As part of our worship, we have spent two Sundays studying Jacob (pt. 2 of Spring sermon series, “Character in Conflict,” on Esau and Jacob. Pt. 1 was Cain and Abel; pt. 3 will be Saul and David, beginning May, 2014). As we approach Easter Sunday, we have left Jacob behind. Or have we?
The strange thing is, Jacob left Jacob behind. It’s a big part of the story. After all his maneuvers and manipulations, Jacob came to the end of himself. He found himself between two grudges, Esau and Laban. He had nowhere to go, and then he found himself hard pressed against God. I guess that’s when we truly come to the end of ourselves, when we have no one to deal with except God.
Yes, Jacob left Jacob behind, because God changed who he would be. “You will be called Israel.” We know that he received a new name. We read into the text if we conclude that he also received a new heart. But I would like to think so. Esau had once left his older brother in the dust, but now it seems that he is to leave his old man in the dust. He is not to be the same person that he was, as evidenced by the new name.
The question for us is, “Have we left Jacob behind?” Whatever that means for you - whatever habits and patterns that will not be welcome in heaven, have we left those things behind? Like Bunyan’s Pilgrim, are we now called “Christian,” identified as followers of Christ? And have we left the old man behind?
The Bible talks quite a bit about striving. I think there is good striving and bad striving. Bad striving is us doing the Jacob thing - over-reaching; manipulating; deceiving; lying; stealing; blaming; justifying; excusing, etc. This is bad striving. All those contests with other people that we have to prove ourselves right and to prove them wrong - bad striving. Exalting self and putting others down - bad striving. Being an expert on other people’s sins, and making the case that their sin is “exceeding sinful,” - bad striving.
God striving is working with God to accomplish His mission through our lives. This requires a renovation of our character, which is a battle in itself. We must battle, but only God will give the victory. And then there is the striving of pushing forward against opposition and persecution, over which, again, only God can bring about victory. This is the kind of striving in which you and I need to be involved.
But Jacob can’t do good striving. He’s too tied up in the knots of bad striving. He’s fighting with his family, and with his neighbors, and with himself. It’s time to leave Jacob behind, and begin fighting with (not against) God.