UB David + I'll B Jonathan, Inc.


Used with permission: Character by Character compiled by Selwyn Hughes and Trevor Partridge. Copyright © CWR (www.cwr.org.uk).




Scripture passages referenced and linked in this lesson are written out for your convenience on this page.

For a more in-depth study of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph see "A Journey of Faith with the Patriarchs".

UB David + I'll B Jonathan, Inc.


Character by Character

Lesson 5: Jacob


Scripture passages referenced and linked in this lesson are written out for your convenience on this page.

Jacob: “Supplanter”

The schemer

Genesis 25:27-34, 27:1-29 (click the link to read the passages)

Esau was so hungry that he gave up his birthright

Jacob’s parents were Isaac and Rebekah, and Esau was his twin brother. God spoke to Rebekah before the birth of the twins, saying, “Two nations are in your womb…and the older (Esau) will serve the younger (Jacob)” (Gen. 25:23, NIV). As soon as Jacob makes his appearance in Scripture, we find him manipulating his brother Esau into surrendering his birthright. Esau was so hungry that he gave up his birthright, which he did not really care about (25:32). Later, as we saw in Lesson 4, Jacob tricked his father into giving him the blessing of the firstborn, and is thus called ‘the supplanter’, or ‘one who takes the place of another’.

Jacob tricked his father into giving him the blessing of the firstborn

For thought and contemplation:

When the realisation of our ambitions has been clearly shown and pledged by the Almighty, our task is to wait for the Lord to bring about His purposes in His own way and in His own time. God is well able to perform what He has promised—without the aid of human schemes.

“…he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind…he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does.” (James 1:6 & 8, NIV)

The dreamer

Genesis chapter 28

he dreams of a ladder

Driven from his home by Esau’s threats, Rebekah’s fears and Isaac’s demands, Jacob sets out on the long, dangerous journey from Beersheba to Haran. As he journeys northward, he comes to the hill country of Bethel where, tired and weary, he falls asleep with a stone for his pillow. There, he dreams of a ladder which stretches from heaven to earth with angels ascending and descending upon it. God has often spoken to people through dreams—from Abimelech to Paul—and in Jacob’s dream the Almighty confirms to him the covenant He made with his grandfather, Abraham. The promise is given that his seed will be “like the dust of the earth”. He anoints the pillow of stone and calls the name of the place ‘Bethel’ (house of God), which previously had been called ‘Luz” (a place of separation).

For thought and contemplation:

Has God ever spoken to you in a dream? It’s encouraging to know that God can always find a secret stairway to our souls. If He can’t get to us when we are awake, He will get to us when we are asleep. Day or night makes no difference to Him.

“In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Yours sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams.” (Acts 2:17, NIV)

The suitor

Genesis chapter 29

Laban tricks Jacob into believing that Rachel is in his tent

The experience that Jacob went through at Bethel was most definitely a turning point in his life, and he proceeds toward the east with confidence and joy, little knowing, however, that he is soon to reap what he has sown. Jacob meets Rachel and falls deeply in love with her, but her father Laban requires him to serve seven years for her. On the wedding night, Laban tricks Jacob into believing that Rachel is in his tent, while all the time it is Leah, his older daughter. Laban later gives Rachel to Jacob, at the cost of another seven years of service—so Jacob now has two wives. Leah had many children while Rachel had only two—Joseph and Benjamin.

Jacob now has two wives

For thought and contemplation:

Love has a way of taking the drudgery out of work, making long and hard service short and easy. How deep is your love for the Lord? Are you truly in love with Him? An age of work will seem as nothing if love, and not merely a sense of duty, burns at the centre of your soul.

“This love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” (1 John 4:10, NIV)

The enterpriser

Genesis chapters 30 & 31

Laban entreats Jacob to stay

After many years in Laban’s service, Jacob longs to return to his own country, but his discipline is not yet complete. He must wait and serve for even longer. Laban entreats Jacob to stay, acknowledging that Jacob’s abilities have contributed to his own prosperity. Jacob continues to serve Laban, claiming just a small wage, but Jacob cleverly outwits his father-in-law and becomes extremely prosperous. Eventually God speaks to Jacob, indicating that he must return to the land of his fathers, and so without notice he leaves Laban’s house. He is soon pursued by his father-in-law, but God intervenes to protect Jacob from Laban’s revenge and a covenant of friendship is set up between them which they call ‘Mizpah’—“May the Lord keep watch…when we are away from each other.”

covenant of friendship is set up between them

For thought and contemplation:

Question: What do we do when, like Jacob, we feel on the one hand the pull of the divine purpose and on the other, the varied claims of relations and friends? Answer: we must aim to keep all our relationships open, but give God’s call the highest priority.

“He said to another man, ‘Follow me.’ But the man replied, ‘Lord, first let me go and bury my father.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.’” (Luke 9:59-60, NIV)

The wrestler

Genesis chapter 32

God sends an angel to wrestle with him

After 20 years away from the land of Canaan, Jacob is on his way home. There is, however, one thing that he fears—the displeasure of his brother Esau. Sending messengers ahead of him to acquaint Esau with the news of his return, Jacob learns that Esau intends coming out to meet him accompanied by four hundred men. Fear strikes into his heart and he cries out to God. In answer to his prayer, God sends an angel to wrestle with him, and Jacob is finally subdued when the angel dislocates his thigh. God’s intention, however, was not to kill Jacob but to conquer him. Once Jacob is brought to a place of helplessness, his name is changed to Israela prince with God—and he becomes a changed man.

For thought and contemplation:

How sad that in order to overcome our self-centredness, God sometimes has to not only wrestle with us, but cripple us. When will we learn that the key to spiritual power lies not in our strength, but in our weakness?

“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ …That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses…For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Cor. 12:9-10, NIV)

The restorer

Genesis chapter 33

bowed down to the ground seven times

After a night of wrestling with the angel, “Jacob looked up and there was Esau, coming with his four hundred men”. Jacob, still somewhat apprehensive, approached his brother and “bowed down to the ground seven times”. Jacob had the birthright and therefore, according to custom, was the superior, but this action of humility deeply impressed Esau and they became fully reconciled. Esau offers to escort Jacob to his destination, Canaan, but Jacob declines. Eventually Jacob crosses the Jordan, buys a plot of ground in Shechem and for the first time on the sacred soil of Canaan, erects an altar. At that spot he calls God his God; not the God of Jacob, but the God of Israel—his new name.

For thought and contemplation:

Have you noticed that, more often than not, when something happens to us, something happens to those around us? A changed Jacob resulted in a changed Esau. Many, though not all, of our problems are problems in ourselves which we project on to others. When we change—others change.

“Him who overcomes I will make a pillar in the temple of my God… I will write on him the name of my God and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem…and I will also write on him my new name.” (Rev. 3:12, NIV)

The worshipper

Genesis chapter 35

he builds an altar

Once again God speaks to Jacob, this time instructing him to establish his home in Bethel and build there an altar to Jehovah. Idols obviously defiled Jacob’s house so, before leaving Shechem, he issues the command: “Get rid of the foreign gods” (v. 2, NIV). When Jacob eventually arrives at Bethel, he builds an altar, calling it ‘El-Bethel’, which means ‘the God of the house of God’ (vv. 6-7). At Bethel, Jacob moves into a more worshipful relationship with God than ever before—but his life is beset with more trials and difficulties than ever before. First, Rachel’s nurse dies, and then he suffers the bereavement of Rachel, who dies giving birth to Benjamin. Jacob’s twelve sons are all listed in this chapter (vv. 23-26).

he suffers the bereavement of Rachel

For thought and contemplation:

How far have you wandered away from your ‘Bethel’—the place where you first met with God? Have you allowed the things of the world to disrupt your relationship with the Lord? Then today God is calling you back to ‘Bethel’. Don’t wait until tomorrow—respond now.

“He restores my soul. He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.” (Psalm 23:3, NIV)

The peaks and troughs in Jacob's spiritual life

The peaks and troughs in Jacob's spiritual life

The lesson to be learned from Jacob

God never fails to discipline those who resist

The outstanding lesson of Jacob’s life is that God never fails to discipline those who resist, or who are slow to conform to His purposes. If we do not rise to the level which God purposes for us through gentle entreaties and persuasion, then we will be obliged to rise to it through the firm hand of discipline. Jacob’s life shows, too, that it never pays to cheat or deceive—for, as the Scripture so clearly states: “A man reaps what he sows” (Gal. 6:7, NIV). Three great milestones can be seen in Jacob’s life: (1) the dream at Bethel; (2) the long discipline at the hands of Laban; and (3) the night in which the angel of the Lord wrestled with him and overcame him. That night, a new humility was stamped upon Jacob’s character.

Used with permission: Character by Character compiled by Selwyn Hughes and Trevor Partridge. Copyright © CWR (www.cwr.org.uk).

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