The Complicated But Relatable Life of Jacob
The biblical character of Jacob has an incredibly complex story arc full of twists and turns. Though flawed and deceitful at times, Jacob is also profoundly relatable in his struggle to find identity, purpose, and connection with God. His life illustrates the differences between transactional religion versus transformational faith.
Introduction to a Complicated Man
Kyle Cunningham introduces Jacob as a trickster and younger twin driven by competition with his brother Esau. The preacher compares Jacob’s complexity to the character development in shows like Breaking Bad. Even from birth when Jacob grabbed Esau’s heel, their rivalry was foreshadowed.
Jacob seeks blessing through deception
In two infamous episodes, Jacob schemes to steal what he desires from Esau. First, Jacob exploits Esau’s hunger after hunting to trade food for his birthright as firstborn son. While Esau is portrayed negatively for his impulsiveness, Jacob still acts questionably by taking advantage.
Later, with his mother Rebecca’s help, Jacob outright deceives their aging, blind father Isaac into giving him Esau’s blessing. Esau was due the customary blessing as firstborn, but crafty Jacob hijacks it instead. Jacob’s blessings are gained through dubious means.
Behind Jacob’s motivations
Jacob’s questionable behavior stems from a deeper desire – craving the affirmation of his father and culture. He appears driven by powerful human motivations. When this fuels Jacob’s attempts to “bless himself,” it leaves him literally running for his life from Esau’s rage.
Jacob also relates to God transactionally, viewing Him as merely his ancestors’ God, not his own. Jacob lacks a personal spiritual life and connection to Yahweh. His true inner need is for a Heavenly Father’s love and validation.
Despite Jacob’s early scheming, God meets him graciously in a divine dream. He promises Jacob innumerable descendants who will bless the whole earth. God insists He is with Jacob and will protect and fulfill all He has said, reiterating the covenant promises made to Abraham and Isaac.
Yet Jacob awakens still operating by transactional assumptions. He interprets the unconditional grace of God’s dream as conditional upon Jacob’s worship and tithing. Many today slip into this “if-then” bargaining posture with God. But real relationship with God transcends exchanging transactions.
Jacob continues relying on his old patterns of maneuvering for success and affirmation. Despite new marriages and material gains, internally Jacob remains unsatisfied and repeats past behaviors. Even decades later, with Jacob now fleeing his father-in-law Laban, God finally gets hold of him.
Alone and empty-handed, Jacob encounters a “man” who is clearly God appearing. They wrestle intensely all night until the man wounds Jacob’s hip. Jacob persists in demanding a blessing, refusing to let go without it. The man gives Jacob a new name, Israel, indicating his transformation.
Though mysterious, this story depicts a genuine divine encounter. Unlike the romanticized versions we imagine, biblical meetings with God leave people limping and confused. Jacob is finally wrestling with his relationship with God, not just human opponents. This struggle delivers the radical change that eluded Jacob before.
Called to a New Identity
To walk with a limp like Jacob implies a new identity in Christ. When we are baptized into faith, we become completely new creations spiritually. Our old self dies with Jesus on the cross; our new self rises with Him. This requires embracing a redefined name and purpose. Suffering as our teacher.
Walking with a limp also means recognizing hardship as our instructor to dependence on God. Modern Christians often expect a prosperity gospel with no suffering. But for saints throughout history, including Christ, immense pain paved the way to greater reliance on God. American Christians must reframe suffering as purifying our faith, not eliminating it.
Expecting ongoing transformation
Finally, we cannot settle for one-time conversion without continuing change. Even longtime Christians must seek renewal by God’s Spirit. Ask yourself honestly – do you walk daily in God’s power? Do you regularly see people come to Christ through you? Do you allow God to challenge you and expose lingering sin?
Jacob’s story reminds us to open ourselves continually to being reshaped and used by God. Though He works through imperfect vessels, God redeems our flaws for His glory. Despite Jacob’s duplicity, God transformed him into a patriarch of His chosen nation. God can work similarly in us when we wrestle honestly with Him.
Jacob’s complicated arc illustrates the difference between surface-level religion and deeply spiritual relationship with God. His life models both our human struggle for purpose and the process of redemption. By persevering through the refining fires of suffering, Jacob emerged wholeheartedly devoted to God. His limping, tenacious faith maps the journey we all must take.