Reaping What You Sow

Jacob Wrestles Angel

by Lois Tverberg

So Jacob said to Pharaoh, ‘The years of my sojourning are one hundred and thirty; few and unpleasant have been the years of my life, nor have they attained the years that my fathers lived during the days of their sojourning.’
– Genesis 47:9

Many people struggle with the idea that God would work out his plans to establish a nation through the deceitful actions of Jacob. Jacob used a weak moment to barter his brother Esau’s birthright away from him, and he deceived his father into giving him his brother’s blessing. Did God bless his unethical behavior?

Interestingly, his life story shows that his scheming often came back to haunt him. It is most obvious in one case – he used his father’s blindness to substitute himself for his brother, to steal his blessing; but he also was deceived by “blindness” too when on his wedding night, Leah was substituted for her sister Rachel. This is called “measure for measure” by the rabbis – that because he used blindness to deceive, God let him be deceived in the same way.

Jacob Wrestles AngelThroughout Jacob’s life, we see that although God is fulfilling his promise to him to give him a family, Jacob does not have the peace that his father and grandfather did. He had to leave his home for fear that his angry brother would kill him and work many years for his crafty uncle. He lost his beloved wife Rachel at a young age and believed that he had lost his favorite son Joseph for many years too. Even Jacob’s suffering over Joseph was brought on by his sons’ terrible jealousy because of his obvious favoritism toward Joseph.

While Abraham “died at a good, ripe age, old and contented” (Gen. 25:8), and Isaac also died at “a ripe old age” (Gen. 35:29), that is not said about Jacob. Instead, Jacob told Pharoah that the years of his life had been “few and unpleasant” (Gen. 47:9). From the time that he deceived his father until the end of his days, his life had been full of trials, many of them brought on himself.

We can learn a lesson through this – that God is faithful and merciful to us who are under his blessing, but he usually refrains from sparing us from the earthly consequences of our sins. We should live wisely knowing that although we are under God’s forgiveness, how we act toward others will have a large impact on the way our lives play out.

*This article was based on an essay in “Understanding Genesis”, by Nahum Sarna, Shocken Books 1966, p. 183.


An Unlikely Choice

by Lois Tverberg

Then God appeared to Jacob again when he came from Paddan-aram, and He blessed him. God said to him, “Your name is Jacob;You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel shall be your name.” Thus He called him Israel. God also said to him,”I am God Almighty; be fruitful and multiply; a nation and a company of nations shall come from you, and kings shall come forth from you. – Genesis 35:9-11

Throughout the stories of the patriarchs of Israel, we see a recurring theme – that God is utterly sovereign over the choice of each ancestor of Israel. Sarah became pregnant in a semi-miraculous way when she was well beyond childbearing, after many doubts and attempts to help God through human means. Only after God came to visit with the announcement did it happen. And, it was only after Abraham was circumcised, a physical reminder and covenantal sign to show that the children that he fathered were the fulfillment of God’s promise of descendants.

Isaac and JacobThis theme of God’s sovereign choice recurs in the lives of Isaac and Rebekah, when Rebekah also struggles to bear children. Only through prayer was she able to conceive, showing God’s hand in the process. And then God declared that the younger son, Jacob, would be the one He had chosen. If the twins were born only a little differently, Jacob would have been the firstborn and would have been the obvious heir according to the established tradition. Much of the story of Jacob’s life, of his bartering for the birthright and stealing of his father’s blessing would not have been needed. But these stories underline the fact that he was not, by human standards, supposed to be the heir. He wasn’t strong and warrior-like like his brother Esau, the hunter. He wasn’t his father’s choice, which in that society would have made the decision certain. He wasn’t even especially moral, which we see from his scheming ways to get ahead.

God’s grace is certainly at its greatest in the choice of Jacob. But we see later that over Jacob’s life he grows into being a man of faith, when he has grown old and seen God’s sovereign hand over his life. And through him he fathers the twelve tribes of Israel, through which the whole world would be blessed. That should give us great encouragement, that God chooses each one of us, many of us against all the odds and not showing any worthiness. But once he has chosen us, his plans are far beyond anything we could ever imagine.