A Turning Point in the Life of a Leader: Jacob

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Jun 01, 2009 by Alex Mekonnen | 0 Comments

Text: Gen. 32:22-32

Unlike most of us, the story of Jacob and his relationship with God started before he was born. Paul writes in Romans 9:10-13:

…Rebekah’s children had one and the same father, our father Isaac. Yet, before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad—in order that God’s purpose in election might stand: not by works but by him who calls—she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” Just as it is written: “Jacob I loved, Esau I hated”

A man who was chosen by God before he was born, a man who was elected and predestined for the divine purpose of God; not by his merit but by the sheer mercy of the Lord, we see him facing a critical moment in his life. We see him in a wrestling match with the very God who chose him, loved him, fed him, protected him, and has been patient with him. What does Jacob really want? What spiritual truth does God want to teach Jacob at this stage of his life? What do we learn from this biblical story?


By nature Jacob is good at making a calculative move – even though he had seen his father Isaac blessed by God, had heard his grandfather Abraham called “A friend of God” (James 2:23) and knew that he was tremendously blessed by the Almighty. For Jacob, however, the spiritual formula of his life was: reason, hard work, smartness first; God second. Based on this principle:

  • He bought the birth right of Esau with a good bargain. He hits the iron when it is hot.
  • He deceitfully received his father’s blessing which was supposed to be for Esau, his older brother.
  • When it comes to worldly success in life, Jacob knew how to make you cry, while he is laughing over his gain.
  • He outmaneuvered Labon, his father in-law, beat him in his own game and became richer than his employer.
  • In Jacob’s philosophy of life, business ethics, family value, and fear of God had no place.
  • He had no remorse when he cheated his aged father whose sight was not good. He had no guilt when he took what belonged to his only brother, Esau, and made him cry. It doesn’t bother him to be the cause of bitterness, creating a rift in the family, bringing shame upon his family in the community in which they were supposed to be models. In the ocean of a heathen society, Isaac’s family was the only family who was worshiping the true God. Jacob was deliberately taking actions that mar the image of a godly family.
  • In today’s world, Jacob is the kind of person who, if you hire him as a clerk, in a few years, by manipulating, stepping on the toes of others, and blocking the opportunity of many innocent hard working employees, he would be a CEO.

Was God with Jacob through all this mess? Yes, God was with Jacob even before he was born and throughout his life.

When Jacob was running for his life, God revealed himself to Jacob at Bethel and promised him the following (Genesis 28:10-22):

  • I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac. In his lowest point, lying in a desert, not in a five star hotel, with no uncertain terms God assured Jacob that he is the true God, and mentioned to Jacob his family tree.
  • Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth. Jacob was not even dating, let alone married. But God was telling him that he will have descendants. He was alone, but God was telling him he will be many.  He left a heartbroken and divided family behind, yet the Lord told him he will give him another family.
  • You will spread out to the west and to the east, to the north and to the south.
  • All people on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring.
  • I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go.
  • I’ll bring you to this land.
  • I’ll not leave you until I have done what I’ve promised you.

At Bethel, Jacob got his life and property insurance from God. He also received his blueprint for success. Yes, God was with Jacob all the way through.  But God was not exactly where he wants to be in Jacob’s life.  Hence, we see a wrestling match between the divine and human at Peniel.


Unless something was wrong in the laying of the foundation and in the progress of life, we’re not supposed to see the kind of crisis Jacob faced in Genesis Chap. 32. He might be in his mid forties or early fifties at this stage of his life. He had plenty of cattle, many children, wives and maidservants. He had material wealth, as well as a large family. He could be one of the few affluent people around Jordan. He had seen God and heard his voice. His soul had tasted the sweet taste of heaven and earthly wealth.

At the peak of his life, all of a sudden, everything came to a halt. Jacob realized he had been building his family and fortune on sand. At Peniel, the rhythm of his life changed. The hustling and bustling of business life became meaningless. His diary suddenly became blank; nobody wanted to see him except the very person he most feared—Esau. To understand his situation in today’s American life, he is like a person who is losing the limelight and flamboyant lifestyle. His phone is not ringing. His investment is about to plunge to a dismal point, caught by the snare of avaricious and pecuniary motive, and is at the verge of being a mendicant. He is like a person whose picture is on the front page of a newspaper covering the dark pages of his personal, financial and family life. Before his own family and the community, his reputation and livelihood were at stake.

If you think I am making up a story or stretching the truth, let us hear what the Bible says:

  • In great fear and distress Jacob divided the people into two groups. If you have ever been in “great fear and distress” you can understand the emotional status of Jacob. The can of worms in his life was open. The dark pages of his life, the knife that he tucked into his brother’s soul, overcome by greed and a spirit of competition, had fully surfaced in his conscious with a crippling and trembling power. In great fear and distress he was shaking. Oh! If he only had a painkiller, a drug that could make him oblivious and numb his senses to his situation, a medicine that could pacify his tormented mind and soul.
  • Maybe for the first time Jacob felt a true sense of unworthiness, and he sounds sincere when he said, “I am unworthy of all the kindness and faithfulness you have shown your servant. I had only my staff when I crossed this Jordan, but now I’ve become two groups.” The naked truth of his true self was in total contrast to his gain. He was leading his life with an irreconcilable world of deceit, lie, and manipulation on one hand, and the justice and righteousness of God on the other.
  • He sent his wives, children, maidservants, and all his possessions across the stream. Jacob was left alone.

Loneliness was not new for Jacob. He was alone in Bethel lying on the ground. But his loneliness at Mannheim was different. Then, he only had a stick in his hand. Now he is about to lose everything—his large family and huge property. Then, he had a dream, now he has a nightmare. Then, the night was bright with a heavenly revelation and he was seeing God. Now, he is in a thick dark night of his soul, seeing nothing but doom. Then, he had promise, bright hope and future. Now his existence is uncertain, he is not sure if he will see tomorrow.

In our modern time, people in this kind of lonely situation like Jacob would either commit suicide or sink into severe depression. Because of the unconditional mercy of God, Jacob had a better alternative. His loneliness led to companionship, his temporary loss was for ultimate gain, and his fear was replaced by unshakable trust and confidence. Jacob met God, and he asked him for one thing and one thing only—blessing. For the first time in his life, Jacob came to a point of TOTAL DEPENDENCE ON GOD.

Why is this spiritual experience a long journey for Jacob and for all of us?


In Romans 3:10-12, Paul summarized the spiritual condition of mankind, Jews, and Gentiles towards God:

There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away; they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.


What does total dependence on God mean? Is it to fast and pray and then do nothing to pass our exams with flying colors? Is it to have “miracle babies” without consummation of marriage? Is it to sit idle and expect God to pay our children’s school fee, pay our mortgage, our car insurance, etc.? Is it to claim by faith in order to get what we need and what we want? Or is it to gain by cutting corners and then pray for God’s blessing upon our achievement? Even within Christian circles, depending on who you ask, the answer varies. In this article, by all means, I’m not attempting to give a fair treatment to the question.

Virginia R. Mollenkott in her book, In Search of Balance, wrote extensively on her personal struggle in understanding the place of personal responsibility and dependence on God. Here is a summary of her thought:

When I seek to trust in the Lord with all my heart, and not lean on my own understanding, I must not repudiate my own insights, nor must I refuse to make responsible decisions. Instead, I must judge a human situation as carefully as I can, at the same time reminding myself of my human limitations and the possibility of my own error. I must pray for God’s guidance: I must consciously open my thoughts to the influence of the Holy Spirit; I must try to see things as I think God might see them, all the while aware that I’m not God, that ego and self-interest might be skewing my judgment.  As I swing into action, doing things that seem to be right in the situation so far I can assess it, I must do so relying upon God’s mercy; but I must not assume my own infallibility.  I must perform my deed with a conscious acknowledgement of Him, in confidence that in fulfillment of His promise He will keep me from ultimately devastating error (“He shall direct my paths”).  At the same time, I am protected from a nervous breakdown by the knowledge that God knows my heart, and that I am acting with trust in Him. If I am wrong in this particular case, He will apply to me the forgiveness made possible by Christ’s redemptive death. So I am simultaneously resting in God and making responsible human choice.


Time and space do not allow me to address these questions fairly and adequately. But I would like to leave you with two texts from the Bible.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and he will make your paths straight. Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and shun evil. This will bring health to your body and nourishment to your bones. Honor the Lord with your wealth, with the first of all your crops; then your barns will be filled to overflowing, and you vats will brim over with new wine (Prov. 3:5-10).

Trust in the Lord and do good; dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture. Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him and he will do this: He will make your righteousness shine like the dawn, the justice of your cause like the noonday sun.  Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for Him; do not fret when men succeed in their ways, when they carry out their wicked schemes (Psalms 37:3-7).

If you want to succeed in life, let God have his proper place in your heart and allow him to rule over your thought and action. He will safely and victoriously lead you to the golden shore. Meeting God at our Mannheim can be seen as a crisis from the surface. If God meets us with his grace and mercy like he did to Jacob, our crisis can turn into a golden opportunity. As Christian leaders, having a turning point in our life that would change our perspective, values, attitude, and behavior, and draw us near to God, is a blessing. God changed Jacob’s name to Israel. It is a name that the invasion of Assyrians, Babylonians, Greeks, Romans, the holocaust, and many other wars and intrigues could not erase. In all things you do, be certain you have the blessing of the God of Jacob.


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