None of us gets to choose our parents before birth, nor our siblings, nor the time we are to be born, nor the land we are born into. Some are born into small families, some into large. Some are born in one country, some in another. Some were born anciently, some were born in our time.
And some are born into families that the great Creator God is working with! No one asked us about our preferences beforehand. It all just happened without our knowledge or consent.
It was the same with Jacob, father of the children of Israel. We could say that by an accident of birth he was born into a family that God had chosen and was working with—perhaps like some of us. His father, Isaac, was the son of Abraham and Sarah. God chose to work with Abraham and his descendants. Through them He would manifest His greatness and power to the rest of the world.
Isaac, Jacob’s father, was a righteous man, a servant of God. As a result Jacob’s life was blessed. His family was prosperous and always had plenty to eat, and good clothes to wear. But as he grew up, Jacob probably didn’t give it a lot of thought. From the biblical account it seems that in his younger years he was not deeply interested in the family religion. That was his father’s religion and not something he seemed to care that much about.
Jacob and his brother Esau were never very close. His dad, Isaac, spent a lot of time with Esau, and Jacob felt closer to his mother, Rebekah. His brother, being the firstborn, was in line to receive the best of the family inheritance.
That concerned Jacob. One day when his brother came to him hungry and asked him for something to eat, Jacob saw a chance to barter with him for the birthright to the family inheritance.
The result was a tragic example of not-so-brotherly love. Esau’s most immediate need was to take care of his hunger, and his response was to trade away his inheritance, thinking he was about to starve anyway (see Genesis 25:27-34 Genesis 25:27-34 27 And the boys grew: and Esau was a cunning hunter, a man of the field; and Jacob was a plain man, dwelling in tents.
28 And Isaac loved Esau, because he did eat of his venison: but Rebekah loved Jacob.
29 And Jacob sod pottage: and Esau came from the field, and he was faint:
30 And Esau said to Jacob, Feed me, I pray you, with that same red pottage; for I am faint: therefore was his name called Edom.
31 And Jacob said, Sell me this day your birthright.
32 And Esau said, Behold, I am at the point to die: and what profit shall this birthright do to me?
33 And Jacob said, Swear to me this day; and he swore to him: and he sold his birthright to Jacob.
34 Then Jacob gave Esau bread and pottage of lentils; and he did eat and drink, and rose up, and went his way: thus Esau despised his birthright.
American King James Version×).
Jacob’s mother later contrived a plan to legitimize his receiving of the inheritance by instructing Jacob to ask for his aged father’s blessing while he was disguised as and pretending to be his brother Esau.
As could be expected, this caused Esau to bitterly resent Jacob—so deeply that Esau swore to kill him. Young Jacob had to flee his home and family to save his life!
Facing an uncertain future
Put yourself in Jacob’s sandals. One day you are a young man with all your needs taken care of, the next you are hiking across a strange, barren wilderness toward an uncertain future. It quickly changes your perspective! As he lay sleeping with a rock for his pillow, God spoke to Jacob in a dream.
“So he came to a certain place and stayed there all night, because the sun had set. And he took one of the stones of that place and put it at his head, and he lay down in that place to sleep. Then he dreamed, and behold, a ladder was set up on the earth, and its top reached to heaven; and there the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. And behold, the Lord stood above it and said: ‘I am the Lord God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac” (Genesis 28:11-13 Genesis 28:11-13 11 And he lighted on a certain place, and tarried there all night, because the sun was set; and he took of the stones of that place, and put them for his pillows, and lay down in that place to sleep.
12 And he dreamed, and behold a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven: and behold the angels of God ascending and descending on it.
13 And, behold, the LORD stood above it, and said, I am the LORD God of Abraham your father, and the God of Isaac: the land where on you lie, to you will I give it, and to your seed;
American King James Version×). God introduced Himself to Jacob by saying He was the God of Jacob’s father and grandfather.
No doubt this young man wondered if he would ever see his home and family again. Notice what God promised him: “The land on which you lie I will give to you and your descendants. Also your descendants shall be as the dust of the earth; you shall spread abroad to the west and the east, the north and the south; and in you and in your seed all the families of the earth shall be blessed. Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have spoken to you” (verses 13-15).
Making a pivotal choice
God promised Jacob land, children, blessings and protection and that He would provide for Jacob and bring him back home safely someday. But He did not say that He would be Jacob’s God. That was a choice Jacob would have to make himself.
Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 7:14 1 Corinthians 7:14For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband: else were your children unclean; but now are they holy.
American King James Version×that, if even one parent of a family is converted, the children of that union are holy. This doesn’t mean that those children are born righteous or will be given salvation just because a family member is converted. The word holy can mean to be set apart or be different. God is saying that the children of the converted can grow into a relationship with God just as their parents have.
In the sense spoken of here, such children are set apart and different from most people. Most people in the world have been spiritually blinded by Satan and will have to wait on their calling. But not so the children of the converted. They can have their calling now!
However, God has given us all freedom of choice. He will not force His will on our life. Instead, we have to let Him know that is what we want.
Beginning a lifelong relationship
Back to Jacob’s adventure: Among God’s promises to Jacob was one of the most fantastic of all: “I will be with you” (Genesis 28:15 Genesis 28:15And, behold, I am with you, and will keep you in all places where you go, and will bring you again into this land; for I will not leave you, until I have done that which I have spoken to you of.
American King James Version×, New English Bible). What does it mean to have God “with you”? How would it affect your life to have God with you when you are hungry, when you are job hunting, when you are sick, when you are discouraged, when you are taking a test, when you are looking for a mate? It had a tremendous impact on Jacob’s life to have God with him.
Jacob awakened from his dream with a startling realization: God was no longer just someone his father talked with; He now had come personally to Jacob!
Notice Jacob’s reaction: “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. And this stone which I have set as a pillar shall be God’s house, and of all that You give me I will surely give a tenth to You’ ” (verses 20-22).
The newness of the relationship is evident here; Jacob does some bargaining with God. People do that sometimes when they’re just learning. Only later do we learn we are in no position to bargain. After all, what can we offer God that He needs from us? We have little to offer Him; He has everything to offer us.
Also notice from the account the things that Jacob is concerned about at this point in his life: something to eat, something to wear and a desire to someday return home safely. Later in life his focus would shift to things far more important.
Years later in the land of Haran, Jacob experienced a turn for the worse in his relationship with his in-laws and felt that the time had come to return home. But what kind of welcome would he receive from his brother Esau?
Once again God reassured him, “Then the Lord said to Jacob, ‘Return to the land of your fathers and to your family, and I will be with you’ ” (Genesis 31:3 Genesis 31:3And the LORD said to Jacob, Return to the land of your fathers, and to your kindred; and I will be with you.
American King James Version×). God reminded Jacob of His promise: “I will be with you.” God was teaching this grandson of Abraham was what it meant to be told “I will be with you.” That promise would make all the difference in the world.
God works with another generation
Jacob eventually became the father of 12 sons. Joseph was one of the younger. He went through some difficult times in his life and as a young teenager was taken into Egypt as a slave. This was not a great prospect for a wonderful future, but God was with him as He had been with his father Jacob.
“Now Joseph had been taken down to Egypt. And Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh, captain of the guard, an Egyptian, bought him from the Ishmaelites who had taken him down there. The Lord was with Joseph, and he was a successful man; and he was in the house of his master the Egyptian. And his master saw that the LORD was with him and that the Lord made all he did to prosper in his hand. So Joseph found favor in his sight, and served him. Then he made him overseer of his house, and all that he had he put under his authority” (Genesis 39:1-4 Genesis 39:1-4 1 And Joseph was brought down to Egypt; and Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh, captain of the guard, an Egyptian, bought him of the hands of the Ishmeelites, which had brought him down thither.
2 And the LORD was with Joseph, and he was a prosperous man; and he was in the house of his master the Egyptian.
3 And his master saw that the LORD was with him, and that the LORD made all that he did to prosper in his hand.
4 And Joseph found grace in his sight, and he served him: and he made him overseer over his house, and all that he had he put into his hand.
American King James Version×).
Joseph had learned to conduct himself in a godly manner. Even when he was later falsely accused, arrested and thrown into prison, God continued with him. “But the Lord was with Joseph and showed him mercy, and He gave him favor in the sight of the keeper of the prison . . . The keeper of the prison did not look into anything that was under Joseph’s authority, because the Lord was with him; and whatever he did, the Lord made it prosper” (verses 21-23).
God continued to bless Joseph, to the point that he was appointed second in command over the powerful nation of Egypt, second only in power to the Pharaoh himself.
God is with another descendant of Jacob
God wants us to learn from the experiences of those who go before us. Many generations later, Moses, another descendant of Jacob, had learned the significance of God’s protection so well that when God told the Israelites that He might not continue with them on their journey to the Promised Land, Moses pleaded: “If Your Presence does not go with us, do not bring us up from here. For how then will it be known that Your people and I have found grace in Your sight, except You go with us? So we shall be separate, Your people and I, from all the people who are upon the face of the earth” (Exodus 33:15-16 Exodus 33:15-16 15 And he said to him, If your presence go not with me, carry us not up hence.
16 For wherein shall it be known here that I and your people have found grace in your sight? is it not in that you go with us? so shall we be separated, I and your people, from all the people that are on the face of the earth.
American King James Version×).
Moses had said, in essence, “If You don’t go with us, I don’t want to go!” God responded to Moses’ attitude of humility, respect and love: “I will also do this thing that you have spoken; for you have found grace in My sight, and I know you by name” (verses 15-17).
From these examples perhaps you can see the importance of God being with you. If you walk with Him, He will walk with you and guide and bless your path. Proverbs 3:6 Proverbs 3:6In all your ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct your paths.
American King James Version×tells us, “In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths.”
If you are a second- or third-generation Christian or a young person in the Church, God says you are special to Him. As He did to Jacob, He holds out to you an offer and a promise: “I will be with you!” GN