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When Jacob Became Israel
By David A. DePra
And the LORD said unto her, Two nations are in thy womb, and two manner of people shall be separated from thy bowels; and the one people shall be stronger than the other people; and the elder shall serve the younger…..and the boys grew: and Esau was a cunning hunter, a man of the field; and Jacob was a plain man, dwelling in tents. And Isaac loved Esau, because he did eat of his venison: but Rebecca loved Jacob. And Jacob sod pottage: and Esau came from the field, and he was faint: And Esau said to Jacob, Feed me, I pray thee, with that same red pottage; for I am faint: therefore was his name called Edom. And Jacob said, Sell me this day thy birthright. And Esau said, Behold, I am at the point to die: and what profit shall this birthright do to me? And Jacob said, Swear to me this day; and he swore unto him: and he sold his birthright unto Jacob. Then Jacob gave Esau bread and pottage of lentils; and he did eat and drink, and rose up, and went his way: thus Esau despised his birthright. (Gen 25:23-34)
Do you want God to bless you? To fulfill His purposes for your life – leading to His greater purpose in the ages to come? Jacob wanted that – well, sort of. Jacob wanted the birthright and blessing which God promised Abraham. The trouble is, Jacob wanted these things HIS way, and on HIS terms. But the things of God simply don’t work that way. Ever.
The story of Jacob is a picture of how each of us – SAVED people -- try to obtain what God has for us on our own terms. But his story also shows how God is able to overcome us, and bring us into the fullness of what He has for us in Jesus Christ. We need to pay heed to his story, for it is one of the most simple, yet profound, revelations in the Old Testament.
Two generations before the birth of Jacob and Esau, God promised that Abraham would have a son, Isaac, through whom all the families of the earth would be blessed. God was talking about the Messiah. He was talking about a birthright that certainly included the Promised Land, but more importantly, a birthright that would lead to the birth of the Savior of the world. When these twins were born, the birthright could be passed down through only one of them. God said it would be passed down through Jacob – even though Esau was actually the first-born son.
God always intended that the birthright be given to Jacob. He always intended that the promise He made to Abraham be brought to pass through Jacob. God decided to do things that way because He wanted to show the Truth of grace. He wanted to show us that birth order – natural assets – mean nothing when it comes to the grace of God. God said, "The elder shall serve the younger," even though the law of inheritance dictated otherwise. Paul would quote the Lord as saying, "As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated." (Rom 9:13) God, "hated" Esau, in the sense that He denied him what he would have otherwise been entitled to by every tradition or law which God Himself had given.
Jacob would have known that he was to receive the birthright. His mother would have told him what God had declared, because she favored him over Esau. Thus, Jacob knew the promises of God. For him, it was an easy next step to take matters in his own hands and grab those promises for himself.
When we see Jacob taking advantage of Esau and obtaining the birthright, he was trying to bring to pass God’s promise in his own strength, and through his own wits. He probably justified his actions by saying, "This is God’s will, isn’t it? I am to have this promise. What does it matter how I get the birthright? Maybe this is HOW God intends that I obtain it."
The problem is that anytime we try to bring God’s promises to pass, it is never for God’s glory. And we won’t benefit the way God intends. It is usually for OUR glory, or out of fear, or because of unbelief. And because, while in that condition of unbelief, we are not spiritually adjusted to where we can experience the promises the way God intends, things deteriorate badly. The promises we desired will, in the end, be our undoing.
What we see here in Jacob is an individual who HAD been given promises by God. But Jacob was an individual who was not yet fit for those promises. Can we identify with him? God will often speak a word or give a promise. We believe Him. We might get excited about it. But again, we are not yet spiritually adjusted FOR the promise – or anything close to it. The danger is that we will, before we are ready FOR the promise, go out and try to bring the promise to pass in our own strength. And we will ALWAYS do this thinking that we are doing the will of God – for we HAVE been given the promise!
Don’t misunderstand when I say we are not, at first, ready for the promise to come to pass. Perhaps you think I mean that we must first GROW to where we are worthy of the promise. No. Quite to the contrary. Rather, we must be REDUCED to where we see we are UNWORTHY. Then we will see that only He is worthy. Get that. Nothing is more important to understand.
God won’t bless anyone if the blessing will hurt them spiritually. He just won’t. And it WILL hurt us if God gives us a spiritual blessing we cannot rightly handle, or experience. Thus, if God wants to bless you, He must reduce you to the point where you know the blessing isn’t because you merit it. He must deplete you to the point where you know that you cannot, and did not, bring it to pass through your own efforts. Then you are ready – spiritually adjusted – for the promise. You are reduced enough. Then the blessing won’t hurt you. Indeed, all the glory will go to God, and all the benefit will go to you.
Jacob is a type of person who doesn’t wait for God to bless him. He stands for natural man trying to bring to pass God’s promises in the strength of flesh. Jacob knew he would obtain the birthright. God had promised it. But he thought it was up to him to make it happen. Thus, what we have here is a cunning sneak, who, despite being chosen of God, was far from being able to live and move in the promise he sought to steal from his brother.
Jacob, the Supplanter
Jacob was not a nice guy. The meaning of his name pretty much sums up his character. Jacob means, "he whosupplants, undermines; the heel." Jacob lived up (or down) to his name. He did anything that he thought necessary to get what he wanted. No rules applied. For Jacob, the end justified the means.
Throughout the Old Testament, we have types and shadows of spiritual reality. Included in these types are the people in the Old Testament. These people did exist, and what is recorded actually happened. But who they were, what they were named, and what they did, was recorded the way it was for OUR benefit. Paul says, "Now all these things happened unto them for ensamples: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come." (1 Cor. 10:11) Such is the case with Jacob. His life, and how God dealt with him, is a tremendous lesson for us.
Jacob, as mentioned, means, "he who supplants." Better said, Jacob stands for one who supplants GOD. How so? Well, Jacob is a type of FLESH. But not so much evil, wicked, or unclean flesh. No. Jacob is a type of religious flesh – one who tries to do for God what only God can do. Jacob is a type of the natural man – who tries to operate in the things of God, FOR God.
Get that. Jacob tries to operate in the natural realm FOR God. Not so much AGAINST God. This is what Jacob tried to do in the OT, and it is what, "our Jacob," continues trying to do today.
Jacob got Esau to sell him the birthright for a bowl of soup. Of course, the Bible makes Esau totally responsible for thinking so little of his birthright that he would sell it for a temporary meal. But this doesn’t mean Jacob acted in faith. No. Jacob had no faith. That is precisely what he did not wait for God, but went ahead and acted in his own strength.
Jacob’s unbelief was so complete that he continued in his terrible path by tricking his father Isaac into blessing him with the blessing that would have gone to Esau. This was an even greater sin. For Esau had willfully sold his birthright, howbeit under duress. But now Jacob would deliberately deceive Isaac and steal outright Esau’s blessing. The Bible records, "And Jacob said unto his father, I am Esau thy firstborn; I have done according as you bid me: arise, I pray thee, sit and eat of my venison, that thy soul may bless me. (Gen 27:19)
Of course, this brought the wrath of Esau down upon Jacob. Thus, great and just consequences came upon Jacob. Here we was, with birthright and blessing in hand, fleeing the land of his father – the very land he had been promised – and going to a distant place.
And Esau hated Jacob because of the blessing wherewith his father blessed him: and Esau said in his heart, The days of mourning for my father are at hand; then will I slay my brother Jacob. And these words of Esau her elder son were told to Rebecca: and she sent and called Jacob her younger son, and said unto him, Behold, thy brother Esau, as touching thee, does comfort himself, purposing to kill thee. Now therefore, my son, obey my voice; and arise, flee thou to Laban my brother to Haran. (Gen 27:41-43)
God, of course, allowed – not CAUSED – all of this to happen for His own purposes. God, in faithfulness to His promise to Abraham, would follow Jacob into Haran. There He would begin a process whereby He would turn Jacob into the person He wanted – a person who would honor GOD through his possession of the birthright and blessing.
Flesh or Spirit
We can immediately see the Jacob in each one of us – indeed – in the Body of Christ as a whole. Seldom is God ever allowed to do anything. Instead, people want to do it FOR Him. Indeed, when I make that statement, most folks don’t even know what I mean. To us, doing for God IS EQUAL to allowing God to do what He wants! We are THAT deceived.
"But," someone might say, "Aren’t we supposed to do ministry and other things to God’s glory? Surely we aren’t supposed to just sit there and wait for God to do something before we move?" Well, that’s true. But the question is: Are you doing what you are doing FOR God, or is God doing it THROUGH you? Few people ever ask this question, or they just assume that if they are doing, "God’s will," that God must be doing it through them. It perhaps never occurs to them that they might be doing, "God’s will," in the power of the flesh.
People that try to accomplish God’s will for Him rarely do it for God’s glory. They do it for their own benefit. They do it to earn a reward, or to gain the satisfaction of having a life that means something. They do it for pride, or out of fear. They do it for the sake of peer pressure, or even for the sake of money. The cold-blooded facts might sound hard and judgmental, but most people are not in ministry for God’s glory. They are in it for other reasons – reasons that they probably don’t even consciously realize. God’s glory becomes a label of validation for lots of things people do. Religious things. But look at the church today. How much do you see glorifying God? How much is Jesus Christ seen?
Often, when God tries to do anything in our churches today, He is snuffed out. Why? Because the first thing God wants to do is deal with PEOPLE. Their faith, attitudes, and personal relationship to Him. And this is something people will not stand for! Not in our churches. No. People will not allow God to touch THEM. We try to get God interested in what we are doing FOR Him, rather than to allow Him to do His work in us.
There are many LEADERS in churches, right now, including pastors, who spend tons of time serving and doing. But they will not be personally dealt with by the Holy Spirit! They will not stand for that. Neither will they allow God to do anything which conflicts with their concept of what the church ought to be. Nope. Incredibly, if the Holy Spirit came into the church and tried to get it centered in Christ, they would have a power struggle with Him. They probably wouldn’t even acknowledge that it was the Holy Spirit, much less yield to Him. The Holy Spirit would glorify Jesus, not the people. And this would turn things upside down.
Just take one quick look at the mentality today in churches. The vocabulary of the leadership betrays the fact that religious flesh is behind things. They talk about how, "the church," is doing. The church is a THING, or an IT, and they act as if their job is to keep IT well oiled and running. Worse, in some places, people speak very little of JESUS CHRIST. Unfortunately, for many people today, the church is to them what a social club is to unbelievers. It is the place they go on Sunday, and the focus is, "how to keep this thing going." The health of the church means money and members, rather than the life of Christ IN believers.
When you get together with the people in your church – not socially, but in situations where the spiritual issues are being discussed -- what is the CENTER of the discussion? The church? It’s condition – defined by money, members -- or JESUS? Do people talk about what Christ is doing in their lives through the members of His Body, or do they talk about what they are doing for God in their church? Do they talk about the success of the church, or do they talk about what the Holy Spirit has succeeded in doing in their lives? The answer to these questions will tell you much.
Where the church, as a thing, or as an IT, is a substitute for Jesus, you can be sure the flesh is behind much of what is going on there. The Holy Spirit will NEVER be the cause of such a mentality. The Holy Spirit always glorifies Jesus Christ – not a THING called church.
Christianity is devotion to a Person, Jesus Christ. It is not devotion to a church! Or to a list of doctrines. Or to a group of people. It is about belonging to Jesus. Get that right, and all other relationships and doctrines will be adjusted. But we can only get that right if we allow the Holy Spirit to deal with us personally.
When God Moves
That which is born of flesh IS flesh! What we accomplish under the power of the flesh will bring forth only that which glorifies men, legitimizes the flesh, and which dilutes the Truth – even if God is in there, "on the side," sort of partaking of "some" of the glory.
So how do we let God be God, and accomplish what He wants to accomplish by the power of His Spirit? How do we keep flesh out of it? We certainly don’t want to be passive. When God moves, He moves people. We don’t simply sit there and watch. So what is the key here?
First of all, this is not a matter of developing policies. It has nothing to do with sitting down and deciding to let God be God and to keep my flesh out of it. That’s nice, and commendable, and at least acknowledges an awareness of the potential of a problem. But in the final analysis, God must deal with the flesh. HE must bring us to the place where our flesh is dead and His Spirit can work. HE must do this.
So what is our part? Surrender. Faith and obedience. We say, "Whatever it takes, Lord, deal with my flesh so that your Spirit might run my life."
Now, this is really ironic. If you are seeing what I am getting at, you are seeing that even getting to the place where flesh is out of the picture cannot be accomplished by the flesh. No. Even this God must do. Flesh cannot grab a hold of itself and change itself. There would be nothing flesh has to work with but flesh upon flesh. Nothing.
This is actually basic Christian Truth. That which is born of flesh is flesh, and that which is born of Spirit is Spirit. Thus, if you are still operating in the power of the flesh, it does not matter how sincere you are, or how much you wish it were otherwise, you cannot gender anything of the Spirit. Why? Because you are still operating in the flesh – and it has nothing to work with. Flesh cannot birth Spirit.
So what can we do? Again -- ONE thing: Surrender the flesh. In other words, DIE to that thing. If the flesh is surrendered to God, a death will take place, and what will arise shall be of His Spirit. In God’s realm, death always precedes life.
Flesh is going to do its thing. First the natural must wear itself out. But if we will just hand ourselves over to God, He will undertake a work whereby the flesh will be crucified, and the Spirit will have freedom. Again – we can do one thing: Surrender. God will do the rest.
Of course, some Christians think that if you are born again that it is impossible for you to do anything of the flesh. Nonsense. Christians operate in the flesh all the time. I am here not talking about wicked, sinful, unclean things. I’m talking about religious things – for the power of religious flesh is perhaps the worst thing of all. People doing FOR God!
The only way in which you and I are ever going to understand what it means to allow God to do what He wants, indeed, the only way we will ever be able to let Him do it, is if God is able to deal with US PERSONALLY. This is why the Body of Christ is so weak and lacks the power of the Spirit – we don’t let God deal with US – US – US. We don’t let Him break US of our self-will, unbelief, pride, sin, and blindness. Again – we must be reduced and depleted to the point where we will welcome the moving of God. Until we become weak, God cannot be strong in our midst.
When everything is said and done, and it is all summed up, the bottom line is this: All things go back to Jesus. To our personal relationship with Him. Anytime we divorce what we are doing for God from our personal relationship with Jesus, and make it a THING separate, we have a problem. We are operating in the flesh. May God give us the sensitivity and discernment to see the distinction.
Now therefore, my son, obey my voice; and arise, flee thou to Laban my brother to Haran; And tarry with him a few days, until thy brother's fury turn away; (Gen 27:43-44)
And Jacob went out from Beersheba, and went toward Haran. And he lighted upon a certain place, and tarried there all night, because the sun was set; and he took of the stones of that place, and put them for his pillows, and lay down in that place to sleep. And he dreamed, and behold a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven: and behold the angels of God ascending and descending on it. And, behold, the LORD stood above it, and said, I am the LORD God of Abraham thy father, and the God of Isaac: the land whereon thou lay, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed; And thy seed shall be as the dust of the earth, and thou shall spread abroad to the west, and to the east, and to the north, and to the south: and in thee and in thy seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed. And, behold, I am with thee, and will keep thee in all places whither thou go, and will bring thee again into this land; for I will not leave thee, until I have done that which I have spoken to thee of. And Jacob awaked out of his sleep, and he said, Surely the LORD is in this place; and I knew it not. And he was afraid, and said, How dreadful is this place! this is none other but the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven. And Jacob rose up early in the morning, and took the stone that he had put for his pillows, and set it up for a pillar, and poured oil upon the top of it. And he called the name of that place Bethel: but the name of that city was called Luz at the first. (Gen 28:10-19)
Jacob had taken God’s promises in his own hands, and had created quite a mess trying to bring them to pass. The consequences were terrible. Jacob had to flee the very land which was included in God’s promises to him. So often this is the case. If you try to make God’s word happen in your own strength, you will end up so far out of the will of God that the only way God can fix it is to take you to another place – a spiritual place wherein He will try to bring you into the conformity of the promise.
Here we see a spiritual lesson. God was really saying, "My promises were never dependent upon YOU. They are dependent upon ME. But that is the whole point. You need to be brought to the place where you not only see this, but are brought into conformity with it. In short, Jacob, I have to MAKE YOU DEPENDENT UPON ME. Only then will your inheritance benefit you, rather than hurt you."
If you are reading this, you probably know that you need to be dependent upon God. But are you? It is so easy to mistake our grasp of a teaching for the actual reality of it in us. Indeed, the grasp is good. But until we BECOME, in our relationship to Christ, what the teaching describes, we are still in the flesh on that thing.
The true power of the Holy Spirit is released in a person to the extent that they are dependent upon God. Thus, the key is to make the person dependent upon God. The key is to deal with the flesh. Then the Spirit can have freedom. Jacob was about to begin a journey that would change him completely – and bring him back to the place where God wanted him all along.
Jacob would some day come back HOME. We are never truly, "home," until we are in God’s will, on His terms, and by His strength. Jacob tried to obtain the birthright his own way, and succeeded. Thus, he was far from home. His banishment to Haran symbolizes how far he was – in his faith – out of the will of God. But God would use that very place, Haran, as a means to bring him back to where God wanted him.
At Bethel, God first spoke to Jacob. "Bethel," means, "house of God." Jacob’s statement, "Surely the LORD is in this place; and I knew it not," shows how out of touch he was with God. It is always possible to possess the promises of God, but not possess God Himself. It is always possible to have the promises, but to not allow God to have you.
God does give us the promises. All of them. But it takes a lifetime for God to reduce us down to the place where the promises possess us. For example, it is one thing to talk about the resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is another to live in the power of His resurrection. Read Philippians 3. Paul counted all things as loss, indeed, suffered the loss of all things – why? So that he would have a firmer grasp of Biblical doctrine? No. Let’s read his words:
Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ, And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith: That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death. (Phil 3:8-10)
Paul LOST everything he might have possibly used to make himself righteous. But it was UNTO something. He said that he lost it FOR the knowledge of Christ. SO THAT he might win Christ. SO THAT he might be found in Christ with HIS righteousness, not his own. These things are beyond salvation. They are what happens when a person meets the reality of Jesus Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit. Do you want God? The Truth? Then be prepared to LOSE what you are presently using as a substitute!!
Jacob was going to spend TWENTY years being reduced down to where God could bring him back to his homeland. But in the end, God would have a new person – the one he intended him to be in the beginning.
Jacob left Canaan, and was assured by God that everything promised would come to pass. At Bethel, you will notice that God did not say a word about Jacob’s dishonesty, and his attempts to procure the birthright through his own means. Of course not. Jacob needed more than a scolding. Rather, he needed to become something other than He was. God was about to undertake that work.
So often in the Christian walk, what we think we need is INFORMATION from God. We say, "If God would just tell me such and such, then I could avoid certain trouble." But this reasoning presupposes that the only issue is our conduct, and the consequences that arise from it. More errantly, it presupposes that God wants us to avoid the trouble. It may be that God wants us to get into trouble that is brought about by our own unbelief, so that those consequences may be used of Him to set us free from the unbelief. These are the chastisements of a Heavenly Father.
Anyone can obey God to avoid trouble – and do it purely from self-interest. But that simply will not do in the mind of God for those He loves. It might be smart to obey God to avoid trouble. But in the final analysis, it spells NO Christ-like character to obey God simply to avoid the consequences of disobedience. God wants us to obey Him because we love Him – because we hunger and thirst for His righteousness and glory.
So if we are as Jacob, thoroughly entrenched in our self-will, and operating under the power of religious flesh, "information" about ourselves won’t do. Directions alone won’t help us. And God isn’t normally going to tell us all kinds of things we should do or not do, so that our self-will and unbelief will never get us into trouble. If He did that, we’d have less trouble, but would still have much unbelief. Nothing would change about us. So God, in His wisdom, will do, or allow, whatever it takes to expose us for what we are, so that we might be free.
Now, if you see nothing else in this, see this one Truth: God is ALWAYS redemptive in what He does, or allows. God is not a God who, "punishes" punitively, as people do. When God brings consequences upon us, or chastises us, it is because He loves us. That is why we are told to SUBMIT to His chastisements. The end of our submission is that we BECOME God’s will -- the Word becomes flesh IN US.
Jacob ran away from his home. His craftiness in trying to get for himself what God would have freely given had brought upon him much difficulty. His own brother wanted to kill him. God’s faithfulness at Bethel in affirming the promise to Abraham surely encouraged Jacob. But on the other hand, he would have no idea what he was getting into. No clue.
God is Worthy
It is here that we need to clearly see the situation from God’s perspective. God had promised Jacob the birthright and the promises. But instead of trusting God, Jacob had essentially grabbed them for himself. Thus, as Jacob flees his home, he actually possesses everything God promised. But there is a problem: Jacob was promised these things by GRACE. He possessed them, however, by WORKS – and bad works at that. And this is something God would not accept.
God has blessing after blessing for each of us. He is not hesitant to give them to us. But we CANNOT receive them until we receive them, "by grace through faith." As long as we try to receive them through our own merits – we will never value them or be able to experience them the way God intends. As long as we try to grab them through our own efforts, we will corrupt them. So God HOLDS BACK these blessings and does the only thing which will fix the situation: HE WORKS ON US! God begins a work intended to bring us to the place where we will simply receive what He has.
We read this everywhere in the Bible. You have to become a CHILD to enter the kingdom of God. You have to lose your life to find it. Over and over this theme is there. Why? Is it because God sat down one day and simply decided to make some rules with a dose of irony in them? No. It is because that is the way relationship with God works – it is the only way it works, or can work. The things of God can only be received free of charge. That is the nature of things -- the nature of God and our relationship to Him. Try to receive them in any other spirit and you aren’t receiving them. You are earning them, or stealing them.
So we see here a great Truth: God does not make us WORTHY to receive His blessings. No. Rather, He shows us we are UNWORTHY. And once we see that, then we gladly received them without strings attached. Until you and I come to the place where we are totally convinced that there is nothing about us that deserves God, we are going to have great difficulty entering into the deep things of the Spirit.
One example: There was a man at a Bible study who had apparently killed quite a few people in World War II. Evidently, he even committed some atrocities. Every so often he would say, "Jesus can never forgive what I did, for my sins are too terrible." Some people, who did not understand what was going on there, remarked, "Boy, this guy feels TOO guilty for his sins. He doesn’t think Jesus can forgive him." But no. The reality is, he doesn’t feel guilty ENOUGH! For if he truly knew his guilt, there would be no doubt in his mind that his only hope was the grace of God. Rather than doubt that Christ could forgive him, he would know that his condition is precisely why Christ died, and will forgive. This man had a worldly sorrow, but not a Godly sorrow. Godly sorrow always leads us to repentance -- and freedom from sin.
God wants to bring us to the place where we are done arguing as to whether we are forgiven. He wants us to stop making ourselves contributors to the finished work of Jesus Christ. The ONLY THING God asks of you and I is that we bring our unworthiness and sin and guilt and inability – in faith. If we will do that, then we can receive what He has to give.
Many Christians, however, still think that God forgives them because they believe – and they make their faith into a meritorious work. But no. We are not saved by our faith. We are saved by Jesus Christ – totally independent of anything about us. We simply reach out and receive what Christ has done -- by faith.
There are two extremes of error possible here. First, there are those who believe that God FIRST saves us by election, and THEN we are able to believe. This is 5 Point Calvinism, and rank error. But the other extreme is just as bad. It states that man has, in himself, what it takes to muster the faith necessary for salvation. No. The Truth is, God reveals to us our condition without Christ, and brings us to the place where it is possible for us to surrender ourselves to Him – ALL before we are saved. But WE MUST DO THE SURRENDERING of ourselves. That is all we can do, and it is all God requires. He will save us.
This is faith – it is surrender to God. Surrender is never merit. Indeed, real faith – for salvation or anything else – is always the RESULT of seeing I have no merit.
Back to Jacob. Jacob had been given great promises, and had grabbed them in his own strength. But now God, in His faithfulness, was going to bring Jacob down to the place where he could receive the promises in the way God originally intended: By grace alone. In short, Jacob had the promises, and now God was going to make him SMALL ENOUGH to see how big and wonderful and free those promises were!
Jacob is a type of natural man – a type of religious flesh, which needs to be brought down to the place where he will receive the blessings of God -- "by grace through faith." When Jacob got involved with Laban, God was able to begin this work.
And Laban said unto Jacob, Because thou art my brother, shouldest thou therefore serve me for nought? tell me, what shall thy wages be? And Laban had two daughters: the name of the elder was Leah, and the name of the younger was Rachel. Leah was tender eyed; but Rachel was beautiful and well favored. And Jacob loved Rachel; and said, I will serve thee seven years for Rachel thy younger daughter. And Laban said, It is better that I give her to thee, than that I should give her to another man: abide with me. And Jacob served seven years for Rachel; and they seemed unto him but a few days, for the love he had to her. (Gen 29:15-20)
And Jacob said unto Laban, Give me my wife, for my days are fulfilled, that I may go in unto her. And Laban gathered together all the men of the place, and made a feast. And it came to pass in the evening, that he took Leah his daughter, and brought her to him; and he went in unto her. And Laban gave unto his daughter Leah Zilpah his maid for an handmaid. And it came to pass, that in the morning, behold, it was Leah: and he said to Laban, What is this thou hast done unto me? did not I serve with thee for Rachel? wherefore then hast thou beguiled me? (Gen 29:21-25)
In Laban, Jacob encounters someone who is just as deceitful as himself. But God intends to use Laban to bring Jacob to repentance. Notice that God would not approve of Laban’s character and works anymore than He would approve of Jacob. No. But God did allow Jacob to be taken advantage of by Laban.
Why? God allowed Laban to take advantage of Jacob so that Jacob might be brought to the end of himself. God would use Laban to make Jacob dependent upon God. Jacob would come to know that all he possessed was of God and not of himself.
Remember, Jacob had obtained the legal right to the promises of God through his own scheming. Thus, God spent twenty years reducing Jacob, using a situation where none of Jacob’s scheming could work any longer. Until the last 6 years of Jacob's time with Laban, every time Jacob thought he was getting the upper hand with Laban, Laban cheated him and won out. Indeed, by the time God was done, all the scheming was out of Jacob’s system. He was then able to receive what God had for him as a gift of grace, and nothing more.
Jacob had no real escape from this relationship with Laban. He had to put up with Laban’s dishonesty because he was working for his WIFE, and then later, for other possessions. If Jacob had left the situation earlier than he did, he would have lost his wife, and possibly everything else. His desire for Rachel, in effect, kept Jacob from bailing out, and forced him to submit to Laban’s unfairness.
There is a wonderful spiritual type here. When God puts us under a, "Laban spirit," we need to stay under it – within God’s will -- until God works through it and gets in us what He intends. If we leave too soon, and take the easy way out, we will lose things more valuable than we can imagine. The key here is to SUBMIT TO GOD by faith – so that God can have His way with you.
But again -- what is God after in allowing a Laban into our lives? He is reducing us down to where we are fully dependent upon Him. To where we are simply willing to receive what He is willing to give -- nothing less and nothing more. This is a change that is not only contrary to religious flesh, but will revolutionize our entire lives.
The issue of, "working for a wife," is also significant here. Most often, scripture pictures Christ as the husband of his wife, the church. But there is another way to look at this, as well, which is what is pictured by Jacob working for a wife. God wants to form in us the image of His Son, so that we might be united with our true wife, His Body, the church, in spirit and Truth. But not only for now – also for the eternal ages. If I will hang in to the end of God’s time under the, "Laban" God appoints for me, then there will form in me the life of Christ in a way that will be able to unite with Him in His church. I will be able to function IN CHRIST unto others in His Body, according to what God wants.
Have you ever realized that much of what God is doing in you is not FOR YOU? You do benefit from the freedom and move of the Spirit. But there is supposed to be an OUTFLOW to others in the Body of Christ. A ministry via the gifts of the Spirit. God needs people who are willing to submit themselves to Laban, so that, in the end, they might be spiritually adjusted to be able to be united with their true wife – the Body of Christ. Surely, we CAN settle for less than God wants on this matter. But are we willing to go all the way with God?
Back to Jacob. God allowed Laban to take advantage of Jacob. What did this do in Jacob? How did it accomplish the desire of God in Jacob?
Well, read the account of Jacob’s association with Laban. As noted earlier, no matter what Jacob did, Laban sought to take advantage of him. Laban did everything he could to keep Jacob from succeeding. Continually, he worked against Jacob, to try to get the most out of him – with the least cost to himself. Laban knew Jacob was working for Rachel, his wife to be. So he knew he could take advantage of him and Jacob would have to put up with it. All of this, incredibly, was exactly what God knew Jacob needed to be set free.
Here’s the key: Jacob found himself unable to get out from under the spirit of Laban. But as time went on, Jacob began to turn to God. Because Jacob trusted God, he ended up -- mostly during the last 6 years -- possessing most of Laban’s wealth. This was God’s doing. Jacob was starting to learn that God will us even those situations which seem to be against us, to work for us. The key is faith in God.
Of course, the material wealth wasn’t the issue. Rather, the spiritual wealth was the issue -- the spiritual wealth which comes from declaring spiritual bankruptcy before God. God was proving to Jacob, each day for twenty years, that nothing JACOB DID could prosper him. Only God could prosper him. All was of GRACE.
Remember – Jacob started out completely blind to this Truth. He thought it was up to HIM to bring to pass the promises of God. So God appointed Laban to show Jacob that nothing he did could prosper. God WORE DOWN the power of the flesh in Jacob. He learned that only if he trusted God would he prosper. And Jacob did prosper. Jacob gives this clear summary of what went on for those twenty years:
This twenty years have I been with thee; your ewes and your she goats have not cast their young, and the rams of your flock have I not eaten. That which was torn of beasts I brought not unto thee; I bare the loss of it; of my hand didst thou require it, whether stolen by day, or stolen by night. Thus I was; in the day the drought consumed me, and the frost by night; and my sleep departed from mine eyes. Thus have I been twenty years in thy house; I served thee fourteen years for thy two daughters, and six years for thy cattle: and thou hast changed my wages ten times. Except the God of my father, the God of Abraham, and the fear of Isaac, had been with me, surely you would have sent me away now empty. God hath seen mine affliction and the labor of my hands, and rebuked thee yesternight. (Gen 31:38-42)
Jacob finally got it right. He knew all was of God – and nothing he did would prosper otherwise. He was starting to see the Truth.
The lesson for us is this: God might put us under a, "Laban." But if we submit to God, and realize that we are working, "for a wife," we will respond in faith. That will result in us being reduced in our own strength, and made strong in Christ. We will end up rich spiritually, but not because of anything of ourselves. It will be because of Jesus Christ.
Does everything you try to do – in obedience and faith to God – seem to have a, "Laban," in there, to defeat it? Does it seem as if you are cursed, instead of blessed? Well, if you are obeying and believing God as much as you know, and relying upon Jesus for your sins, then it may be that God is not against you at all. He is FOR you. He is trying to wear down your flesh. Trying to reduce and deplete you. He wants to bring you to the blessed place where you will walk in full dependence and trust in Him, and will no longer try to do things in your own strength. Submit to GOD. And you’ll end up spiritually rich, in spite of your, "Laban."
When Jacob left Laban, he had become a wealthy man. He had spent twenty years under Laban, and was cheated in every way – taken full advantage of. Yet God prospered him. Jacob wasn’t home yet. But he had spent twenty years being brought to the place where he could begin his journey back home, into the will of God.
A New Name
And Jacob said, O God of my father Abraham, and God of my father Isaac, the LORD which said unto me, Return unto thy country, and to thy kindred, and I will deal well with thee: I am not worthy of the least of all the mercies, and of all the truth, which thou hast showed unto thy servant; for with my staff I passed over this Jordan; and now I am become two bands. (Gen 32:9-10)
Jacob returns home under the realization that all that has happened is by God’s hand. He has failed in every way. But God has prospered him.
There is yet the big crisis. Esau is coming out to meet Jacob, and Jacob realizes that he must face the consequences of twenty years before. He acknowledges the greatness of God, and his smallness, and asks for God’s help.
The next step in the experience of Jacob pretty much captures, or summarizes, the essence of what has been going on with him for the prior twenty years:
And Jacob was left alone; and there wrestled a man with him until the breaking of the day. And when he saw that he prevailed not against him, he touched the hollow of his thigh; and the hollow of Jacob's thigh was out of joint, as he wrestled with him. And he said, Let me go, for the day breaks. And he said, I will not let thee go, except thou bless me. And he said unto him, What is thy name? And he said, Jacob. And he said, Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel: for as a prince has you power with God and with men, and hast prevailed. And Jacob asked him, and said, Tell me, I pray thee, thy name. And he said, Wherefore is it that thou dost ask after my name? And he blessed him there. And Jacob called the name of the place Peniel: for I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved. (Gen 32:24-31)
"And Jacob was left alone…." This is the place to which all of us must come. It is the place where it is only us and God. We have NOTHING to present to God – we are alone. Indeed, this is nothing more than a return to the condition of Adam – that of being naked. It is at this point, when we are alone, and naked, that we will either confess our condition, or try to cover it again with, "fig leaves."
An angel wrestled with Jacob that night. Sure. It is ALWAYS night when that happens. Note that Jacob did not wrestle with the angel – the angel took the initiative to wrestle with him. Of course, Jacob responded. But why the wrestling? What was it all about?
Jacob had ALWAYS wrestled against God. He had ALWAYS tried to wrestle FROM GOD what God wanted to freely give him. That was Jacob's big problem. As Jacob wrestles with the angel at Peniel, he continues in this pattern. He tells the angel he won't let him go until he blesses him. He is once again trying to force the blessing through his wrestling.
The angel, on the other hand, began to wrestle with Jacob for one purpose: To get Jacob to finally GIVE UP. To get him to surrender – to STOP doing this. The angel wrestled with Jacob to bring Jacob to the end of himself – to utter exhaustion in his flesh. This was intended by God to bring him to such a defeat that he would stop wrestling with God forever.
But curiously, the angel couldn't seem to win the battle. Why? Doesn’t it seem strange that an angel of God could not defeat a man in a wrestling match?
It is not strange if we read the story. You will notice that a mere physical victory was not the goal of God. It was a moral victory that the angel was after. The angel could have physically defeated Jacob in a second. But instead, what he wanted from Jacob was a confession -- a confession by Jacob of his character.
Actually, the goal of each of the participants of this wrestling match is clearly stated. Jacob is wrestling to win a blessing from God. He says, "I won’t let you go until you bless me." The angel, on the other hand, is wrestling to get Jacob to CONFESS HIS NAME. He says, "What is your name?"
Jacob was wrestling to get from God the very thing God wanted to give him – the blessing. This is still Jacob, up to his old tricks – trying to wrestle from God what God already wants to freely give. But God was saying, "I want to give you everything you desire. But I cannot until you confess your true condition; until you confess your unworthiness for what I want to give."
One of the great ironies of the Christian walk is that you and I continually try to wrestle from God what He has already given us freely through Christ Jesus. We try to drag it down from heaven through our works, merits, and religious efforts. But God is all the while saying to us, "I have already given you what you ask. It’s just that you cannot see it until you confess who you are."
We saw this earlier. Until we see our need, we won’t see His grace. Oh, we might know the doctrines and teachings of grace, mind you. But until you see you can offer God NOTHING except the bad you are, you won’t see it. You won’t see that the only possible way in which God can bless you is entirely on the merits of His Son. So you’ll keep on wrestling. You’ll keep on begging God to bless you, and He’ll keep on asking, "What is your name?"
Jacob finally relented, and confessed his name. You will notice that at that point everything turned. God gave him a new name: Israel. Wonderfully, the one who had wrestled against God, is now given a name which means, "prevailed with God."
Note that, "prevailed with God," does not mean, "prevailed over God." No. The name, "Israel," denotes one who has been overcome BY God, and consequently, is prevailing WITH God.
Jacob thought he had to wrestle God's blessing away from God. But what he needed to do to was stop wrestling, and confess his unworthiness, and believe. None of us are able to come to this place unless we go through the same kind of spiritual experience as did Jacob. Instead of wrestling with God, we must become dependent upon Him. It took twenty years for Jacob to see this. He finally did at Peniel.
All spiritual power is directly related to my dependence upon God. All of it. To the degree that I have surrendered to God, and allowed His power to prevail over me, His power will work through me.
This is a universal axiom in the things of God. It also tells us why the Body of Christ is so weak today. Have we been conquered BY God? Have we confessed OUR name? If not, we cannot expect to have a new name. We cannot operate in much real power.
The wrestling match, as mentioned, is a summarization of the twenty years Jacob has spent, since he stole the birthright. He wrestled, in an attempt to get for himself what God has promised by grace. And God had to put him through a situation where he was brought to nothing; to repentance. Once he confessed what he was, God gave him a new name.
God crippled Jacob. This was necessary, and actually resulted in Jacob's confession and surrender. God must touch our flesh in a way that will forever hamper it's strength, and will forever hinder any wrestling we might do with God. Thus, it was a good thing. It is a blessing to have God so touch your flesh that every time you try to wrestle again, you will only be able to limp along. This is REDUCTION and a work of the Cross.
Jacob would never be perfect, of course, but he would never wrestle God again. He couldn’t. He was crippled. God had to touch him in a way that forever broke his pension for wrestling with God. It was THIS that enabled God to name him, "Israel."
Paul the apostle said, with regards to his own infirmity:
For this thing I besought the Lord three times, that it might depart from me. And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ's sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong. (2 Cor 12:8-10)
Can we see that Paul is not wrestling with God? No. He has prevailed with God OVER the thing which would otherwise have conquered him. But how did he prevail with God? By allowing God to prevail over him. Paul, like Jacob, allowed God to do whatever was necessary in his life, so that he could experience more and more of His grace. This always means weakness in us, but strength in God.
As mentioned earlier, these things are not merely doctrines to believe in. Neither are they accomplished in us because we say we want them accomplished. To become strong in God, and weak in ourselves, requires DEALING IN THE HOLY SPIRIT. It will not be fun. It will strike at the heart and core of what makes you and I tick – as religious people.
Do you and I want to be strong in the power of Christ? Then we must become weak in ourselves. We must become DEPENDENT. We must, "limp" along in our own strength. This is necessary so that we won’t wrestle with God and mess up His work in us. But in the end, we will rejoice in the words, "My grace is sufficient for you."
When Jacob became Israel it was not only a tremendous victory for God. It was a tremendous victory for Jacob. For in that God had slowly wore him down, and then finally prevailed over him, he could now be called by the name, ISRAEL, which means – one who prevails with God. This is God’s goal today for each one of His people, and for His collective Body. *
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