Over the past few days I have considered the story of Jacob in the Old Testament, and I have found that it has several lessons to teach. First, though it is important to understand the context of where Jacob begins his story.
Jacob was born into a rich family and likely lacked for nothing. He even obtained the birthright from his father, and thus all of the luxuries he enjoyed as a son would one day become his very own. His father and grandfather were also very spiritual men, and had no doubt educated him about God and the covenant that he had been born into.
Yet for having had a claim on everything, from a broader point of view Jacob actually possessed nothing. These were Abraham and Isaac’s wealth and blessings just being handed down to him. His forefathers had earned all this, not him. Fortunately, it was not his destiny to just become his father. It was intended that he would find his own self.
And so he was sent out from his home, and his comforts, and his family, and the entire land of his youth. Alone in the wild he made his pillow out of stones and asked God for the thing he wanted most: to just go back home to his father’s house.
But that was not what happened.
God’s intent was that Jacob build his own house. To be motivated in that cause, God led Jacob to Rachel who awoke a powerful love in him. He felt inspired by her to toil and labor for the things his heart yearned for. Fourteen years he served for her, and along the way he obtained for himself large flocks of goats and sheep. These became the foundation of his own personal vocation, a wealth that he had earned rather than inherited.
Eventually Jacob did return to his homeland, bringing with him his great entourage. He received word that his brother Esau was coming to meet him, though, with a large host of men. It seemed certain to Jacob that Esau was coming to kill him and everything that he had. Family, servants, flocks…all of it.
Once again Jacob had a private conversation with God, pleading for the thing he wanted most: that he and his family would be kept alive.
And that was what happened.
Esau’s heart had been softened and he welcomed his brother in peace. Not only this, but Jacob was given a new name from the Lord: Israel. This is a very fitting symbol for how Jacob had truly become a new man. His own man.
His relationship to God was his own. His family was his own. His vocation was his own…. Through the help of God, his entire life was his own.