I take comfort in the story of Jacob, that deeply flawed son of Isaac. A cagey liar, an ambitious schemer, yes. And yet, God worked through him, as God can work through us all. A few lessons I’ve taken from Jacob’s story:
God appears in places where you don’t expect Him.
Jacob was on the run after robbing his twin brother Esau of his birthright. He had left the safety of his father’s domain and set out to find a wife. The sun had set, and he took a rock as a pillow.
Then he has a magnificent dream. He sees a ladder with angels ascending and descending on it, a highway to and from heaven. God appears right there, standing next to him, exclaiming, “Know that I am with you and will keep you where you go…” He’s given another chance. Like us all.
Make your promises back to God.
Jacob is pretty shaken up after that dream. “Surely the Lord is in this place,” he says, “and I did not know it.” He is afraid, but he doesn’t run away.
If God will stick by his side and provide for him on the journey and bring him back safely to his father’s house, he will give back to God a tenth of all his belongings, and he’ll make that stone a pillar for God’s house. He matches God’s promise with a promise of his own.
“Here I am,” can be our best prayer.
Jacob falls in love with Rachel, but her father Laban makes him work for a long time—ultimately 20 years—before he’ll let him go. In the meanwhile, he has many children, and his family grows.
Finally, God tells him to go back to the land of his ancestors. And he has another dream. It’s not nearly as vivid as that ladder of angels, but Jacob’s response to this angel is the perfect answer. “Jacob,” he’s asked. “Here I am,” he replies.
We often talk about the importance of showing up. To your friends, your family, your work colleagues, your church. That’s what it means to say—and pray—“Here I am.”
Be honest with God in your prayers.
As he sets out, Jacob is worried. “Save me from my brother Esau!” he prays “I’m afraid he will come and kill me, the mothers and their children…”
And then, because he’s Jacob, he schemes some more, splitting up his flock, encouraging his servants to lie. (Will he ever learn?)
Faith can be a wrestling match.
On the way, Jacob has to wrestle with God—quite literally. In the end the victory goes to Jacob. For his loyalty, his faith, his persistence. He doesn’t let God go and asks for God’s blessing because of it.
To live in faith can be a struggle. To doubt is very natural to all of us. To entreat in prayer and wait for answers. But be like Jacob. Don’t give up.
Though wounded, Jacob is triumphant. All is forgiven. God’s promises are fulfilled. But the pleasure I find in the biblical story is to see how God’s answers to prayer don’t always come in ways that are expected.
Then and now.