When we first encounter Jacob and Esau, we see a hostile relationship. Jacob schemes against his brother to receive their family’s inheritance. Later, Jacob schemes to usurp the blessing Esau was to receive from their father Isaac. And, as Jacob’s life continues, we further see him play a tit-for-tat game with his father-in-law, Laban.
All-in-all, Jacob’s life displays the dog-eat-dog nature of his time; and the seeming reality that blessings only come to a person’s life by conning things out of someone else’s grasp. In this context, ethics are given lip service. What really matters is getting what a person wants, while they can, no matter what it takes to get it — even if that means hurting others in the process.
So, this is where we find Jacob’s life in Genesis 33. Jacob has just fled Laban, his overbearing father-in-law, and is now headed back to the land of his fathers — the land promised to them by God. On his way back, Jacob anticipates meeting his brother Esau. And, the last time Jacob was around Esau, Esau was ready to kill him for keeping him from receiving their father’s blessing.
In anticipation of meeting Esau, Jacob sends a variety of his flock as gifts — in hope of pacifying Esau. But, when the two meet, Jacob experiences something very different than what he was expecting. Instead of Esau seeking his life, Esau heartily embraces Jacob in celebration of being reunited. As they exchange pleasantries, Esau begins to question Jacob as to the meaning of the flocks that he received. Esau also stands in awe of the vastness of Jacob’s family — the women and children accompanying him.
As I read this passage this past week, a few lines stood out to me. The first was this line from Jacob in response to Esau’s comment about the women and children with Jacob. Jacob responds to Esau, “They are the children God has graciously given your servant.” The second line that stood out to me comes a few paragraphs later. As Jacob was trying to get Esau to accept his gifts, he says, “Please accept the present that was brought to you, for God has been gracious to me and I have all I need.”
Do you notice something about these two responses from Jacob that is vastly different from the ways in which we have encountered him acting earlier in his life? Earlier we see Jacob deducing that his needs and his life can only come about by his own scheming and conniving. And, on one hand, we could say that he was “blessed” from his schemes. But here in these responses from Jacob, he seems to think differently. Jacob does not say that his wealth has came about from his schemes against Esau or Laban. Rather, Jacob credits the blessing of his life to the graciousness of God.
What we can draw-out from Jacob’s life is that God is behind all of the blessings that we receive in life. Earlier in Jacob’s life, he may have relied on his own power and ability to manipulate and make things happen. But, ultimately, Jacob comes to realize that even his scheming and conniving is still subject to the rule of God.
This is not to say that God condones what Jacob did. But Jacob’s life is a mirror of your life and mine. We all have done things contrary to God’s will and desire. We have all lied, tricked, or schemed to get something we want. And, even in the midst of our sin, God is still there. God is still there holding out life to us. Not to condone what we do, but to show that he is the true source of life. We often think, like Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Rebekkah, and Laban — that unless we make things happen in our life, even if it involves scheming and conniving, then nothing will happen. But God is there to say otherwise. God is there saying, “Trust me!” I am the giver of life. I am the one who created you. And, I know what is wise and best for your life.
With Jacob’s life, I think we see that — as he gets older and learns more about God — he begins to see that life truly is only found by trusting the wisdom and goodness of God. Which is why Jacob can say, at this point in his life, that his family and his wealth is not from his own doing, but because God cares about him.
And, this is not to promote a “health and wealth” gospel. I’m sure Jacob could have found someone near him that had more than he had. In the end, it was not about how much Jacob had. Rather, it was about Jacob realizing that he had been given what he needed. When Jacob praises the graciousness of God, it is not because of the scope of his wealth, but because of the contentment of his heart — because God was looking out for his good.
Because in the end, all blessings come from the compassion, mercy, and grace of God. All of life is a gift from God. Receive what he has given you; and trust that he is wise and knows what is best for your life.