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January 25 Chronological Bible Study

Timeline. Map. Go to today’s Bible reading: Genesis 31:1- 33:15

The End of Struggling

There is a philosophy that says you need to fight to get what you want in this life. That is a philosophy that Jacob, the Biblical patriarch, embraced. But, is this philosophy always right? Is there a better way? This is what we will be looking at in today's Bible study.

Jacob connived for his brother's birthright, the right to get a double portion of his father's wealth. When the time came for Isaac to bless his firstborn to receive his birthright, Jacob and his mother deceived his blind father into blessing Jacob instead of Esau. How did that work out for him? He got his blessing but Esau hated him and threatened to kill him. His mother convinced Isaac to send Jacob away to protect her beloved son.

He fled to the household of his mother's brother, Laban. Jacob was to learn a difficult lesson there, for the deceiver became the deceived. He fell in love with Rachel, one of his uncle Laban's daughters, and worked for him seven years to marry her. Then, the morning after his wedding night, to his great astonishment, he discovers her sister Leah in his bed instead of Rachel. Jacob was deceived by his father-in-law into taking Leah as his first wife and was tricked into working seven more years in exchange for Rachel. Afterwards, there was a competition between the two sisters for their husbands affections, and they and their handmaids bore Jacob many children. And, during this time, his employer, Laban, was cheating him of his profits and wages. Things were not going well for Jacob. The deceiver became the deceived and much trouble came to him. Nevertheless, God was gracious and blessed Jacob, regardless of his father-in-laws malicious actions. Jacob was blessed with many children and great flocks and herds.

In today's reading we learn that Laban’s sons are jealous of how the LORD blesses Jacob, and they accuse him of stealing from their father. Apparently, they share their suspicions with their father, for his demeanor toward Jacob changes. Then the LORD said to Jacob, "Go back to the land of your fathers and to your relatives, and I will be with you," (Genesis 31:3, NIV)." The patriarch informs his wives of his plans to leave. His wives agree that they no longer have any inheritance with their father and, in fact, he is alienating himself from them (Genesis 31:15). God is merciful and gracious to Jacob. For twenty years he learns hard lessons about life and now God wants him to go home. But go home to what? Is Esau still ready to kill him?

Jacob poorly handles the departure from his in-laws. He deceives his uncle Laban by secretly stealing away with his family and livestock. Once again, Jacob does the right thing but in the wrong way. Whether we have to part from family members or employers because of abuse, we must do things graciously and not vindictively. Vindictiveness leads to more problems, and sometimes it leads to violence or lawsuits. Laban and his relatives pursue Jacob and accuse him of carrying off his daughters like prisoners without the opportunity of saying goodbye, and stealing his household gods. Rachel’s father wasted their inheritance, so she stole her father’s precious idols of worship. Jacob does not know this, however and is enraged that his father accuses him of stealing them. Jacob vows that if Laban finds any of them in his possession, whoever has them will die. Had Rachel, his favorite wife, not hid them she would have died. Nevertheless, though she got away with it, it was wrong to steal from her father. Stealing from one’s family members or employers can lead to serious repercussions.

Finally, because of the discord and bad feelings between them, Jacob and Laban set up a heap of stones as a border that both agree not to cross. This was a visual testament to stay away from each other and do no more harm to each other. Laban is then allowed to kiss his family goodbye and send them away in peace.

Leaving the problem of his relative Laban, however, does not end Jacob’s troubles. For what is he to do now? By the direction of God he is to return to his own family…and Esau, who had threatened his life because Jacob stole his birthright. God does not want us to escape the problems we cause; he wants us to face them. Jacob comes to the end of himself. Like many of us who struggle and come to the end of our own devices, he pleads with God for help. How did that help come?

Jacob wrestles with God. Jacob physically wrestles with an unidentified man all night until the break of dawn. It seems that Jacob fights with a pre-incarnate appearance of Jesus Christ. The struggle is a stalemate until the man supernaturally cripples him. Realizing that he is not fighting just a man but God, Jacob clings to him and asks this supernatural man to bless him. We do not fight physically with God, but there is often a spiritual wrestling within us and with God when we come to the end of our resources. When we realize we cannot save ourselves, we cling in desperation to God and ask him to bless us. Have we done that? God offers us spiritual life, forgiveness, peace, and his blessings (more...).

How does God bless Jacob? God changes his name. No longer will Jacob be Jacob the deceiver and supplanter, but because he clings to God and asks for his blessing, his name is change to Israel which means “God fights.” This is probably the time of Jacob’s conversion to faith in God. Now God will help fight for Jacob and his family. Have you come to the end of yourself? Have you clung to God in desperation and asked him to save you? God offers us deliverance from our sins and our own devices if we trust him, and then he changes our name from sinner to saint. Saint is a Biblical name for those who trust in Christ for their salvation. We call saints “Christians” in today’s vernacular.

It is now time for Jacob to face Esau. He is coming with an entourage of 400 men. Will Esau finally get his revenge or will God defend Jacob? Jacob does some wise things to soften any animosity that Esau may feel. Jacob sends a messenger ahead to prepare Esau for his visit, asking for his favor. He also prepares his family for a possible attack from Esau. He asks God for help (God fights for him now). He sends gifts to his brother. He gives honor to his brother, referring to himself as Esau’s servant and to Esau as “my lord” (Genesis 32:3-5,13-18). This true story gives us some clues on how we might heal offenses with family members. We need to set the stage for asking for forgiveness and prove that we really do value those whom we have offended. Things may not work out as well for us as they did for Jacob; resentment, hatred and bitterness are hard to overcome. Time is a healer of wounds, however, and if we trust God to help us, and we exercise lots of patience, love and forbearance, our relationships may be restored.

Lessons to live by:

  • Let God fight for you. Vindictiveness leads to problems, and sometimes it leads to violence or lawsuits.
  • It is wrong to steal from one’s family members or employers, and it could lead to serious repercussions.
  • God does not want us to escape the problems we cause; he wants us to face them.
  • There is often a spiritual wrestling within us and with God when we come to the end of our resources. When we realize we cannot save ourselves then we cling in desperation to God and ask him to bless us. (more...)
  • God offers us deliverance from our sins and our own devices if we trust him for our salvation. He then changes our name from sinner to saint.
  • If we trust God to help us, and we exercise lots of patience, love and forbearance, our relationships may be restored.

Today’s Bible memory verse:

Psalm 135:14 “For the LORD will vindicate his people and have compassion on his servants.” (NIV)

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