The biblical patriarch Jacob was opportunist. He took advantage of his brother Esau’s weak character and bought the birthright inheritance on the cheap for a bowl of stew. He took advantage of his father Isaac’s poor sensory perception and got the blessing intended for Esau as well. He lived up to his name, which mean supplanter.
After he has to go on the run from Esau, he stopped for the night and saw the angels of God ascending and descending a stairway to heaven. He realized he was in a special place. He called the place Bethel, or House of God. God made the same covenant promises to Jacob that he made to his grandfather Abraham.
However, Jacob is no Abraham. He tried his scheming with God as well.
Then Jacob made a vow, saying, “If God will be with me, and keep me in this way that I am going, and give me bread to eat and clothing to put on, so that I come back to my father’s house in peace, then the Lord shall be my God.” (Genesis 28:20-21)
If God does His part, then Jacob will serve him. He schemes to trade worship for blessing. And he wants the blessing first.
How often are we like Jacob at Bethel? How often do we want to put conditions on serving God? Lord, if you’ll get me out of this situation, I promise I will serve you. Lord, if you meet this particular need I have, I will serve you.
God did meet his needs. He let Jacob’s father-in-law take advantage of him, but God blessed Jacob with 12 sons and at least one daughter. He caused Jacob’s wealth to increase.
When Jacob returned to Canaan, he had to face the consequences of his actions toward Esau. He gave Esau enormous gifts to make up for what he had stolen. But the most important thing he had to do was wrestle with God.
God let him wrestle all night. God was in charge the whole time, because all he had to do was touch Jacob’s hip and throw it out of joint. He let Jacob wrestle until Jacob realized that he was the one who was powerless. Jacob went from wrestling to just hanging on and that’s how he prevailed with God.
It was then that God could change Jacob’s name to Israel. He was no longer the schemer and the bargainer with God. He prevailed with God through the struggle. In his disability, God was able to make him the man he should be.
Jacob didn’t go with the cliché, “Let go and let God.” He held on to God with all his might. When we wrestle with God over our own lack of character and integrity, we should not presume upon His grace like Jacob did at Bethel. We have to hang on to His sufficiency to bless us and change us. We have to hang on until we prevail and become who God wants us to be.