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January 25 Chronological Bible Study

Timeline. Map. Go to today’s Bible reading (NIV) or alternate versions (use your browser arrow to return): Genesis 31:1–33:15

The End of Struggling

There is a philosophy which says you need to fight to get what you want in this life. This is a philosophy which the Biblical patriarch Jacob embraced. But, is it 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, Jacob and his mother deceived his blind father into blessing Jacob instead of Esau. How did that work out for him? He stole his blessing but Esau hated him and threatened to kill him. His mother convinced Isaac to send Jacob away to protect her beloved son.

Jacob fled to the household of his mother's brother, Laban. Jacob was to learn a difficult lesson here, 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 discovered 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 herds of sheep.

In today's Bible reading we see Laban’s sons are jealous of how the LORD blesses Jacob, and they accuse him of stealing from their father. They share their suspicions with their father, and his manner towards Jacob changes. Then the LORD says 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 then 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 has been merciful and gracious to Jacob. For twenty years he has learned difficult 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, although 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 consequences.

Finally, because of the discord and bad feelings between them, Jacob and Laban set up a heap of stones as a border which both agree not to cross. This is a visual testament to stay away from 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. 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 the Almighty for help. How does that help come?

His help comes from a wrestling match. Jacob physically wrestles with an unidentified man all night until the break of dawn. The struggle is a stalemate until the man supernaturally cripples him. Realizing that he is not fighting just a man but God (probably a pre-incarnate appearance of Jesus Christ), Jacob clings to him and asks this supernatural man to bless him.

We do not fight physically with the Almighty, 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 the LORD 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? He gives him a better name. No longer will Jacob be the deceiver and supplanter, but because he clings to the supernatural man and asks for his blessing, his name is changed to Israel which means “God fights.” This is probably the time of Jacob’s conversion to faith in God. Now the LORD will fight for Jacob and his family.

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 a company of 400 men. Will Esau finally get his revenge or will God defend Jacob? Jacob does some wise things to soften any animosity which Esau may feel.

  • He sends a messenger ahead to prepare Esau for his visit, asking for his favor.
  • Jacob prepares his family for a possible attack from Esau.
  • He asks God for help (the LORD fights for him now).
  • Jacob sends gifts to his older 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 consequences.
  • 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 the LORD and ask him to bless us. (more...)
  • The Almighty 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.

Focus Verse

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

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A Look Ahead: Bad habits are hard to break. In our next Bible reading Jacob makes A Costly Mistake. Some mistakes are not easily erased. How can we prevent this from happening to us? Find out in our Next Lesson.

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