Abraham gave us the example of Passover faith, Isaac gave us the example of Pentecostal obedience, and now Jacob gives us the example of Tabernacles agreement.
The life of Jacob as a whole lays out the entire Christian walk, culminating in his change of name and nature from Jacob, the believer, to Israel, the overcomer. As such, he is a snapshot of an overcomer, not in his early life but at the end of his wilderness journey.
Jacob was a believer from the beginning of his story, but his faith was not perfected until he wrestled with the angel and received a new name. His story shows the difference between a common believer and an overcomer, a truth which carries great significance by the time we come to the revelation in the New Testament.
When Rebekah was pregnant with her twins, Jacob and Esau, they seemed to fight each other in her womb. We read in Genesis 25:22 and 23,
22 But the children struggled together within her; and she said, “If it is so, why am I this way?” So she went to inquire of the Lord. 23 And the Lord said to her, “Two nations are in your womb; and two peoples shall be separated from your body; the one people [i.e., Esau] shall be stronger than the other [Jacob] ; and the older [Esau] shall serve the younger [Jacob].”
The “struggle” was prophetic, because Jacob and Esau engaged in sibling rivalry, and their descendants after them followed their example down to the present day.
The main difference is that Esau showed no sign of having faith in God, whereas Jacob did. When the time came that Isaac believed he was nearing his death bed, he announced that he was going to pass the birthright to Esau, his oldest. When Rebekah heard this, she recalled the promise of God before the twins were born that the older would serve the younger. So she plotted with Jacob to trick their blind father into blessing the younger son in order to fulfill God’s promise by stealth.
Thus, Jacob pretended to be Esau in the first known case of identity theft, and when Isaac discerned that the voice was not Esau’s, Jacob lied to his father (Gen. 27:19, 24). In this way, Isaac blessed Jacob and designated him as the heir of the estate and of the promises of God.
The prophecy was thus fulfilled that “the older shall serve the younger,” but the circumstances were unlawful. Rebekah had heard the word of the Lord and believed it, but she did not think that God was capable of fulfilling His word without human help. Jacob was caught up in her imperfect faith and was thus forced to lie twice in order to fulfill the promise of God.
Isaac, on the other hand, understood the law that was yet to be given by Moses, wherein the oldest son had the primary right to be given the birthright (Deut. 21:15-17). The firstborn son could be disinherited, but only if he proved himself to be unworthy in some way. In fact, Jacob himself later disinherited Reuben, his firstborn (1 Chron. 5:1, 2), “because he defiled his father’s bed.” Gen. 35:22 tells us,
22 And it came about that while Israel was dwelling in that land, that Reuben went and lay with Bilhah his father’s concubine; and Israel heard of it.
The point is that Isaac was taking the lawful course of action when he intended to give Esau the blessing, but Rebekah also believed that she was justified in her actions on account of the promise of God. The problem seems to be that Isaac thought he was about to die, and so he wanted to pass on the birthright too soon. The fact is that Isaac was to live for many years afterward. The book of Jasher says that Isaac was 123 years old when he blessed Jacob, and we know from Gen. 35:28 that Isaac lived to be 180. In other words, he lived another 47 years.
We can hardly blame him for passing on the blessing too soon, but yet the problem might have been avoided if he had waited. I believe that Esau proved himself to be a stubborn and rebellious son before Isaac died, but by then he had already lost the birthright.
Rebekah and Jacob were also at fault. Jacob dishonored his father by lying to him; Rebekah dishonored her husband for going against his will and for deceiving him. Neither Jacob nor his mother truly understood the sovereignty of God, and for that reason their faith fell short of perfection.
Jacob’s Faith is Perfected
Jacob was 77 years old when he fled to the house of his uncle Laban in the land of Haran. There he worked for Laban for seven years as a dowry to marry Laban’s daughter Rachel. Isaac had sent him to Haran with plenty of money, but he had been robbed by Esau’s oldest son, Eliphaz, along the way. Hence, he arrived a poor man and had to work seven years to earn sufficient money for the dowry.
Then, of course, Laban tricked him into marrying Leah, whom the book of Jasher says was Rachel’s older twin sister. When Jacob complained, Laban agreed to let him marry Rachel the following week if he would agree to work for another seven years for her dowry.
So Jacob ended up marrying both sisters when he was 84 years old. In the next seven years, Leah bore him many sons, but finally Rachel herself gave birth to Joseph when Jacob was 91. We know this because many years later, Jacob went to Egypt at the age of 130 (Gen. 47:9).
Joseph himself had been elevated to power at the age of 30 (Gen. 41:46), and after seven years of plenty and two years of famine, he was 39 years old when he invited his family to live in Egypt. By doing the simple math, we see that Joseph was born when Jacob was 91.
Jacob worked for Laban for 20 full years and then left in the 21st year, which was a Sabbath year. The Sabbath year was like a vacation year which is reckoned as if it were a year of labor. Jacob was then 97-98 years old when he returned to Canaan.
On the way home, he heard that Esau was coming with 400 men to kill him. He was afraid and divided his family and his flocks into two groups, hoping that at least half of them might escape alive.
Then he went out into the night to pray, and he wrestled with an angel all night (Gen. 32:24). The angel had taken the form of a man, and I believe that Jacob thought he was actually wrestling with his brother Esau. Gen. 32:25 says,
25 And when he [the angel] saw that he had not prevailed against him [Jacob], he touched the socket of his thigh; so the socket of Jacob’s thigh was dislocated while he wrestled with him.
It is not possible to wrestle with a dislocated hip socket. At that point Jacob was probably lying on the ground, holding the angel’s leg at the ankle. Gen. 32:26 says,
26 Then he [the angel] said, “Let me go, for the dawn is breaking.” But he said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.
It is obvious that by this time Jacob knew that he was wrestling with an angel. Most likely, the supernatural manner in which the angel had dislocated Jacob’s hip socket gave him this revelation. So Jacob demanded a blessing.
We read in Gen. 32:27, 28,
27 So he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” 28 And he said, “Your name shall no longer be Jacob, but Israel; for you have striven with God and with men and have prevailed.”
Jacob had clearly lost this wrestling match, but in losing, he won, for he received the blessing from the angel. His new name was Israel. Dr. Bullinger’s notes on this verse say:
Israel = God commands, orders or rules.” Man attempts it but always, in the end, fails. Out of some forty Hebrew names compounded with “El” or “Jah,” God is always the doer of what the verb means (cp. Dani-el, God judges).
Many interpret “Israel” to mean “Ruling with God,” as if to say that man is elevated to a position of ruling. But the name is actually an acknowledgement that God rules. It is a testimony of the sovereignty of God.
The Revelation of Peniel
We then read in Gen. 32:29, 30,
29 Then Jacob asked him [the angel] and said, “Please tell me your name.” But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And he blessed him there. 30 So Jacob named the place Peniel, for he said, “I have seen God face to face, yet my life has been preserved.”
The angel would not tell Jacob his name, because he expected Jacob to discern it for himself. Jacob did discern it, and so he named the place Peniel, after the name of the angel. Peniel means “face of God” or “Presence of God.” Jacob said in verse 30 that he saw God face to face, although we understand by this that he actually saw only an angel who represented God.
Years later, Moses wanted to see God’s face as well, but this time without an intermediary angel. In Exodus 33:20 God tells Moses,
30 But He said, “You cannot see My face, for no man can see Me and live!”
This is confirmed in John 1:18,
18 No man has seen God at any time; the only begotten God, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained [exegeomai, “unfolded, declared, told”] Him.
Here “the only begotten God” (i.e., Jesus), who is the Mediator between God and man, came so that we could see God without actually seeing God.
Again, we read in 1 John 4:12,
12 No one has beheld God at any time; if we love one another, God abides in us, and His love is perfected in us.
Love, John says, is the evidence that we have seen God and that He abides in us. Yet we see God either through angels or through Jesus Himself, who came in God’s image. In the New Testament, we read in John 14:8, 9,
8 Philip said to Him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” 9 Jesus said to him, “Have I been so long with you, and yet you have not come to know Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; how do you say, ‘Show us the Father’?”
John 1:18 tells us that Jesus was “the only begotten God, who is in the bosom of the Father.” This establishes the deity of Christ while maintaining His distinction from the Father Himself. As an agent of the Father, when one sees Christ, one sees the Father. When one accepts the message of one who is sent, he receives also the sender of the message. A messenger is sent in the name of another, and one cannot reject the messenger without rejecting the one who has sent him. John 12:44, 45 says,
44 And Jesus cried out and said, “He who believes in Me does not believe in Me, but in Him who sent Me. 45 And he who beholds Me beholds the one who sent Me.
So while Jacob stated that he had seen God face to face, it is understood that he had seen Peniel, who represented God’s face. The revelation of God’s face was reflected in his name change to Israel, “God rules.” As long as he lived according to that revelation of God’s sovereignty, he bore testimony to the divine nature and thereby had the right to use the name Israel.
Jacob’s revelation of God’s sovereignty changed his life, for from then on, he understood that God did not need his help to fulfill His promises. Thus, Jacob’s faith was perfected, and as a result, he became qualified as an overcomer who was fit to rule in the Kingdom of God.
A ruler must know his place as a steward or trustee. He must consider himself to be a servant of God who always acts in accordance with the will of God. He cannot take upon himself the responsibility to fulfill the promises of God apart from the leading of the Spirit. He must know that the Spirit of God does not force him to lie in order to ensure that God’s promises can be fulfilled.
This moment of revelation is the snapshot of the Kingdom insofar as Jacob is concerned. It was his moment of truth and revelation, and it is the most important lesson that all prospective overcomers must learn.
The next day, when Jacob met Esau, he discovered that God had already done a work in Esau’s heart to prevent him from carrying out his evil purpose. The Bible does not tell us how God did this. The book of Jasher tells us that God sent three companies of angels, 2000 in each company, who identified themselves to Esau as Jacob’s men-at-arms. By the time Esau met Jacob, he was quite friendly.
The most important biblical clue, however, is found in Gen. 33:10,
10 And Jacob said, “No, please, if now I have found favor in your sight, then take my present from my hand, for I see your face as one sees the face of God, and you have received me favorably.
Once Jacob had become Israel, he was able to see what he could not see previously. He had struggled and wrestled with Esau all of his life up to that point, trying hard to outwit him in order to ensure that prophecy was fulfilled. But once he saw Peniel, “God’s Face,” he was given new eyes and a new perspective in life. He suddenly realized that he had been fighting God all of his life.
With new eyes, he saw Esau the next day, and when the two met, Jacob said, “I see your face as one sees the face of God.” This was no mere hyperbole. This was the revelation of an Israelite indeed. When you can see God in the face of your greatest lifelong enemy, then you are a true Israelite.
We seem to spend most of our time fighting God’s enemies, when in reality we ought to see that our greatest enemy is much closer than we wish to acknowledge. God gives us enemies in order to challenge us to see things from His perspective. The question is, Have you seen Peniel yet?
Vessels of Dishonor have a Purpose
Romans 9 is the New Testament chapter explaining the sovereignty of God, even as Isaiah 44 and 45 is its Old Testament counterpart. Isaiah speaks of Cyrus as God’s “servant” (Isaiah 44:26), His “shepherd” (Isaiah 44:28) and even a messiah, or “anointed one” (Isaiah 45:1). Yet Cyrus, a pagan king, did not even know God (Isaiah 45:4).
Cyrus was Isaiah’s example of how God is so sovereign that even His enemies have use. Cyrus was God’s agent who decreed the rebuilding of Jerusalem (Isaiah 44:28). The passage culminates with the lesson in Isaiah 45:5-7,
5 I am the Lord, and there is no other; Besides Me there is no God. I will gird you [Cyrus], though you have not known Me; 6 that men may know from the rising to the setting of the sun that there is no one besides Me. I am the Lord, and there is no other, 7 the One forming light and creating darkness, causing well-being and creating calamity [ra, “evil”].
By showing how God’s enemies are not independent of the sovereignty of God, we learn that we have nothing to fear from them. They are put in positions to provide the opposition so that God may be glorified. God is so sovereign that He has to raise up His own enemies just to have any!
Paul builds upon Isaiah’s revelation in Romans 9, citing the examples of Esau and Pharaoh. Rom. 9:10-12 says,
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.”
Paul explains that God has the right to choose who He will work through to accomplish His good purpose, and who He will raise up as opposition. Later, Paul refers to these as vessels of honor and vessels of dishonor (Romans 9:21).
Pharaoh was another example of a vessel of dishonor who opposed God through Moses, the vessel of honor. Paul writes in Romans 9:15-17,
15 For He says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” 16 So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy. 17 For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I raised you up, to demonstrate My power in you, and that My name might be proclaimed throughout the whole earth.”
God has purpose for both types of people. God uses the vessels of dishonor to train the vessels of honor in the art of love and faith and to teach them about His sovereignty. Until we learn those lessons, we are not yet overcomers, even if we are genuine believers (as Jacob was).
Jacob is our prime example of an overcomer, not because he was the only one, but because we are able to track his journey more completely than with anyone else. We are able to see Jacob’s key mistakes and his misunderstanding of the nature of mature faith.
Most important, we are able to see the turning point when he received the revelation necessary to receive the name/title: Israel. We see how God trained him through adversity and hard labor to bring him to the revelation of the sovereignty of God. He was then able to see the big picture through God’s eyes and to understand the purpose of Esau and all vessels of dishonor. When he saw the face of God (Peniel) in the face of Esau, it was because he had come to see the world through new eyes.
The transformation from Jacob to Israel is a journey that every overcomer must make in his/her own way. Usually, this involves a vessel of dishonor that God raises up to drive the vessel of honor to seek God’s face in a deeper way.
We should also note that to understand the sovereignty of God in Romans 9, one must first understand the love of God in Romans 5. One must understand that the sovereignty of God is not sterile, stern, and devoid of love toward the vessels of dishonor that God has raised up.
Rom. 5:8-10 makes it clear that God’s “enemies” were not raised up only to be destroyed in the end. Christ died for them while they are yet enemies, in order to justify “all men” (Rom. 5:18). Once this has been clarified, we can look at Romans 9 and understand that God’s sovereign choices are about who will be saved FIRST and who God chooses to rule and reign with Christ. The overcomers are His ambassadors (2 Cor. 5:18-20) to bring the gospel to the vessels of dishonor.
Abraham gives us a snapshot of faith, and Isaac pictures the obedient servant. Jacob portrays one who sees the sovereignty of God and agrees with His plan to call the few to teach the many, thereby restoring all things lost in Adam.