By Jewel Roque
Jacob’s smooth talking and timely cooking deceptively earned him the birthright of a firstborn son. Following his mother’s advice and dressing up like his brother got him the special blessing usually only given to the first son:
“God will bless you, my son, with dew from heaven and with fertile fields, rich with grain and grapes. Nations will be your servants and bow down to you. You will rule over your brothers, and they will kneel at your feet. Anyone who curses you will be cursed; anyone who blesses you will be blessed.”3
Looks like Jacob is all set. He got the birthright. He got the blessing.
However, things didn’t turn out quite the way he expected. Within a short time of receiving his blessing, he was essentially an outcast, escaping for his very survival, his brother breathing out threats of hatred and revenge. He left for a land he’d never been to—the home of his mother’s relatives, not knowing what awaitedhim there. All the unexpected difficulties he was facing must have come together to form a gigantic question mark in his mind as he headed out alone.
He stopped to rest for the night—the clothes he wore his only cover, a stone his pillow, the ground his bed. He fell asleep in weariness of body and emptiness of soul.
And there he dreamt of a ladder that stretched all the way to heaven. Of angels ascending and descending to and from the presence of the Lord. God then speaks and gives Jacob a promise:
“I am the LORD God who was worshiped by Abraham and Isaac. I will give to you and your family the land on which you are now sleeping. Your descendants will spread over the earth in all directions and will become as numerous as the specks of dust. Your family will be a blessing to all people. Wherever you go, I will watch over you, then later I will bring you back to this land. I won’t leave you—I will do all I have promised.”4
When Jacob awakes, he says, “The Lord is in this place, and I didn’t even know it.”5
The beautiful truth that we often fail to see is that the Lord is in every place. In every difficult experience. In every trying relationship. In every hard-to-understand individual. In every lonely place. In every tear we shed.
He is there, reaching out, making Himself known through His expressions of love. A hopeful thought. An encouraging dream. A motivational word. A heart-warming hug. An unexpected friendship.
In every moment that we find hope, and in each instance we feel grace, Christ is there saying, “I am with you in this place, and you are not alone.”
Like Jacob, we might have done something that causes us to fear that we’ve fallen from grace, or that a dark spot is etched on our eternal record. But if you open your heart to His Word, you’ll find that Jesus is right there, whispering to your heart that there is a time to every purpose and season under heaven—even the difficult ones.6
After all, He, whose essence is love, is the one who is present at every moment of your life. He is with you always, even to the end of the age, promising to bring life to every perceived death and bringing forth rainbows through the storm clouds.
After hearing God’s promise, Jacob took his stone-pillow and set it up as a sort of altar. He then made a vow of his own, back to the Lord:
“If God will be with me and will watch over me on this journey I am taking and will give me food to eat and clothes to wear so that I return safely to my father’s household, then the LORD will be my God and this stone that I have set up as a pillar will be God’s house, and of all that you give me I will give you a tenth.”7
It sounds like he wasn’t fully convinced, even after his vision of heavenly things. Aren’t we like that sometimes? We receive a promise or an answer to prayer, we see a miracle, or something turns out just the way we had hoped, and yet we’re still not quite sure that God has it all figured out from beginning to end.
The amazing thing is, He takes us where we’re at and continually encourages us to follow, to increase our faith by keeping our eyes on Him and following Him step by step. As we do so, we discover that He does make good on His promises. We will be able to say, with Joshua, “You know with all your heart and soul that not one of all the good promises the LORD your God gave you has failed. Every promise has been fulfilled; not one has failed.”8
After Jacob had lived and worked for his uncle Laban for twenty years, he began the journey back to his father’s house. Jacob can almost picture the look on his father’s face, his joy in having him home again. But what of his brother?
Esau had vowed to kill him and clearly had wanted him dead. Had the two decades done anything to assuage his promise of vengeance? Suddenly, the future had never looked so uncertain, especially when after sending word to Esau of his return, Jacob hears that Esau is coming to meet him … with 400 men!
Jacob prays: “I am unworthy of all the kindness and faithfulness you have shown your servant. Save me, I pray, from the hand of my brother Esau, for I am afraid he will come and attack me, and also the mothers with their children. But you have said, ‘I will surely make you prosper and will make your descendants like the sand of the sea, which cannot be counted.’”9
He reminds God of the promises He had made; but, fearing that those promises might not be enough, he makes plans. He prepares a gift for his brother, Esau: 220 goats, 220 sheep, 30 female camels with their young, 50 cows, and 30 donkeys. Jacob sends these flocks, with their caretakers, in the direction of his quickly approaching brother, hoping that perhaps these gifts will suffice to appease Esau and keep him from doing them harm. Then Jacob sends his wives and sons and all his belongings across the stream of Jabbok. Now he’s alone, fearful, and realizes that there is nothing more he can do to plan and prepare and work things out.
He begins to wrestle with God once more, and this time, it wasn’t just in prayer. The Bible tells us “a man wrestled with him until daybreak.” It wasn’t just a man. And Jacob refuses to let go, and even when his hip is wrenched out of its socket, he holds on tightly. The figure commands, “Let me go, for it is daybreak.” Jacob’s answer? “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”10
Twenty years earlier, Jacob received the blessing he had so long sought … through deception and lies. This time, he received the blessing he sought through holding on until morning, through wrestling past the point of exhaustion, through refusing to let go. Jacob not only received the blessing, but his name was changed to Israel—“a prince of God.”11 But it wasn’t an easy victory, and Jacob limped for the rest of his life.
For so long, his life had been about calculating his next move, making decisions that would position him to come out on top. But this time, it had to be about clinging, holding on, even wrestling—not with man, but with God—and coming to realize that there’s only one way to win a decisive victory.—Through the power and blessings of God, which come only in His time and in His way.
There’s no way of knowing Jacob’s mindset that night, but his life was never the same again. Perhaps that dislocated hip served as a reminder, for the rest of his life, of that strange and mysterious night. And no doubt it was another step on the road to faith in the God who always kept His promise to be with him every step of the way.
I would venture to say that we all to some extent have that part of our nature that wants to have everything figured out. We want to be assured somehow that everything will work out as we hope and plan and dream for our future. However, God doesn’t work that way.
We may wrestle with God, trying to convince Him of our plans and how we think things should work. But it’s only when our strength wanes and our arguments prove vain, at the dawning of a new morning, that we finally come to the realization that it’s not our plans that will come to fruition. It’s not our dreams that will glide beautifully across a golden sea. It’s not our strategies that will win the victory.
It’s all about Him and the plans He has for our lives—the one whose promise never falters, no matter how grave the circumstances might appear to be. When He says, “Wherever you go, I will watch over you. I won’t leave you—I will do all I have promised,”12 we need to just trust, believe, and hold on to His promises.
And God’s eternal promises and His plans for our future are better than our own plans any day.13
2 Genesis 27:26.
3 Genesis 27:28–29 CEV.
4 Genesis 28:13–15 CEV.
5 Genesis 28:16.
6 Ecclesiastes 3:1.
7 Genesis 28:20–22 NIV.
8 Joshua 23:14 NIV.
9 Genesis 32:9–12 NIV.
10 Genesis 32:24, 26.
11 Genesis 32:28.
12 Genesis 28:15 NIV.