Series of 15 Sermons by Pastor Ron Thomas On
"The Life of Jacob"

801 West Buckingham Rd. - Garland, TX 75040

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Text: Genesis 33:1-16. "And Jacob lifted up his eyes, and looked, and, behold, Esau came, and with him four hundred men. And he divided the children unto Leah, and unto Rachel, and unto the two handmaids. 2 And he put the handmaids and their children foremost, and Leah and her children after, and Rachel and Joseph hindermost. 3 And he passed over before them, and bowed himself to the ground seven times, until he came near to his brother. 4 And Esau ran to meet him, and embraced him, and fell on his neck, and kissed him: and they wept. 5 And he lifted up his eyes, and saw the women and the children; and said, Who are those with thee? And he said, The children which God hath graciously given thy servant. 6 Then the handmaidens came near, they and their children, and they bowed themselves. 7 And Leah also with her children came near, and bowed themselves: and after came Joseph near and Rachel, and they bowed themselves. 8 And he said, What meanest thou by all this drove which I met? And he said, These are to find grace in the sight of my lord. 9 And Esau said, I have enough, my brother; keep that thou hast unto thyself. 10 And Jacob said, Nay, I pray thee, if now I have found grace in thy sight, then receive my present at my hand: for therefore I have seen thy face, as though I had seen the face of God, and thou wast pleased with me."

Introduction: Jacob has had the night of his life. He has wrestled with God and lived to tell about it. There on the banks of the Jabbok river, all alone, Jacob came face to face with God. Genesis 32:30 says, "And Jacob called the name of the place Peniel: for I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved." God has changed the name of Jacob to Israel.

The name is merely the outward manifestation of an inward change of heart. His old bent was to wrestle with life and thereby wrestle with God Himself. His new nature is a new voice, a new influence in his life, that would have him cling to God, to live in co-operation with God, letting Him carry the burden, letting Him conquer the mountain in front of him.

Our text however covers the morning after Jacob's long night of struggle. Now he faces Esau, ...not God. Verse 1a reads, "And Jacob lifted up his eyes, and looked, and, behold, Esau came, and with him four hundred men." What a sight! Esau is coming toward Jacob and he is accompanied by four hundred men. This is the man who once issued a death threat toward Jacob. He is facing a real problem, ...a real threat. This is the moment he has been rehearsing in his heart and mind for years! Suddenly Jacob forgets his encounter with God, he forgets his new name and new identity, and in doing so he forgets God.

We all know about the morning after. Sunday services were great, we basked in the presence of God, we prayed, perhaps we even made vows to God, but now it is Monday morning and we are facing real life, ...real problems. Facing obstacles and problems is real. These are just part of living in a sinful world. Job said in Job 5:7, "Yet man is born unto trouble, as the sparks fly upward." In Job 14:1 he said, "Man that is born of a woman is of few days, and full of trouble." So, what do we do? Sad to say, much of the time we forget everything we said we believed just the day before.

Problems are real, however our response to those problems is just as real. Many if not most problems in life are unavoidable, they are beyond our control, but our response is always our choice. This is why problems reveal our true identity, they reveal who we are. How we face our problems tells a story about each of us. Will we face them in fear or in faith?

As we think about Jacob and his problem, the question is, WHO will face Esau? Will it be Jacob? Or will it be Israel? Each name embraces a nature.

Jacob is a picture of the old man, the flesh. We each have a sinful, carnal nature that we inherited through our fleshly birth. In the New Testament, this sinful nature is often referred to as the "old man." Romans 6:6. "Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin." Ephesians 4:22. "That ye put off concerning the former conversation the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts." Colossians 3:9. "Lie not one to another, seeing that ye have put off the old man with his deeds." Israel is a picture of the new man, the Spirit. Ephesians 4:24 reads, "And that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness." This is the nature we inherit through our second, spiritual birth." Romans 6:4 says, "Therefore we are buried with Him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life."

Well, we are not far into verse 1, until we are able to make an identification. It is Jacob who surfaces. At the present, he remains habitually Jacob. The old nature kicks in as Jacob limps toward Esau. How so? We can find the fingerprints of the flesh all through our text. Here are a few sets of prints from the crime scene.

Exhibit One: We find the fingerprints of the fleshly nature, as Jacob returns to his old plan of attempting to appease his brother, Esau. Jacob arranges his women with their children, according to their position of favor in his life. He starts with his handmaids and their children, followed by Leah with her children, and last Rachel with her children. This order is calculated to minimize his risk and potential loss. Each group of course is equipped with presents, gifts of animals. Genesis 32:20b exposes this wave after wave of gift giving as a fleshly attempt to change the mind and heart of Esau. "For he said, I will appease him with the present that goeth before me, and afterward I will see his face; peradventure he will accept of me." When Esau asks Jacob the reason for these gifts, he is up front with his brother.

Notice verses 8-9. "And he said, What meanest thou by all this drove which I met? And he said, These are to find grace in the sight of my lord.9 And Esau said, I have enough, my brother; keep that thou hast unto thyself."

Exhibit Two: We find the fingerprints of the fleshly nature as Jacob returns to his old plan of forfeiting his God given place and position. Even before these twins were born, the Lord told their parents that the younger, the second born, would prevail over the older. The covenant promise would pass through Jacob, not Esau. This is not what we see demonstrated here. Verse 3 reads, "And he passed over before them, and bowed himself to the ground seven times, until he came near to his brother." With premeditated purpose, Jacob walked toward his brother Esau keeping his eyes fixed upon him. As he did so, he would bow with the upper part of the body parallel to the ground, advance a few steps, and bow again. Jacob repeated this act of obeisance seven times, until he stood in Esau's immediate presence. The was ancient court protocol when subjects approached a lord or a king. All of this was calculated to appeal to Esau's sense of pride.

Exhibit Three: We find the fingerprints of the fleshly nature as Jacob buys a little insurance, all but forcing Esau to accept his gifts. Notice verse 11. "Take, I pray thee, my blessing that is brought to thee; because God hath dealt graciously with me, and because I have enough. And he urged him, and he took it." Jacob could not be certain that he had found favour with Esau, unless the present had been received; for in accepting it, Esau necessarily became his friend, according to the custom of those times, and in that country. In the eastern countries, if your present is received by your superior, you may rely on his friendship. If your present is not received, you have everything to fear. This is why Jacob was so urgent and insistent for Esau to receive his present. Receiving it, meant that Esau was obligated to treat him as a friend.

Exhibit Four: We find the fingerprints of the fleshly nature as Jacob insists on traveling alone, refusing more than once to accept the presence and protection of Esau. Esau, in an effort to extend the visit with his brother, invites Jacob to come with him to Seir. In verse 12, he offers to go before him on the way. Verse 12 reads, "And he said, Let us take our journey, and let us go, and I will go before thee." Jacob however has no intention of going with Esau to Seir.

In verse 13, rather than be up front with Esau, Jacob comes up with a good excuse. "And he said unto him, My lord knoweth that the children are tender, and the flocks and herds with young are with me: and if men should overdrive them one day, all the flock will die. 14 Let my lord, I pray thee, pass over before his servant: and I will lead on softly, according as the cattle that goeth before me and the children be able to endure, until I come unto my lord unto Seir."

In verse 15, Esau makes another effort, but Jacob insists on going it alone. Why did Jacob not want to go home with his brother? Why did he want to part company with Esau? Once again Jacob is playing it safe. He had rather risk traveling alone, dwelling alone, than risk traveling and dwelling with his brother. He is not resting in the promise of God to keep and sustain him.

It is rather obvious that this is Jacob meeting Esau, not Israel. Jacob has his hands all over the situation, pandering, scheming, and manipulating. So, how did things go?

In the midst of this display of fleshly endeavor, God reveals what He can do by the power of His Spirit. It is here that we witness the grace of God. In verse 4 it says, "And Esau ran to meet him, and embraced him, and fell on his neck, and kissed him: and they wept." As Esau with his four hundred men approached Jacob, something unusual happened. Esau was overcome by concern and compassion for is estranged brother Jacob. He runs to Jacob, falling on his neck, hugging him, kissing him, and weeping! This is not the Esau we knew. This is not the Esau Jacob knew. He is a changed man! It is almost too good to be true! The one who had harbored hostility for Jacob, who had brought four hundred strong men along with him as if he planned to carry out his old threat, is a teddy bear!

It is obvious that Esau's heart had changed, but how and why? Was it the gifts? No! Esau did not need such things. Was it Jacob's bowing and display of humility. No! Esau was not a bit insecure or in need of a bolster to his ego. It was God who had taken away his hatred and bitterness, and replaced it with a spirit of understanding and forgiveness. The same hand of God that was in the life of Jacob these twenty years, was equally in the life of Esau, changing both men.

Isn't it amazing how we allow people to be frozen in time? When people walk out of our lives, we somehow expect them to never change. We change. Our children change and grow up, but we are surprised to discover that they have changed, that their children have grown. We say, "My how your children have grown!" What did we expect? Jacob had not figured God into the equation. It never crossed his mind that God could be working on the other end of this relationship. What was truly impossible in the strength of the flesh, is entirely possible by the Spirit of the Lord. Zechariah 4:6a reads, "Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, saith the LORD of hosts."

This passage is about two names and two natures. We who are saved by the grace of God, have both Jacob and Israel within us. Like father Abraham, sometimes we are on top of Mount Moriah offering Isaac, and the next, we are at the gate lying about Sarah. Sometimes we respond in faith, and other times we are motivated by fear. When we are facing a crisis or a problem in our lives, sometimes it is the Jacob who shows up in us, and sometimes it is Israel.

As we consider this passage and the Jacob nature in us, we are presented with two great temptations.

The first great temptation is to war after the flesh. II Corinthians 10:3 Paul says, "For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh:4 (For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds." Paul in this instance did not "war after the flesh," however the temptation is ever before us. Responding to a problem, serving the Lord, in the flesh, in the strength and power of Jacob, is tempting because it is attractive and natural. How?

Striving in the flesh, being Jacob, fits our natural inclination. It gives us something to do. It is busy and active. Here we see Jacob giving orders, arranging his wives with their children and the presents. He is busy organizing this presentation so it will deliver. People naturally prefer a religion, a faith, dominated by doing rather than being. It is easier to keep the church going than to keep our hearts. We are not easily, not naturally, given to "letting go and letting God." Why rest in the Lord and wait upon Him, when we can rush ahead and take care of the situation ourselves?

Striving in the flesh, being Jacob, quickly gains the attention and acceptance of men. It makes a show. This was quite a parade organized by Jacob. Without doubt Esau was impressed. Doing is a great way to measure ourselves against others in the church. Doing is a great way to be recognized in the body and be elevated to some position or office.

Of course, it is often accomplished under the banner of a good cause. Jacob could easily say in defense of his actions, "We are doing this for the sake of the children, so that they can lead on gently." The firemen of a local department get together and pose in the nude to make a calender. The profits of course are going to help the victims of fire or the widows of firemen slain in the performance of their duty. A young single mother becomes a prostitute, so that she can feed her children. A bunch of grown men get together, form a club, through in a little partying, a little paganism, so that they can raise money to help needy, disadvantaged children. A good cause can make the flesh look noble.

Striving in the flesh, being Jacob, can pass as spirituality. Jacob can appear to be Israel. It promotes a false show of piety. Here we see Jacob bowing before Esau seven times, performing outward manifestations of humility and piety. The church of Laodicea by all outward appearances was a great church. They had great numbers, great programs, all the whistles and bells. Everyone was impressed, except for Jesus. In Revelation 3:17 we read His assessment of this Jacob church. "Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked."

Striving in the flesh, being Jacob, feels good. It brings immediate gratification. A system of good works by which we can gain the approval of man and advance ourselves feels good. It fuels our sense of well being, of accomplishment and pride.

The second great temptation is to credit success to our fleshly ways. It would be so easy to give the credit for the miracle of Esau's changed disposition to Jacob's efforts. Jacob could say in his heart, "It worked. Esau bought it!" As we consider the two natures, that of Jacob and Israel in this passage, we are presented with two observations.

We can become habitually fleshly in our approach to life. We are habitual creatures. We quickly establish ruts or patterns in our thinking, acting, and responding. It is obvious that Jacob is not yet habitually Israel. He has too long been Jacob, in his thinking, acting, and responding to life. Jacob bows before Esau. When we respond in the flesh, we are bowing to the lesser.

We can become habitually spiritual in our approach to life. There are bad habits and there are good habits. Just as we willfully practice our fleshly disposition, we can willfully practice our spiritual heavenly disposition. Notice Paul's words to Timothy in I Timothy 4:7-9. "But refuse profane and old wives' fables, and exercise thyself rather unto godliness. 8 For bodily exercise profiteth little: but godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come. 9 This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptation."

When we think of life in this manner, our problems become opportunities for us to practice. The more we face problems like Israel, the more we respond "in the Spirit," the more it becomes our nature, a habit.

Jacob needed to learn to lift his eyes higher. In verse 1, he lifted his eyes and set them upon Esau. Next time, he must look higher and set his eyes upon God. Those who see the face of God, need never fear the face of men. God has power over all. While Jacob bows before Esau, Israel bows before God. It is the spiritual man, the new man, who prays rather than panic. When prayer has proceeded a trial, the trial turns out to be much less than anticipated.

So, who is it showing up in you? Is it Jacob? Is it Israel? We need to be reminded that we are what we practice.

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