EXAMPLES FROM THE PAST
By Orville Freestone
JACOB – A DIVIDED HEART
“Unite my heart to fear thy name” Ps. 86:11.
Jacob’s life was turbulent and most of his troubles were self-made. He had a heart for God, but also a strong will to “get ahead in life.” His heart was divided. His two names, Jacob and Israel, indicate this duality. He was named Jacob – supplanter – at birth because he and his twin Esau “struggled” in the womb before and at birth. (Gen. 25:24-26) For many years he struggled to supplant his brother as the first-born. The tragedy was he didn’t have to vie for this place as God had promised it to him. (Gen. 25:23) He acquired the name Israel – Prince of God – when the Angel of the Lord finally subdued both his body and spirit. (Gen. 32: 24-32).
One of his “sharp business deals” was when he took advantage of his brother’s fatigue to bargain a meal for his birthright. To be fair, Esau little valued the birthright, in fact he “despised” it (Gen. 25:34) though later he regretted the deal. (Heb. 12:16-17) The birthright was not only for the family property, but included the patriarchal blessing. These blessings were highly valued and in the cases of Esau and Jacob they were prophetic. By subterfuge and lies Jacob and his mother cheated Esau of the blessing. (Gen. 27) This was unnecessary as it was God who would grant it. This caused such bitterness that Jacob had to go into exile. He never saw his mother again!
Under the guise of seeking a wife (he acquired two), Jacob fled to Syria to escape Esau’s murderous intent. (Gen. 27:41) It was a long journey from the Negeb of Canaan to Padan-Aram in what is today southwestern Turkey, on the Euphrates river. Jacob walked the whole distance camping in the open. We do not read of God appearing to Esau or that he even had a bent toward God. He did appear to Jacob in a dream at the place later called Bethel, He saw a staircase to heaven with the Lord at the top who assured him of protection and blessing.
In his uncle Laban Jacob found his scheming equal. First Laban switched brides, claiming custom. (Gen. 29:26) Then he changed Jacob’s wages “ten times.” (Gen. 31:41) By hard work and selective breeding Jacob increased his cattle. Every time Laban sought to take advantage of Jacob God blessed Jacob and he acknowledged that. (Gen. 31:42)
After twenty years the Lord again appeared to Jacob and told him to return home. (Gen. 31:13) This time he did not travel alone. He had two wives, two concubines, eleven children and much cattle. The nearer they came to Canaan the more his conscience bothered him and the more he dreaded meeting his brother Esau even fearing him. It was then that one of the strangest events of scripture occurred. (Gen. 32:24-32) He was attacked in the middle of the night and until daybreak. Finally Jacob realized that he was wrestling with the Angel of the Lord and he received from Him a new name, Israel, and God’s blessing. Why such a strange encounter? God was dramatically showing him that all his life he had not only been struggling within himself, but also with God. Now Jacob was a changed man., Now he was ready to meet Esau. When he returned to Bethel and worshiped he called the place El-Bethel, the God of God’s house. He had come to know God.
For the rest of his life he was Israel. But the results of his earlier life followed him. He was troubled by his wayward sons and grieved over the loss of Joseph. But finally, his heart was no longer divided. He could live in peace. God would now be known as the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Joseph’s eleven brothers were reconciled to Joseph and they became the twelve patriarchs of the twelve tribes of Israel.