Beginning in chapter 32, we open a new chapter in the life of Jacob. The first seven decades were summarized in a few stories about his lying, deception, and preying on weaknesses. Then came the second chapter that began with the vision at Bethel of the ladder going up to heaven. For the next twenty years, Jacob was in the school of hard knocks as he struggled under the thumb of his uncle Laban. In this chapter of Jacob’s story, we see some great highs but some equally deep lows for his family. Such is the life of a follower of God. We have seen throughout Jacob’s life God’s presence and work in this man. And that continues in chapter 32. In the first two verses of the story, we read of an angelic visitation as Jacob begins to make his way back to his homeland. Before Jacob enters Canaan he sends a delegation to Esau which we find in verses 3 through 8. Esau’s reply is not what Jacob wanted. This drives Jacob to pray in verses 9 through 12 as he asks for help. Finally, Jacob sends a gift in an attempt to appease Esau. At the end of our story, we find Jacob the same as how he started out this whole journey 20 years prior: alone.
As we have studied the lives of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob I hope that you have been struck by the loving care and provision of God for these men. We have repeatedly talked about the providence of God and for good reason. It is one of the main threads that God has woven throughout these stories. You can’t escape it. God shows us how he is putting together all of these people (good and bad) and events (advantageous and destructive) together to bring about his promises. We often think of the promise of God in Romans chapter 8, as we should. “We know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” But how does that play out in real-time? What does that look like in the life of a normal God-fearing person? If God is working does it matter what you do then? In Genesis 30 we find the story of how God prospers Jacob. Jacob does his best to work alongside his uncle while at the same time his uncle is taking advantage of him. Jacob does what he thinks will help him. But behind this story and the actions of Laban and Jacob, God is working another story.
Several chapters back in Genesis we read the story of the birth of Jacob and Esau. We heard God saying to Rebekah that Esau would serve Jacob, that Jacob would be the stronger and Esau would be the weaker. The reversal of the birth order would happen. This was a blessing upon Jacob that he would receive while still in the womb of his mother. What precipitated this blessing? Nothing but divine prerogative.
Then Jacob and Esau grew up and Jacob preyed on the weakness of his brother to get the birthright. Years later, Jacob lied to his father, pretended to be Esau, and managed to secure Isaac’s blessing and the conferral of the promises of Abraham to himself. And we are left thinking. Is God going to give him all these things and let him get away with all his deception and lies?
Then we see Jacob having to leave everything to leave home. A small setback because on the way God appears to him in a vision and encourages him and confirms the fact that he is the chosen one. Then he arrives and Rachel almost literally falls into his lap and he falls in love. Did God care about Jacob’s sin? Is he being rewarded for evil? Are there consequences for his sin? That’s what we find in the story today.
We look at our Western culture and we see the approval of sin that once was frowned upon. The sin was happening but it was more or less hidden. The culture decades ago, in general, said that what is happening today was immoral. And now they feel that they are throwing off the shackles of a backward and oppressive morality and are stepping into a more enlightened era. But is this true? Has culture evolved to a higher standard? No, that is foolishness.
The world has and always will be evil. The standards they live by, unless they coincide with God’s, are evil. And even living by God’s standards apart from faith in God is meaningless for it is only by faith that you can please God. Whether sin is practiced openly or in the closet, whether sin is given a month of national recognition or is still taboo to the culture matters little to the judge who sits on his throne and whose eye sees all.
Thankfully, for the child of God, he does not tread out his wrath on us, but he does discipline us as the unruly children that we are. Today we are going to see the Answer to Sin in verse 21-30 and the Blessing Amidst the Discipline in verses 31-35.
Three weeks ago we started to look at the story of Isaac with the servant searching for Isaac’s wife. The servant found success through the Lord’s leading and Isaac and Rebekah were married. Then came the passing of Abraham, the hero of the faith. The two brothers, Isaac and Ishmael, were brought together again by the death of their father and could have very well been the last time that they met. Isaac, the chosen son, the one that had received the promises of God, and Ishmael, the wild donkey of a man. Two nations separated by the actions of God. That leads us to the text we have before us. The passage falls easily into three parts. In the first, we find the Generations of Ishmael in verses 12-18. This is the account of the family of Ishmael. Moses writes this here as he just mentioned Ishmael being present at Abraham’s burial. It closes the book of Ishmael and opens the book of Isaac in verse 19. The book of Isaac opens with Isaac and Rebekah having the same struggles with infertility that Abraham and Sarah had. Again, we find the intervention of God and then the birth of twins which will become Two Peoples Divided. Finally, in verses 27-34 we get a little sneak peek at what is to come in the stories ahead. We get a short story of Jacob and Esau before the story returns to Isaac. In this story, we find a description of Jacob and Esau and it is not a pretty picture of either of them. We find that the twins though very different are very similar in one way; they’re both sinners.