In my quiet times recently, I’ve studied Jacob/Israel more deeply than ever before. To me he is a fascinating paradox: an often faithless patriarch of the faith.
I can imagine things weren’t easy for him in his early years, knowing that his father so obviously favored his brother, Esau (Genesis 25:28). Yet it seems he forgot the lessons he learned in that experience and went on to favor his own son, Joseph, above all his other sons (Genesis 37:3). And, of course, we know that Joseph is the one who paid for that favoritism (Genesis 37). Imperfect.
Jacob was forced to flee his home after he deceived his father (with the help of his mother) and stole Esau’s blessing (Genesis 27), yet he literally met God while he was on the run to his uncle’s home (Genesis 28). God spoke to him, blessed him, promised him that his descendants would outnumber the specks of dust on the earth and that the land would belong to Jacob and his descendants forever (Genesis 28:13-15). And what did Jacob do? He acted like a typical human and put conditions on God: IF God would protect and provide for him until he returned to his father’s house, THEN Jacob would consider the Lord his God (Genesis 28:20-21). Imperfect.
Even if we skip his time at his Uncle Laban’s home and all the ways that God provided for him in his twenty years there, we still find Jacob depending more on himself than on God. When he left Laban and wass told that his brother, Esau, was coming to meet him, Jacob again behaved like most people: crying out to God for help, but still thinking up ways he could get himself out of danger. One moment he was praying for God’s help and the next he was scheming up tricks to pacify the anger he assumed was driving Esau toward him (Genesis 32). As Warren Wiersbe put it, “[Jacob] prayed to be delivered from Esau, but he really needed to be delivered from himself.” Imperfect.
Even though Jacob, now Israel, had learned so much about God, had seen God, struggled with God, he still depended on his own means (bribery, lies, etc.), because he spent so much time dwelling on his past transgressions, instead of looking ahead in faith. He was far from a perfect example of faith, yet God used him to teach us at least one very valuable lesson:
When we meet God, when we give our lives to Christ, our sins are washed in His blood, tossed to the ocean floor, never to be brought up again. If you find yourself dwelling on the sins of your past, know that it is not God who is bringing them to your mind. It is the Deceiver, who wants to take your mind off of God. When we dwell in the past, we forget to trust God with our present and our future. Look ahead instead, to all God has waiting for His good and faithful servants.
Must we be perfect? I know God would like us to be, but we are human and odds are we will mess up. We should strive for perfection, but maybe we can find contentment in imperfect perfection, always leaning on God, having faith that He is in control and that He cares for us.