. Isaiah is “the king of wait.” Is it accidental that he mentions the name of Jacob forty-two times? Both David and Isaiah placed profound significance upon Jacob as an example for us to follow.

“Waiting” is an excellent word to summarize Jacob’s life. It’s true that over his span of 147 years he had some bell-ringing, catalytic moments. But the vast majority of his story was marked by extended periods of waiting on God. Brief bursts of divine activity were separated by vast expanses of virtual inactivity.

Actually, this is one of God’s signature ways. He separates His most outstanding works by protracted periods of seeming silence. Then, when He finally manifests His glory, it shines all the more brilliantly. Consider the lengthy span between each of God’s most outstanding wonders: from creation to the flood, to the exodus, to the return from exile, to the resurrection of Christ, and then to the future coming of Christ. There’s a long time between each of those six mighty events! It’s those prolonged lapses between His major activities that put the flair into the way God invades and redirects human history. The deafening silence of the thousands of years between each mighty intervention has rumbled throughout history in timpanic drumrolls of suspenseful anticipation.

The waiting seasons actually give God the room He needs to write the story. Those who demand resolution too hastily can forfeit the grandeur of what God was intending to write. By taking things into your own hands prematurely, you can undermine the basis upon which God was planning to write your last, great chapter.

For since the beginning of the world men have not heard nor perceived by the ear, nor has the eye seen any God besides You, who acts for the one who waits for Him (Isa. 64:4).

Takeaway: Wait on God. Give Him some material to work with.


Wrestling to be a Prince

In the wrestling match with Christ, Jacob asked Him to tell His name.

And He said, “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel; for you have struggled with God and with men, and have prevailed.” Then Jacob asked, saying, “Tell me Your name, I pray.” And He said, “Why is it that you ask about My name?” (Gen. 32:28-29).

Jesus did not divulge His name to Jacob. But if He had, He might have said to him, “Israel.” Because Israel is one of the names of Christ. This is seen in Isaiah.

And He said to me, “You are My servant, O Israel, in whom I will be glorified” (Isa. 49:3).

This verse appears in the “Servant songs” of Isaiah. The context clearly indicates that the Father is the speaker, and He is talking to His Son, the Servant. The Father, addressing His Son, calls Him Israel.

Israel means “Prince with God.” Truly Jesus is the ultimate Prince with God! He wears the name gloriously. Jesus is the true Israel of God. To be in Israel, you must be in Christ, because Christ is Israel.

At Peniel, Jacob was wrestling with Israel! When Jesus gave Jacob the name Israel, He was giving him His own name.

Jacob did not really understand it at the time, but he was wrestling for his name. “If you are to be a Prince with God, Jacob, you are going to have to wrestle down the name.”

Takeaway: To wear the name Christ has for you, don’t be surprised if you have to wrestle it down.


Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob

Several times in Scripture, God identified Himself as the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob (e.g. Ex. 3:6). Let me explain one reason why that designation is significant to me personally. It helps me define who I serve.

In today’s world of multiple gods, I consider it wise to identify precisely which God I serve. I serve the God of Abraham. But I need to be more specific because Abraham had several sons (1 Chron. 1:32). I do not serve the God of Ishmael (one of Abraham’s sons), but the God of Isaac.

But even that is not precise enough because Isaac had two sons, Esau and Jacob. I do not serve the God of Esau but of Jacob.

Still, that is not specific enough in today’s world because two major world religions (Judaism and Christianity) trace their roots to Jacob. I serve the God who gave to Jacob the name Israel. In other words, I serve the God and Father of Jesus Christ.

Yes, I can tell you exactly which God I serve. My God is the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob, and the God of Jesus of Nazareth (Acts 3:13). For me, there is no other.

Takeaway: Serve the only and true God of Jacob: the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.


The Hard Way

We learn from Jacob’s life that sometimes God wants things to transpire the hard way. God could have made everything so much easier on Jacob by just saying to him, “Jacob, go down to Egypt.” God led Abraham down to Egypt, and He could have just as easily done the same with Jacob.

But instead, God put the squeeze on Jacob. First, he lost Joseph; then he lost Simeon; and the man in Egypt was wanting Benjamin next. Add to that, the intense distress from the famine. His entire household was hungry! The combination of stress factors put incredible pressure on God’s beloved servant. He went through all kinds of emotional gyrations before he was finally presented with the solution of going to Egypt to meet Joseph.

After Jacob was finally settled in Egypt, I can imagine him wondering, “Lord, why did You make it so hard on me? I would have happily followed Your voice. All You had to do was say to me, ‘Move to Egypt.’ Why did You make it come down the hard way?”

The truth is that often God leads His favorites in the hard way. (The leading example, of course, is the cross of Christ.) Why? Because God accomplishes so many things at multiple levels by letting the thing happen the hard way. He uses the difficulty to excavate hearts and produce greater eternal fruit than if an easier path had been taken.

Takeaway: Do not be thrown off balance if God allows a portion of your journey to come down the hard way.


Even Numbers

I have noticed that sometimes God uses even numbers, or numbers with a meaningful association, to draw attention to the significance of a certain person’s story in that moment. Let me give a few examples.

Enoch walked with God for 365 years, and then God took him (Gen. 5:24). Why did God not take him at age 364 or at 366? God waited until Enoch was precisely 365 because of the significance of the number. That number in itself was a message from God: “I want to walk with man 365 days a year in unbroken fellowship.”

God waited to send the flood until Noah was precisely six hundred years old (Gen. 7:6). Why the even number? To indicate that God’s timing was based not on some calendar in heaven but on the calendar of Noah’s life. Through his faith and righteousness, Noah became a timepiece and chronometer to his generation of heaven’s movements in the earth. This underscored the significance of Noah as the man at that time around whom God was writing human history.

How old was Abraham when Isaac was born? One hundred. The even number arrests us. It tells us, “Look at Abraham. He’s My man. What I am doing with him right now is very important.”

Moses’ life divides into three forty-year periods. The timing of the exodus and entrance into the promised land was calibrated to the life of one man, Moses. 40, 80, 120 years. The emphasis of those even numbers highlighted the importance of Moses in God’s redemptive plan.

God waited to lead Israel out of Egypt until their exodus fell precisely on 430 years to the day since God had spoken to Abraham (Ex. 12:41). This was God’s way of saying, “This is purposeful. Pay attention.”

Several men are emphasized in the Bible by making significant moments happen when they were thirty years old. At age thirty, Joseph rose from the prison to the palace; David became king of Judah; God visited Ezekiel (Ezek. 1:1); John the Baptist’s ministry was launched; Christ Jesus’ ministry was launched. Quite often God lines up everything on earth to the timeline of His servant, so that he literally becomes God’s calendar.

Now, here’s how this principle applies to Jacob. The Bible makes a point of noting that when God brought His salvation to Jacob’s life and brought him down to Egypt, Jacob was 130 (Gen. 47:9). The even number is intended to alert us. God did not deliver him at 131, but at an even 130.

At this juncture in Jacob’s narrative, Joseph was 39. Some readers might think that Joseph was the key character in the story at this point, but the use of the numbers tells us otherwise. If Joseph were the main player, God would have waited one year until Joseph was 40 and Jacob 131. But no, Joseph was to be 39, and Jacob was to be an even 130. The numbers, just by themselves, tell us who the primary person is at that moment. Jacob is the man. It is his story that we are to behold.

Takeaway: Be watchful for ways in which God uses numbers to bring emphasis to your story.


Compounded Generational Blessings

Jacob was desperate to receive the blessing of his father, Isaac. The intensity of Jacob’s desire for the blessing pointed to its significance. The blessing that Isaac had to give was powerful and eternally important. But now here’s a stunning statement from Jacob, as he spoke to his sons.

The blessings of your father have excelled the blessings of my ancestors, up to the utmost bound of the everlasting hills (Gen. 49:26).

Jacob was telling his sons, “As much as I wanted my father’s blessing, I have more to give than he. What I have to give greatly excels the blessing of my father, as high as the everlasting hills.”[1] The implication of his statement is, “I wanted my father’s blessing desperately and did my utmost to get it. How you have lived your lives has demonstrated how badly each of you, in turn, have wanted the blessing that I have to give.”

Reuben, the firstborn, obviously did not earnestly covet his father’s blessing. You don’t sleep with your father’s wife if you are passionate about receiving his blessing.

Of the twelve sons, Joseph was the one who demonstrated the greatest zeal to receive his father’s blessing, so he was the one who got the greatest share.

Genesis 49:26 (above) shows that Jacob had become a profoundly spiritual man. The deposit of grace that he was able to pass to his sons was richer and deeper than the grace on Abraham or Isaac.

Takeaway: You have more to give your children than your parents gave you. Your pinnacle becomes your children’s platform.


A Grandfather Anointing

When Joseph brought his two sons to Jacob for a blessing, Jacob crossed his arms, placing his right hand on the younger grandson.

Now when Joseph saw that his father laid his right hand on the head of Ephraim, it displeased him; so he took hold of his father’s hand to remove it from Ephraim’s head to Manasseh’s head. And Joseph said to his father, “Not so, my father, for this one is the firstborn; put your right hand on his head.” But his father refused and said, “I know, my son, I know. He also shall become a people, and he also shall be great; but truly his younger brother shall be greater than he, and his descendants shall become a multitude of nations.” So he blessed them that day, saying, “By you Israel will bless, saying, ‘May God make you as Ephraim and as Manasseh!’” And thus he set Ephraim before Manasseh (Gen. 48:17-20).

Joseph was thinking analytically. He thought it proper for his father to place his right hand upon the firstborn. Jacob, however, was functioning out of his spirit, not his head. In the Spirit, Jacob perceived a greater inheritance for the younger Ephraim.

The grandfather had greater clarity into the calling and destiny of the sons than the father. Where Joseph was clouded, Jacob could see.

It was not uncommon in Scripture for fathers to lack discernment regarding their sons. For example, Isaac favored Esau, even though Jacob was God’s choice. Jesse favored his oldest sons, although David was God’s choice.  Joseph favored Manasseh when Ephraim was God’s choice.  Preconceived ideas can blind a father from accurately recognizing the grace and anointing that rests upon a certain child. This is where the perceptivity of a godly grandfather can complete the picture.

Takeaway for grandparents: Ask God for an anointing in the Holy Spirit to call forth the destiny of your grandchildren.


Intimacy Makes it Personal

At the end of his life, Jacob made a statement that is easy to gloss over and not fully absorb. Jacob uttered these words in the context of his blessing over his son, Joseph.

But his bow remained in strength, and the arms of his hands were made strong by the hands of the Mighty God of Jacob (from there is the Shepherd, the Stone of Israel) (Gen. 49:24).

In this verse, Jacob described God as “the Mighty God of Jacob.” It was quite a bold affirmation. It was a very assertive way to say, “He is my God.”

If I were to use the same language, I would say, “He is the Mighty God of Bob.” Go ahead, insert in your own name there. Do you have the confidence—the ownership—to call Him the God of (insert your name)?

I wonder what kind of intimacy and conviction rested in the bosom of Jacob when he spoke to his children of “the Mighty God of Jacob.” The confidence behind this assertion came as a result of God’s salvation in his life. God showed His salvation by returning Joseph, Simeon, and Benjamin to him, and providing abundantly for his family in Goshen. That’s when Jacob realized how vested God was personally in their relationship.

When God took Jacob’s hip out, Jacob took it personally; then, when God restored Jacob’s losses, Jacob realized that the whole story was profoundly personal to God, too. The affection between them was torrential. It was all about love and loyalty.

I am asking God to finish my story in such a manner that at the end of my race I might be able to talk to my children, like Jacob, about “the God of Bob.”

Takeaway: By the time your last chapter is complete, may it be that personal for you, too.