Good morning, Friends! Thank you all for being here today. Today I’ve got another Bible story for you – another story from the Old Testament.
We’ve been looking at some of these people, because they’re our spiritual ancestors. They went through interesting challenges, and they came up with amazing responses, not just for their day, but for any day.
Today we’re going to look at a family. We’re going to look at the family of a guy named Jacob. Jacob was one of the ancestors of all the Jewish people, which means he’s also the spiritual ancestor of all Christians, too. All through the Bible, his name gets mentioned. God is the God of “Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.”
But in spite of being so famous, Jacob was maybe not the kind of person you’d choose for a spiritual ancestor. In fact, if you wanted to describe Jacob’s life, you’d have to say that Jacob was kind of a hot mess.
Jacob’s life was spectacularly disordered. He was in trouble from the day he was born. Trouble just seemed to follow him around, everywhere he went.
That may be why so many people identified with him – not just because they had to, but because he always made it somehow.
Jacob was born as one of twins. His older brother, Esau, was born just a few seconds before him. Jacob came out of his mother, hanging on to his older brother Esau’s heel. Jacob spent the rest of his life, trying to catch up and get even with his older brother.
Back in those days, the firstborn son always inherited the father’s blessing. That meant more than just good wishes. It meant the oldest son inherited everything.
The flocks and herds, the land, the money, the whole works. And especially, the oldest son inherited the blessing and promise of God. God said, “Your family will be as numerous as the sands on the seashore. Every nation on earth will look up to you, and bless themselves because they’re descended from you! Everybody’s going to say, I wish I belonged to that family! I wish I could be blessed by your God!”
That’s what the blessing meant. It was more than just a parent’s blessing. It was God’s blessing, and it always went to the first born son.
Well, you probably know that part of the story. Esau grew up to be a hunter, and Jacob kept goats and sheep. His daddy loved Esau, but his mamma loved Jacob best.
One day, Esau came back from a hunting trip, starving. Jacob was standing by the fire, stirring the cooking pot. Esau says, “Give me some of that stew! That smell is just driving me out of my mind! Gimme that!”
Jacob kept stirring, took a little taste, and said, “Nuh uh! Not till you give me your blessing! Not till you give me your birthright!”
Esau said, “What good’s a birthright going to do me if I’m starving to death? Gimme some of that stew!”
Jacob made his brother swear his birthright blessing over to him, before he filled up a bowl. That’s the kind of fellow he was.
Their daddy was old and almost blind. Jacob tricked his dad into giving him the blessing instead of his brother. Got all dressed up in disguise, and pretended to be his brother, so his dad would give him the blessing.
Now, once it was given, the blessing was irrevocable – it couldn’t be taken back. Jacob was going to be the head boy from now on.
Except, his brother was so angry he’d been tricked, he was ready to kill Jacob. Jacob’s dad sent him on a road trip for his health – if he stayed around, it was going to be the shortest blessing on record.
That’s where our story today begins. Jacob was out looking for his kin folk, where his grandfather Abraham came from, way over in Iran or Iraq or someplace like that.
Jacob set out, until he came to the land of the eastern peoples. There he saw a well out in the open country, with three flocks of sheep lying near it because the flocks were watered from that well. The stone over the mouth of the well was large.
When all the flocks were gathered there, the shepherds would roll the stone away from the well’s mouth and water the sheep. Then they would return the stone to its place over the mouth of the well.
Jacob asked the shepherds, “Hey, brothers, where are you from?”
“We’re from Harran,” they replied.
He said to them, “Do you know Laban, Nahor’s grandson?”
“Yes, we know him,” they answered.
Then Jacob asked them, “Is he well?”
“Yes, he is,” they said, “and here comes his daughter Rachel with the sheep.”
“Look,” he said, “the sun is still high; it isn’t time yet for the flocks to be gathered. Water the sheep and take them back to pasture.”
“We can’t,” they replied, “until all the flocks are gathered and the stone has been rolled away from the mouth of the well. Then we will water the sheep.”
While he was still talking with them, Rachel came with her father’s sheep, for she was a shepherd. When Jacob saw Rachel, the daughter of his uncle Laban, and Laban’s sheep, Jacob went over and rolled the stone away from the mouth of the well and watered his uncle’s sheep.
Now, let’s just pause right there for a second. Part of what this is saying, is that Jacob was pretty stout. It normally took several guys to move the stone away from covering the well. Jacob did it all by himself. He was strong!
Then Jacob kissed Rachel and began to weep aloud. He told Rachel that he was a relative of her father and a son of Rebekah. So she ran and told her father.
As soon as Laban heard the news about Jacob, his sister’s son, Laban hurried to meet him. Laban embraced him and kissed him and brought him to his home, and there Jacob told him all these things.
Then Laban said to him, “You are my own flesh and blood.”
After Jacob had stayed with him for a whole month, Laban said to him, “Just because you are a relative of mine, should you work for me for nothing? Tell me what your wages should be.”
Now Laban had two daughters; the name of the older was Leah, and the name of the younger was Rachel. Leah had weak eyes, but Rachel had a lovely figure and was beautiful. Jacob was in love with Rachel and said, “I’ll work for you seven years in return for your younger daughter Rachel.”
Laban said, “It’s better that I give her to you than to some other man. Stay here with me.” So Jacob served seven years to get Rachel, but they seemed like only a few days to him because of his love for her.
Then Jacob said to Laban, “Give me my wife. My seven years are up, and I want to make love to her.”
So Laban brought together all the people of the place and gave a feast. But when evening came, Laban took his older daughter Leah and brought her to Jacob, and Jacob made love to her. And Laban gave his servant Zilpah to his daughter as her attendant.
See, back then, you had a big wedding party, and then at night, they brought the bride to the groom’s tent. It was dark, and Jacob couldn’t see who it was. They say “all cats are gray in the dark”. Jacob didn’t know who it was there snuggling with him.
When morning came, it was Leah! So Jacob said to Laban, “What is this you have done to me? I served you for Rachel, didn’t I? Why have you deceived me?”
Laban replied, “It’s not our custom here to give the younger daughter in marriage before the older one. Finish this daughter’s bridal week; then we will give you the younger one also, in return for another seven years of work.”
And Jacob did so. He finished the week with Leah, and then Laban gave him his daughter Rachel to be his wife. Laban gave his servant Bilhah to his daughter Rachel as her attendant. Jacob made love to Rachel also, and his love for Rachel was greater than his love for Leah. And he worked for Laban another seven years.Genesis 29:1-30
Now, we could stop right there, and we could have a good laugh, and talk about the poetic justice of it all. Here Jacob comes and falls in love, and works his butt off for seven years for no wages, in order to earn the right to marry the girl that he loved.
Jacob is the guy who cheated his brother, deceived his dad, and now here he is getting cheated in turn. The cheater got cheated. The trickster got tricked. Sometimes, there’s a little justice in the world!
Except that, this story is also about the women who married Jacob. It says that the older sister, Leah, had weak eyes. What that probably meant, was that she had a squint.
Back then, they didn’t have glasses. Leah might have had a nice figure, friendly disposition, good cook, everything else, but she had this unfortunate squint that made her unattractive – or at least so she thought.
Laban cheated Jacob, but Laban also had his daughter’s best interest at heart. He was going to get his daughter married, even if he had to trick his nephew to do it.
Today, that might have meant a big fight and a messy divorce. Back then, once you were married, that was it. You were married for good. But it was OK to have multiple wives. So, Jacob worked for seven more years to get the girl he really wanted from the beginning.
If you read on in the story, you’ll see that it didn’t end there. Because Leah, the older sister, the one nobody wanted, had lots of babies, while Rachel, the pretty younger sister, had none.
I don’t know what the relations between the two sister were before Jacob showed up on the scene. But there were some major league cat fights between Leah and Rachel after they got married.
If chapter one of Jacob’s life was, “The hot mess: get the blessing and get run out of town,” then chapter two of his life was, “Love story: work your butt off for the girl you wanted, and then wake up with the wrong sister and have to do it all over again.”
And now chapter three of Jacob’s life turns out to be, “Desperate housewives: come home every night and listen to your wives be jealous of each other and tear each other’s hair out all the time.”
Jacob must have wondered, “When’s the blessing going to start? If this is being blessed, I’m not sure I want any more of it!”
It actually got more complicated than that. Jacob’s wife Leah had four babies, right in a row, and Rachel had none. Leah said, “Well, I’m all done, but you can take my serving maid, Zilpah, and have children by her!”
Leah’s serving maid went ahead and had two more children. By this time, Rachel was going crazy, so she told Jacob to take her serving maid, Bilhah, and have her bear some kids in Rachel’s name. So Rachel’s maid had two.
Then Leah, the older sister, had two more kids, even though she was pretty old. “It ain’t over till it’s over,” I guess.
Finally, Rachel had two sons of her own, and gave thanks to God.
So, Jacob has been blessed with twelve sons, plus one daughter. Both of his wives finally have kids. Both of their maids have two sons apiece. I don’t even want to know what cost to keep all those kids in new shoes all the time!
Sometimes, in the Bible, things work out the way they’re supposed to. God always remembers his promises. Jacob is well on the way to becoming the father of many nations.
And in fact, each of Jacob’s sons lived to grow up. And each of them became the head of his own family, which grew into a whole tribe – the 12 tribes of Israel.
Jacob’s adventures didn’t end. He decided to head back home to the land God promised to his grandfather Abraham. Before he left, Jacob had big fights with his father-in-law, Laban.
They worked things out, but they set up a big stone as a boundary between them. Neither one of them was going to cross the border into the other one’s territory. And they said, “The Lord watch between you and me, while we are absent one from the other.”
When Jacob got close to home, one of God’s angels came out and met him in the middle of the night. And Jacob wrestled with the angel, all night long, in a sweating, struggling, no-holds-barred bar fight.
Jacob fought the angel to a stand still. They almost killed each other! Jacob had a bad limp from that fight, for the rest of his life. But he lived. From that day onward, he changed his name.
Jacob’s name originally meant “Cheater” or “He took my place!” But now, he had a new name, Israel, which means, “I have wrestled with God, and survived!”
Jacob got closer to home, and he finally met his brother again – the one he’d cheated out of his blessing, so many years ago. It wasn’t an easy meeting. There was still some fear and mistrust on both sides. But the two brothers made up. And that was the end of that family fight.
Years later, Jacob’s sons got into a fight with each other. It got so bad that the oldest brothers were going to kill their brother Joseph, who to be honest, wasn’t the easiest kid to get along with.
Instead of killing Joseph, they sold him as a slave, and he wound up in Egypt. He eventually rose, from a slave, to one of the highest government officials in the whole country.
Times got hard back home. The crops failed, there was no rain, and all of Joseph’s brothers were starving. So Jacob, the old man, sent his sons all the way to Egypt to beg for food.
They didn’t recognize Joseph at first, he’d changed so much. But he knew them. He told them who he was, and he invited them to stay, till the hard times were over.
They stayed for 400 years, till one day, Moses came and led them back to the Promised Land, the place God had promised as their home place forever. So the blessing – to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (whose name was now Israel) – finally came true.
And we are all descended from Jacob, who went from hot mess to home boy, who became the father of many nations, all because of the promise and blessing of God.