LOTI—Willful Wrestlers (JACOB) (Gen. 25:19-35:29; 37:1-49:33


I’m thinking of something we all desperately need…  If our parents don’t give it to us, we’ll spend the rest of our lives looking for it.  We’ll have no real joy without it.  It gives spiritual security and psychological health.  Everyone we know needs it from us.  It’s life’s most precious possession.  WHAT?  Let’s call it THE BLESSING.  We need to be blessed and feel blessed to be happy and to bless others.


“Blessing” is more than prosperity and success.  It means we belong, that the key people in our lives are delighted in us and give us unconditional love.  It proclaims that we are both chosen and cherished.


“God so loved the world” tells us that God wants to bless everyone.  You can do a wonderful little thing with the sentence “God is for me.”  Let’s say it four times and emphasize each word in turn: God is for me… God is for me… God is for me… God is for me!


Unblessed people face big life problems.  They become self-focused and strong-willed, wanting to control everything – to be out of control means they can be hurt.  They become “willful wrestlers” who want a blessing from others yet are not sure it ever comes.  Striving becomes a survival tactic.  The blessed are the opposite: affirmed, loved, flexible, receptive, willing.  Are you blessed? 


The human will is a magnificent gift from God.  Our “will” is the power each of us has to decide for ourselves (then do or not do).  The Bono church is “autonomous,” which means we’re not controlled by anything outside of us.  So are we all – we’re all “free willed.”  To speak of “willingness” means we’ve made a decision to be submissive to someone else.  Ah, but to speak of “willfulness” means we have to be in charge and have our way.  God will eventually face every willful God-seekers in a wrestling match – He’ll fight us until we learn to say, “Not my will, but your will be done.”  Because He loves us and has purpose for us, He will arrange the circumstances of our lives to make us recognize our need for human affirmation is a wee, tiny thing compared to our need for Him that only His presence satisfies.  Ah, but if we’re willful, He will not cross our “line in the sand.”


That’s exactly what He did with the Bible man named Jacob!  Jacob is the un-blessed, willful son of Isaac and Rebekah.  His life was a struggle to be blessed.  His willfulness put him on a collision course with God about who would be “lord.”

I’ll briefly retell the whole story:

         Jacob was a twin—second-born after Esau.  But while being born he grabbed hold of his Esau’s heel and they named him “Jacob” which means “heel grabber.” It was prophetic.

         Isaac’s and Rebekah’s marriage was highly dysfunctional.  Esau was Isaac’s pet while Jacob was Rebekah’s pet.  We don’t know why.  Maybe Isaac, an only son, wanted an only son.  Maybe Rebekah got to be partial to Jacob to compensate for Isaac favoring Esau.  Who knows?  But it’s easy to see a “sibling rivalry” fueled by parents’ actions.  “Parent’s pets” show marital instability – maybe they didn’t love their children equally because they don’t love each other as they should.                         

  One day after these boys were grown, Esau came in from hunting starving.  Jacob had a plan and was waiting – he had been cooking stew and offered to sell his hungry brother a bowl if he’d sell him his “birthright.”  This is  technically called the right of primogeniture, meaning that at a father’s death the firstborn would assume his father’s place and authority and receive a double portion of inheritance.  Esau, not very careful of precious things that day, agreed to the deal.  Maybe it was that day, but possibly before as part of a plan by Jacob and Rebekah, that they would seize the BLESSING, too.  The BLESSING is a special prophecy of blessing that commonly went also to the oldest son.


If we look at the words of the blessing, we’ll see why it was so prized:


May God give you of heaven’s dew, earth’s richness – an abundance of grain and new wine.  May nations serve you, peoples bow down to you.  [May you] be lord over your brothers and the sons of your mother bow down to you. May those who curse you be cursed and those who bless you be blessed.” (Genesis 27:28, 29).


Stealing the BLESSING went like this:


While Esau was again away hunting, Rebekah and Jacob tricked Isaac into thinking Jacob was Esau and giving him the BLESSING.  Isaac had gone blind.  So they prepared a meal of goat and Jacob was draped with its hair.  Isaac, suspicious but eventually convinced, blessed Jacob, thinking he was Esau.  When a now wiser Esau discovers he’s been robbed of something of great value, he’s angry enough to threaten his brother’s life, and made plans to kill him as soon as Isaac died.



God then did a remarkable thing (with big lessons for us): He removed conniving, willful Jacob from this dangerous situation to a place where he would get God’s greater blessing, albeit with great trouble and pain.  It happened like this:


Rebekah believed Esau’s threat and also feared Jacob would marry one of the local pagan women as Esau had done.  So she sent Jacob to her brother, Laban, in 275 mile-distant Haran.


So Jacob left with a blessing, just not his own blessing.  He still needed his father’s blessing and left home knowing he did not delight his father.  He was a cunning man determined to live by his own grit and guile.  Modern psychology recognizes a “JACOB SYNDROME” – one is outwardly confident but, denied affirmation by parents, is driven to find approval.


One wonders how much Jacob knew about his grandfather Abraham’s friendship with God – how God promised to bless him and did?  If he did, the chaos in his family made God distant to him so that he trusted no one, not even God.


NOW LET’S WATCH GOD WORK (Genesis 28:13ff.)


At Luz


Jacob left home and lay down to sleep at a place called Luz.  As he slept, God gave him a dream.  He saw a ladder reaching to heaven with angels moving up and down on it (What were they doing?  Consider that they were bringing BLESSINGS to Jacob… hmmm).  And God stands at its top making Jacob promises of BLESSING. 


I think Jacob had zero expectation of seeing God at Luz!  He though Isaac’s God was a god at Hebron, but not elsewhere.  Jacob displayed no personal faith while at home.  Perhaps he thought he had no need of it.  In the story we can see a tactic God uses to mold his willful sons and daughters to build their faith – He moves them into lonely situations to face impossible odds to show His power.


Jacob was profoundly affected by the dream and felt faint stirrings of being chosen (blessed).  He exclaimed, “Behold God was in this place and I did not know it,” and renamed Luz “Bethel” — which means “house of God.”


In Haran


         Rebekah’s brother Laban was a master conniver himself (as Rebekah was… seems a strong family trait).  Laban used Jacob and grabbed him by the heel again and again.  But Jacob worked hard and honestly for him (a new kind of man emerging): “So Jacob worked for Laban seven years so he could marry Rachel.  But they seemed like a few days to him because he loved Rachel very much” (Genesis 29:20).

         But when his wedding day came after those seven years, Laban defrauded him and gave him Rachel’s sister Leah instead.  It was a ploy that enabled Laban to keep Jacob working for him for another seven years.   


God brought Jacob to Laban so he could glimpse his future self without a direction change in his life.  I know of no explicit scripture for this, but I believe the OT teaches God “boomerangs” us – what we put out He turns back on us.  He some-times pairs us with people who have our same flaws so we can see how harmful those flaws are to others.  In a case of “what goes around comes around,” conniving Jacob was out-connived by Uncle Laban and got all the ugliness of the receiving end.  Perhaps he thought of poor Esau.


Still, God was blessing Jacob through every one of Laban’s attempts to cheat him.  Isaac’s words of BLESSING were becoming reality.  But Jacob still had lots to learn.  Rachel, the love of his life, was childless.  Finally, when she had a son, whom they named Joseph, Jacob favored him as his mother and father had him and Esau, gave him everything he thought Isaac had never given him, and set up a long, difficult encounter with God for him.


Going Home


        After 20 years with Laban, Jacob knew God was with Him; he had grown far less willful and wiser and knew there was unfinished business at home with his brother Esau.  Did he see how his cheating had made Esau feel?            God’s blessings meant Jacob now he had enormous flocks and herds, two wives, 11 sons, and a daughter.  He gave God the glory.  Willful, unblessed Jacob was learning to let God be God and handle impossible things.  He was ready to obey when God commanded him to return home.  God warned Laban to let Jacob go in peace.


God had all along been preparing Jacob for two meetings:  one with Esau who once vowed to kill him and another with the God he had been learning for 20 years.  Without God’s “schooling,” he would never have been ready to face his fears.  God made all of his blessing possible, not his wiles.     


Meeting Esau:  

Jacob must have wondered who Esau had become.  Had God also changed him, too?  He prayed hard about this reunion.  He yearned to be blessed by his brother, not killed.  So he was a worried man as he neared his ancestral home.  And the willful Jacob raised his head again: he sent servants with news of his coming and his great wealth (saying in effect, “Forgive me, can I make amends?”  His planned speech identified him as Esau’s “servant.”  The Bible gives us his wistful thought: “…perhaps when I see him, he will accept me” (Genesis 32:20). 


But his most important “meeting” wasn’t with Esau.  At the Brook Jabbok, about 75 miles from his journey’s end, he “…wrestled with a man… (Genesis 32:24].  The wrestling match was absolutely necessary.  Jacob needed (1) to end his struggles with the past, (2) to learn who controls a BLESSED life, and (3) to be made willing to lean on God. 


Look at what happened at Jabbok: 


        God asked Jacob his name.  Jacob admitted, “Conniver, manipulator, heel-grabber.”  God heard Jacob confess

        that he was a cheat.  And God there changed his name to “Israel” which means “struggler/striver with God.” 


Of course, God won the match, but Jacob won, too, because God gave him yet another BLESSING!  He finally realized where the BLESSING OF ALL BLESSINGS comes from and held on to God until God blessed him again! 


Some say Jacob fought himself at Jabbok, but Jacob himself said otherwise when he renamed the place “Peniel” which is “face of God.”  He had asked the “man” for his name but got only a question in return, “Why do you want to know my name?”  Hosea the prophet tells us His name:  it’s “Angel” (12:4) and then identifies Him more fully as the “Lord God of Hosts” (12:5).


“Striver with God” doesn’t sound like such a wonderful name change; sounds too much like unfinished business.  But it was to remind Jacob of who he had been, not who he was and would become… and prophesy what the character of his descendants would be.  He got another reminder, too – a permanent limp.  The writer of Hebrews includes Jacob as a “hero of faith” and describes him blessing all of his sons before his death in Egypt and “worshipping, leaning on his staff” (12:21).  Ol’ willful Jacob had learned to lean – knowing he was far stronger leaning on God than on himself. 


Jacob had finally seen the Lord’s face – not literally, but he saw it!  Could be just me, but I believe that Divine face was beaming with delight, like it was the times He told Jesus, “You are my beloved, in whom I delight.”


Someone said Jacob only had three problems: (1) the family that formed him,  (2) the faults that fettered him, and (3) the failure that followed him. 


An old Greyhound Bus Lines commercial said, “It’s such a comfort to take the bus and leave the driving to us.”  God would change it to “as you journey through life, let me take you.”  God finally had Jacob on His bus!



1.  All our efforts to earn and receive blessing from others will never fill the God-shaped void in our souls.  Only walking with God gives lasting stability (cf. Proverbs 3:5, 6).

2.  God still gives new natures and new names… to people and to churches made

      up of people. 

3.  God doesn’t change us so He can love us; He loves us so He can change us.

      There is nothing we can do to make Him love us more and nothing we can do

      to make Him love us less.

4.  Every BLESSEE becomes a BLESSER!  We can now break that devilish cycle of

      hoarding our love and blessing, then seek out and lavish our love (and God’s

      love, too) on all the unblessed throngs we meet in our world.









   1.  Do you have a deep sense of being cherished by God as special to Him?

   2.  Have you accepted the forgiving, liberating love of Christ?

   3.  Do you know that there is nothing you can do to make God stop loving you?

   4.  Have you evaluated the plusses and minuses of your childhood and accepted what parents (or significant people) did or did not do for you?

5.    Can you let go of your past so God can bless you in the future?

6.    Are you willing for God to work His will in your life, or are you still your own “god”?

7.    Are you willing to allow being affirmed by God to make you a lavish affirmer of others?

8.    Will you work to discover who God has placed in your world to be blessed by you?

9.    Are you willing to “give yourself away” to those people so they will know God’s grace

      through your treatment of them?

10.Will you allow yourself to be renamed (re-natured) by God; in essence, focus

all your efforts on becoming the person He means you to be?