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Jacob’s Legacy

In All’s Well That Ends Well, William Shakespeare gives us the thought that “No legacy is so rich as honesty.”

Two centuries later, a French author by the name of Victor Hugo showed his readers that a legacy of honesty—without grace—can turn us into devils. In his 19th-century novel Les Misérables (i.e., The Miserable), Hugo tells the story of two men. One is a police inspector who would rather die than live in a world where a thief could go unpunished. The other is a thief by the name of Jean Valjean who, by receiving mercy, learns to give it to others.

Born BadLes Misérables’ redemptive answer for broken people has deep roots. Genesis, the first book of the Bible, gives us another example of a thief in need of mercy. While still a young man, Jacob, the future patriarch of Israel, lied to his father and impersonated his older brother in order to steal an inheritance that didn’t belong to him (Genesis 27).

An Undeserved Legacy—Yet, in spite of Jacob’s lack of honesty, he left a legacy that was far better than he deserved. Without explanation, the God of his fathers promised to take care of Jacob and to make him and his descendants a source of blessing to every family of the world (Genesis 28:12-15).

Along the way, Jacob admitted that he didn’t deserve such mercy. But he hadn’t yet found the limits of God’s kindness. Jacob saw God bend even lower. In the middle of a fear-filled night, he found himself wrapped in the arms of Divine humility, wrestling with God as if the Almighty were a mere man (Genesis 32:10, 24, 30).

Then Jacob experienced another mercy. As he clung to the mysterious wrestler, begging for a blessing, he was honored with a new name. For the rest of his life he would not be known only as a liar and thief but also as Israel, a man who struggled with God and lived to tell about it (Genesis 32:28-30).

The irony is that the God who changed Jacob’s name to Israel would continue to be known as the God of Jacob.

The God of Jacob—Twenty-five times the Bible refers to the God of Jacob. Many years after Jacob died, King David would write, “May the LORD answer you when you are in distress; may the name of the God of Jacob protect you” (Psalm 20:1 NIV).

What was David thinking? Why would he link the name of God with a man who was born to be bad? Wouldn’t it have been more honoring to urge his readers to put their trust in the God of a better person?

Jacob, for example, had a son named Joseph who was a more honest man than his father. According to Genesis, Joseph remained true to his God even when betrayed by his older brothers; sold into Egyptian slavery; accused of wrongs he didn’t do; imprisoned; and forgotten. Joseph had so many reasons to be bitter, cynical, and vengeful. Yet he ended up being a hero not only to the Egyptian world of his day but also to the brothers who had once envied and hated him (Genesis 50:15-21).

There would, however, be a downside to thinking about the God of Joseph. Some of us might have a hard time identifying with him. Joseph was not only a better man than Jacob, he was probably a better person than us. Who among us would look at Joseph and say, “If God could forgive and bless Joseph, I’m sure He could forgive and bless a person like me?”

A God for People Like Us—The father of Joseph was the kind of man who people like us might prefer to remember as Jacob rather than Israel. Consider, for instance, the Samaritan woman who, 2,000 years later, met a Jewish man by the name of Jesus at a place called “Jacob’s well” (John 4:5-25).

As a rule, Jewish people wanted nothing to do with “Samaritan sinners.” Yet instead of dismissively ignoring her, Jesus spoke respectfully to her, even entrusting her with the news that He was the long-awaited Messiah.

Interestingly, this Samaritan woman made it a point to let Jesus know that she was an outsider to the Jewish community (John 4:9). Yet she spoke warmly of “our father Jacob” (John 4:12). Maybe she valued not only the legacy of “Jacob’s well” but also that he was both blessed and broken. Jesus, after all, surprised her by showing that He knew, without being told, that she had been married five times and that the man she was then living with was not her husband (John 4:15-19).

Whatever the woman’s reason for identifying with Jacob, she ran back to the men of her village to tell them about meeting a man who had shown such kindness to her while knowing everything she had ever done (John 4:28-30).

Father in heaven, thank You for the legacy of a man who—like the Samaritan woman who called him father—helps us to see You as the kind of merciful, uplifting God that people like us desperately need.

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7 Responses to “Jacob’s Legacy”

  1. SFDBWV says:

    We sure dwell on Jacob a good bit.

    Here’s my take on this story; where is it said anywhere in Scripture that a man is to pass on to his first born a prophetic blessing, that empowers its receiver as a result of it?

    No where!

    Jacob and his mother could not steal something that wasn’t intended for anyone other than he whom God had intended.

    Jacobs *blessing* was God ordained, not Isaac’s to give.

    Jacob was his mother’s favorite, because he was more like her and her family. As evidenced as the story continues Jacob met his match with his uncle, another man of less than honorable character.

    For whatever reason God does the things He does, God chose Jacob to be the father of the people Israel, not Esau.

    Was Esau a more honorable character? The Scripture tells us he was a profane man and little else. Yet he wasn’t angry with Jacob, instead he had *forgiven* him.

    Yet because God continued to make Himself known to Jacob, the worship of *The God of Abraham and Isaac* became to be also known as the worship of *The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob*.

    Whereas it is written that Esau also had became wealthy and powerful, there is no written documentation that he continued to worship his father’s *God* or that God made any movement to awaken Esau to know Him.

    The story then goes forward with the descendants of Jacob, known as the nation or people Israel.

    Special interest as to the linage of Jesus takes into account the special women whom God used to produce Jesus, who were not from the line of Jacob.

    We can not look at events from our eyes and understanding and compare them against God’s actions. We are the product of His actions, not the progenitor of such.

    It is also written that the *beginning* of wisdom is the *fear* of God.

    When we begin to understand that God’s will is far above our own and that our eternity, our lives, our futures, are all dependant on the will of God we can begin to come before Him in reverent fear and trembling instead of thinking we can boss Him around and tell Him what we want done.

    In a way the story of Jacob and Esau shows a little of this in that Jacob came trembling to his brother as he returned expecting anger and wrath, but instead received unexpected mercy.

    So it is with God, when we return to Him expecting what we may deserve, instead He gives us mercy and much more, just as the father did in the story of “The Prodigal Son”.

    Be blessed in this New Year.


  2. tracey5tgbtg says:

    Grace is only for sinners. Grace is only for those who don’t deserve it. Please set me straight if I am wrong, but how can a good, heroic, wholly deserving person receive grace? They don’t need it. Only those who deserve punishment know the grace of seeing that punishment replaced with forgiveness.

    Les Miserables is a long book, (I’ve never read it myself, but struggled along with my kids who had to read it for school). I saw the recent movie and I knew going in that I would cry, but I didn’t realize that the scene with the priest would be the one that pushed me completely over the edge. I bawled.

    It is the good who don’t get grace, but is there anyone who is good? Only Jesus, Lord God and Savior, and He is the one who GIVES grace.

    As it was with the Samaritan woman, “she ran back to the men of her village to tell them about meeting a man who had shown such kindness to her while knowing everything she had ever done (John 4:28-30).”

    In the cases of Jacob and the Samaritan woman and Jean Valjean, they all received favor, forgiveness, grace… without first repenting. Yet because of the grace they received, they were changed. Jacob’s change took time, but that is how it is with some people. It’s not an instant turnaround all the time. In fact, I’m not sure that Jacob actually did change. He just kept getting blessed by God and living life with it’s ups and downs.

  3. oneg2dblu says:

    Steve.. this may not answer what you are looking for but it is referenced on scripture and was part of the culture and religious practice of the Jews.


    And you shall surely redeem the firstborn male. He will be redeemed at one month of age For value of five silver shekels… (Numbers 18:16)
    child’s redemption from service in the temple. For that service Levites were accepted in place of the redeemed firstborn. (Num. 3:45) This custom of redeeming the firstborn is preserved among Jews today. After 30 days, the father invites the Kohen to the house. The child is brought and shown to the Kohen. The father pays the Kohen a sum eqivelent to five sheckels. After receiving this redemption money the Kohen put his hands on the child’s head and pronounced the Aaronic blessing.

    Perhaps Mart, or someone else could best answer you on this one.

    I am only sharing what I just found about this topic and may not fully understand where you are coming from or going to on this.

  4. blestsparrow says:

    Mart & all – I am always in awe when I read about Jacob, David, the Apostle Paul,and the woman who had five husbands. What a demonstration of such a glorioius condescension. . . given from a wonderful loving Savior, whose mercy is endless and his grace is matchless.
    There is mercy for the meanest of the flock and this shows that God will save to the uttermost.
    Uttermost meaning to the lowest degree possible. Tracey as you mentioned the good doers are often lacking in grace. I learned I have zero goodness and zero righteousness apart from the Lord standing in my place.
    When John Newton wrote the song “Amazing Grace” I love the part where he says…… “that saved a wretch like me” God’s grace and mercy is for whosoever.

    – blestsparrow ~

  5. poohpity says:

    Joseph was the product of a changed Jacob to Israel and the older brothers and their attitudes were from the deceitful, do it my way, old Jacob. I think for us to see the change that can happen in a life when we let go of doing things our way is filled with so many lessons and hope of what God can do when we let Him. Some may have to wrestle with God over long periods of time before they ever, if ever learn that lesson but identifying our state of needing mercy is one that will bring us to Jesus and keep us close to him.

  6. blestsparrow says:

    Isn’t it ironic Pooh that Jesus said “I am the WAY”
    He knows the best way . . But so often selfwill rules the me, myself and I way.
    A favorite quote my husband would say time and again . . . .
    “If you keep doing what you’ve
    always done, you’ll keep getting
    what you’ve always got”

    Jesus knows a better way – as we yeild selfwill way to him. ~

    the heart can only be filled
    by the one who made it. ~

  7. royaleagle says:

    Good read. Where judgment says no, mercy says yes. My take is that this highlights the gospel message – love. God is love and desires that no one should perish but that all should come to him. ‘Redemptive answer for broken people…’
    I am thinking this is what Christians should be stating more as we engage the world on the conversation about gay/lesbians/same sex marriage. The defense of scripture against this lifestyle has given Christians the tag ‘assassins’, old-fashioned and other snide remarks…I am thinking it is time Christians change their communication strategy: Christian do not hate gay/lesbians but hate homosexuality I Corinthians 6: 9 – 10. From ‘Jacob’s Legacy’ appears God’s merciful grace bestowed on Jacob and the Samaritan woman which is also available to any gay/lesbian who is ready to conform to the scripture.
    I am thinking we need to play up the message: Not the person but your ways as Jesus’ strategy was in John 4: 15 – 19 in order to gain the woman’s soul. Meaning, while you are welcome to our homes, churches we will not accept same sex marriage or accept the lie that it is one’s fundamental human right. As a commentator once wrote ‘the western cultural revolution has turned right into a dynamic and subjective process of change that allows for contradictory choice. Hence choice or license has become an absolute principle and a new point of reference of human rights”

    But asking for this mercy might be a tall order for the one stuck in own ways and believes he is on the right path. The prayer in ‘Jacob’s Legacy’ is a good postscript ‘..help us to see You as the kind of merciful, uplifting God that people like us desperately need’. It is indeed a ‘redemptive answer for broken people’.

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