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Jacob and Esau were twins. They seemed to fight each other while yet in the womb (Genesis 25:22, 23). Genesis 25:24-26 says,
24 When her days to be delivered were fulfilled, behold, there were twins in her womb. 25 Now the first came forth red, all over like a hairy garment; and they named him Esau. 26 And afterward his brother came forth with his hand holding on to Esau’s heel, so his name was called Jacob; and Isaac was sixty years old when she gave birth to them.
The revelation shows that the conflict between Jacob and Esau centered around the birthright. To whom was the promise given? Esau, being born first, had a lawful claim on the birthright, but the prophecy gave it to Jacob. Paul comments on this in Romans 9:10-12, saying,
10 And not only this, but there was Rebekah also, when she had conceived twins by one man, our father Isaac; 11 For though the twins were not yet born, and had not done anything good or bad, in order that God’s purpose according to His choice might stand, not because of works, but because of Him who calls, 12 it was said to her, “The older will serve the younger.”
The main point is to show the sovereignty of God, that He gives callings according to His own will and purpose, and that He has the right to do so. Nonetheless, the law of God, which is an expression of God’s nature and character, gave the firstborn the right to receive the inheritance (Deuteronomy 21:16, 17), unless he disqualified himself by his actions.
Hence, the prophecy could be fulfilled only after Esau had disqualified himself sufficiently to satisfy the divine law. The problem came when Jacob deceived his father by stealing Esau’s identity in order to obtain the blessing from Isaac (Genesis 27:19). He tried to fulfill prophecy in an unlawful manner and only caused further trouble for himself and for succeeding generations.
The Heel Holder
When Jacob was born, he came out of the womb holding on to Esau’s heel—and he would not let go. So they called his name Jacob, or Yakov, which means “heel holder.” The name comes from the root word (verb) akav, “to take by the heel, to supplant, overreach, to come from behind, attack at the heel.”
This act was prophetic, and it characterized the first 98 years of Jacob’s life and character. It is not that he was a heathen or an unbeliever. He was a believer, it seems, from the beginning. Jacob’s first major revelation came when he stopped for the night at Bethel as he was journeying to the land of Haran to work for his uncle Laban. That night he dreamed of a ladder between heaven and earth, with the angels of God ascending and descending upon it. God spoke to him and confirmed the Abrahamic calling to him, saying in Genesis 28:13, 14,
13 … The land on which you lie, I will give it to you and to your descendants. 14 … in you and in your descendants shall all the families of the earth be blessed.
Jacob, however, had never ceased holding on to his brother’s heel. He had let go physically shortly after his birth, but mentally and spiritually, he was still competing with Esau, trying to attack his heels, and supplant him as the birthright holder. In other words, he was still emotionally and spiritually attaching himself to Esau. Esau was still driving Jacob’s actions subconsciously. The struggle never really ended.
How Jacob Became Prosperous
For twenty years Jacob competed with Laban and became wealthy as a result. He again resorted to fleshly means of obtaining wealth. He made an agreement that his wages for tending Laban’s flocks would be that he would be given all the black, spotted, or striped sheep and goats (Genesis 30:32, 33). That seemed reasonable to Laban, so he agreed to this. Most of the sheep, it seems, were white.
But Jacob decided to increase his wages artificially in order to cheat Laban. Genesis 30:37-43 says,
37 Then Jacob took fresh rods of poplar and almond and plane trees, and peeled white stripes in them, exposing the white which was in the rods. 38 And he set the rods which he had peeled in front of the flocks in the gutters, even in the watering troughs, where the flocks came to drink; and they mated when they came to drink. 39 So the flocks mated by the rods, and the flocks brought forth striped, speckled, and spotted…. 43 So the man became exceedingly prosperous and had large flocks and female and male servants and camels and donkeys.
This may sound strange from a scientific viewpoint. I am not a geneticist, but we know that environment does alter genetics. More important, however, is the prophetic meaning of Jacob’s actions, especially in view of 2 Corinthians 3:18,
18 But we all, with unveiled face beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory….
We are changed by beholding Christ in the same manner that Jacob’s sheep were changed by beholding the striped rods. We are able to behold Christ clearly only when the Old Covenant veil is removed from our eyes and we see Him face to face. It is the New Covenant unveiling that makes it possible to be changed into His image.
Both Laban and Jacob were cheaters, operating in the flesh, but Jacob outwitted Laban. Neither showed much love to each other, even though they were “family.” Both were selfish.
When Jacob finally left Laban without telling him goodbye, Laban came after him, believing that Jacob had stolen his idols. When Laban caught up to Jacob, he was unable to find the idols, because Rachel was sitting on them. But the outcome of that meeting is that they set up a heap of stone as a boundary marker, vowing not to cross that line in an aggressive manner, and Jacob promised not to mistreat his wives (Laban’s daughters).
Then we read in Genesis 31:54,
54 Then Jacob offered a sacrifice on the mountain, and called his kinsmen to the meal; and they ate the meal and spent the night on the mountain.
What type of sheep or goat did Jacob offer as a sacrifice? Well, one of his spotted sheep, of course. He had no unspotted sheep. As a carnal believer, his sacrifice was imperfect and did not fully represent Christ, who offered His “precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless” (1 Peter 1:19). Jacob’s imperfect sacrifice was a reflection of his own heart as he tried to worship God in an imperfect manner. He had not yet beheld Christ, so he still fell short of being changed into His image.
Our imperfect concept of Christ, His character, His work, and His plan will always be seen in the kind of lamb that we present as our sacrifice. That is why Malachi 1:8 rebuked the priests, saying,
8 But when you present the blind for sacrifice, is it not evil? And you present the lame and sick, is it not evil?
Though the prophet does not specifically mention spotted lambs, the same principle holds true. In my view a spotted lamb is an Old Covenant sacrifice, in which we fail to understand the grace of God. A spotted lamb presents an imperfect view of Christ, testifying that salvation is based upon the works, vows, oaths, and decisions by the will of men. The church, like Jacob, has been offering this imperfect sacrifice for a long time, because they have not yet beheld Him face to face.
When Jacob was in his 98th year (i.e., the end of his second Jubilee), he returned to the land of Canaan. After making a covenant with Laban and offering a spotted lamb in sacrifice, Jacob went to Mahanaim, where he sent word to his brother Esau that he was returning. Messengers soon returned and informed him that Esau was coming with 400 men to kill him and steal whatever wealth he owned.
Esau came to kill Jacob. But he kissed Israel. By the time they met, Jacob's name had already been changed.
By this time Jacob’s family had moved on from Mahanaim to another place which he later called Peniel. Distressed, he went out into the night to pray, and suddenly he encountered a man who appeared to be a threat. The two wrestled the rest of the night.
I believe that Jacob thought he was fighting with Esau (or perhaps one of his men). The fight was a manifestation of Jacob’s heart, for Jacob had been fighting Esau all of his life. From his birth he had been holding on to Esau’s heel, trying to overcome him. The wrestling match was the culmination of his life’s story.
He thought he was wrestling with Esau, but in fact he was really fighting God Himself, for he was unable to see the face of God in Esau. Suddenly, the man (angel) did something supernatural, rendering Jacob’s strength useless. We read in Genesis 32:24-26,
24 Then Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. 25 And when he saw that he had not prevailed against him, he touched the socket of his thigh; so the socket of Jacob’s thigh was dislocated while he wrestled with him. 26 Then he said, “Let me go, for the dawn is breaking.” But he said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”
How is it that an angel could not defeat Jacob in a wrestling match? This signifies the fact that up to that point in time, Jacob’s carnal mindset was so strong, and he was so sure of himself, that God had been “unable” to break through to reveal the problem to Jacob. So the angel removed his fleshly strength, and Jacob suddenly had the revelation that the One he had been fighting all of his life was not Esau, but God Himself.
That was the point where the dawn broke. Light began to shine. Jacob let go of Esau’s heel and instead held on to the angel. His life was changed in a moment. “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” He then received the blessing and a name change. No longer being the “heel holder,” he broke through and prevailed. His entire outlook on life was changed. The dawn broke, and he became Israel, “God rules.”
We cannot hold on to Esau’s heel and to the angel at the same time. Not until we let go of Esau’s heel do we get the blessing of God and receive the new name, Israel. That is what makes us overcomers. We are not Israelites as long as we depend upon the flesh to fulfill the prophecies and promises of God. We are not Israelites as long as we hold on to Esau’s heel. Israelites do not offer up spotted lambs, as Jacobites do.
Jacob became an Israelite when he received the revelation of the sovereignty of God. The next day, when he faced Esau, he said in Genesis 33:10, “I see your face as one sees the face of God.”
Today we are witnessing a great battle at the climax of the age. We can fight it as Jacobites or as Israelites. If we are able to see that God is sovereign, that God has used Esau as an instrument of revelation to us, that Esau is not really the problem, that our real problem is our own imperfect understanding of God and our dim perspective of the image of Christ, then and only then can we say that we are Israelites.
Jacobites fight political battles as if “all is fair in love and war.” They tend to leave their Christian principles at the doorstep of their political parties. They fight their “enemies” without seeing the face of God in them and without understanding God’s purpose for them. Christian Jacobites blame “God’s enemies,” forgetting that God raised them up for His glory. Those enemies are there to challenge our fleshly attitudes and to test our hearts. Evil people test our hearts to see if we will react to the devil or to God.
The question is this: Who are we fighting? Who are we really fighting? Why did God raise up Esau (and Pharaoh)? Paul gives the answer in Romans 9:17. If we lose that perspective, it is because we still function as Old Covenant believers making spotted sacrifices.
We are not changed by beholding Esau. We are changed by beholding Jesus in Esau. But we will only see Jesus in Esau by New Covenant eyes, which alone can pierce the veil that has been “stretched out over all nations” (Isaiah 25:7). This is the source of blindness. Jesus, the Mediator of the New Covenant, has come to heal blindness by removing the Old Covenant veil that has hidden the true character of Christ.
So let us conduct ourselves according to the true nature of Christ and not by our imperfect idea that God is out to “smite His enemies.” He is coming to restore all things and to reconcile His enemies by His love, as Paul explains in Romans 5:10. While it is true that God will indeed bring judgment upon many, His ultimate purpose is to reconcile them.
So let go of Esau’s heel and take hold of God. Only then can we truly move into our destiny and calling as Israelite overcomers. Always remember that your friend will give you comfort, but only your enemies can drive you to your destiny.