Victory with God: A Lesson from the Life of Jacob

by | Apr 24, 2024 | Expository

Have you ever felt the weight of your past actions looming over you like a dark cloud? Have you ever felt like God was calling you to change your path, yet found yourself feeling trapped, unsure of how to proceed? You are not alone. Many have faced similar struggles, including Jacob, whose story we will explore today.

Recently, I took a deeper look at Jacob’s life, and this time, a particular lesson emerged that flowed throughout his whole narrative. So, let’s examine Jacob’s life experiences to uncover what we can learn about how surrendering to God can lead us toward a life marked unburdened by regret and filled with stability and peace.

Jacob’s Beginnings: Deception & Struggle

Jacob was a trickster. He lived his life by taking risks, and because of this, he was often just a few steps away from complete and utter failure. Rather than going to God for help, Jacob would use every tool he had to get the upper hand in his relationships with others, often turning them into disasters, which he quickly had to run from.

Jacob took advantage of his brother Esau’s foolishness, he took advantage of his father’s disabilities, and he misused his family’s reputation to get a job, a wife, and a place to live with Laban. Jacob was a man who ran from his problems, and he always chose the path that he thought would get him to what he wanted as quickly as possible, regardless of the possible consequences of his actions.

Jacob’s Reckoning: A Realization of Consequences

Eventually, Jacob discovered that this lifestyle was not the best path for him to choose. He ends up exploited by his employer, tricked into a bad deal where he marries the wrong woman and ends up suffering daily in Laban’s house as he is forced to work in the winter’s freezing cold and the summer’s blaring heat. God had promised Rachel that Jacob would receive a greater blessing than Esau, but rather than trusting in God’s timing, Jacob tried to rush God’s plan to bless him by using lies, tricks, and a hasty escape.

Jacob’s choice to try to forge his own path to blessings leads to his eventual crisis, during which he carries a large debt of paranoia and regret that he has built up over his lifetime. After betraying his brother, offending his father, abandoning his family, finding conflict with his father-in-law, and destroying his marital relationships, Jacob comes face to face with the consequences of his actions.

Jacob’s Turning Point: Reflection

In Genesis 32, we see Jacob reach a turning point. His past has caught up with him, and he is no longer able to run away from the consequences of his actions. He had just had a confrontation with Laban, which led to them permanently parting ways and agreeing never to meet again, and he was now about to face his brother Esau, whom he had planned to avoid for the rest of his life.

The last time Jacob saw his brother, he had just betrayed him, taken everything he had, and abandoned the family. As a result of Jacob’s betrayal, Esau promised to kill Jacob the next time he had an opportunity.

Jacob has now found himself in a crisis situation; he can’t run back to Laban, and he feels like he can’t crawl forward and confront his brother, either. However, we will soon learn that God has a plan for Jacob that involves a drastic character change.

Jacob’s Transformation: A New Identity

At the beginning of the chapter, God sent angelic messengers to Jacob, whose purpose is not explicitly revealed. Jacob, in turn, sends messengers to his brother Esau. Jacob anxiously awaits Esau’s response and is terrified when he is informed that Esau will be coming to meet him with four hundred men. As a result of this news, Jacob fears for his life and the lives of his family.

“And the messengers returned to Jacob, saying, We came to thy brother Esau, and also he cometh to meet thee, and four hundred men with him. Then Jacob was greatly afraid and distressed: and he divided the people that was with him, and the flocks, and herds, and the camels, into two bands; And said, If Esau come to the one company, and smite it, then the other company which is left shall escape.”
Genesis 32:6-8

Desperate to appease his brother and survive, Jacob separates his family and belongings into two groups, hoping that at least one group will escape unharmed. It is a bleak outlook. Jacob’s best hope is that a mere half of his household will survive the consequences of his actions. He sends gifts to his brother to give one last attempt to satiate his anger. In this attempt, he surrenders himself and offers to be Esau’s servant despite having the birthright to be Esau’s lord and master. Although he give his best effort, Jacob remains uncertain if his plan will work and is not confident that Esau will accept his surrender.

"And Jacob said, O God of my father Abraham, and God of my father Isaac, the LORD which saidst 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 shewed unto thy servant; for with my staff I passed over this Jordan; and now I am become two bands. Deliver me, I pray thee, from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau: for I fear him, lest he will come and smite me, [and] the mother with the children."
Genesis 32:9-11

During this time of uncertainty, Jacob finally turns to God in prayer for the first time. Previously he had only interacted with God when God chose to talk to him. He acknowledges that for all these years, he has been acting without God’s guidance and that he is unworthy of the mercy God has shown him in his self-driven endeavors. He pleads for deliverance, not only for himself but also for his family. Jacob finally acknowledges that God has been more kind and faithful than he deserves, given his past of deceit and manipulation. Jacob felt entitled to blessings through the birthright and the prophecy, yet now he acknowledges that what he truly needed all along was humility and reverence for the God from whom those blessings came.

“And Jacob was left alone; and there wrestled a man with him until the breaking of the day.”
Genesis 32:24

As the story unfolds, Jacob finds himself alone, wrestling with a mysterious figure who turns out to be God himself. While the struggle is physical, it also represents a spiritual and emotional battle. Throughout Jacob’s life, he has been wrestling with God’s will, and now, he is given the opportunity to confront this struggle head-on in a physical wrestling match.

“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 breaketh. 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 hast thou 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.
Genesis 32:25-29

Despite the night-long battle, Jacob demands a blessing from God. In this pivotal moment, God gives Jacob a new identity, renaming him Israel, which means "God Prevails" or "The One Who Struggled With God." This new name signifies a transformation in Jacob’s life, as Jacob transitions from a man who constantly wrestles with God’s will to one who has wrestled with God and emerged changed.

“And Jacob called the name of the place Peniel: for I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved. And as he passed over Penuel the sun rose upon him, and he halted upon his thigh.”
Genesis 32:30-31

The encounter leaves Jacob with a dislocated hip, a constant reminder of the lesson he learned that night. Jacob’s victory came only when he stopped fighting against God and surrendered to Him. He started as an independent man who relied on his own trickery to get ahead, but through this encounter, he transformed into a dependent individual, humbled by a lesson he would never forget.

God had let Jacob wrestle with Him the entire night, but at the breaking of day, God stopped holding back and showed him who was really in control. In a show of power, God uses a simple movement to dislocate Jacob’s hip and destroy his tendon. It was a physical expression of what God had been doing in Jacob’s life all along. For years, God had let Jacob do what he wanted and fight against His will. Jacob thought he was winning, but God was simply allowing the struggle to continue. At any point, God could have humbled Jacob, but he allowed him to find the end of the path he was on and the consequences that awaited him there.

Eventually, Jacob’s path led him to a place of brokenness and hopelessness, a place where the errors of his ways were made clear, and he was forced to confront God in a moment of desperation. We, too, can find ourselves in this position when we stray from God’s will. When we wander away from God, we will eventually find ourselves at a dead-end with no way forward. It is at this point where God is waiting to teach us a valuable lesson, and it’s not always a lesson free of consequences.

For Jacob, that consequence came in the form of a limp. Throughout the remainder of his life, Jacob’s limp would be a constant reminder of his encounter with God and the importance of surrendering to His will. This physical limitation forced Jacob to rely on others and, more importantly, rely on God. Due to the torn tendon, Jacob literally could not run away from his problems anymore; in fact, Jacob wouldn’t be able to run at all, and he was forced to lean on others for help.

Jacob’s Lesson for Us

We, too, can learn valuable lessons from Jacob’s story. Instead of waiting for life to corner us as Jacob did, we should humbly surrender to God and seek His guidance. We must not attempt to walk each day in our own way because that often leads to heartache and pain. But to surrender to God’s guidance and wait on His timing. By surrendering to God, we open ourselves to His wisdom and allow Him to lead us down the good path.

Don’t wait until you’ve reached a dead end, find God now, and make sure you are leaning on Him. At the end of a sinful path, there is only regret and no path forward. Let’s not waste time pushing ourselves down a path we were never meant to walk. One way or another, we must turn back to God; the only question is when and how much are we willing to lose to go on a just little bit further?

“Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.”
Proverbs 3:5-6

Subscribe To Nerd in the Word

Subscribe To Nerd in the Word

We'll send an email to you to let you know when new articles are available.

It's free and you can cancel at any time.

Visit Subscription Page

You have Successfully Subscribed!