Scripture Reading: Genesis 32 - 35 ...
As you read the Bible from beginning to end you will find two main characters throughout: God and mankind. Satan and his demons, as well as the angels who serve God, play a role, but the main characters of Scripture are God and mankind - with GOD being the central character at every point. I bring that up because it is easy for people to get "hung up" on some of the details of the actions of mankind in certain passages of the Bible and then to wonder why they are in there and what God was accomplishing by recording those things in the Bible. There are some things like that in our chapters today. Why include the story of Dinah and Shechem in Chapter 34? And why include verse 22 in Chapter 35: "While Israel was living in that region, Reuben (one of Jacob's sons) went in and slept with his father's concubine Bilhah, and Israel heard of it."
These things are but reminders of mankind's sinfulness, even in the context of God's blessings and His revelation of Himself to the descendants of Abraham and Isaac. It is a reminder that these are more than just stories; that these are actual accounts of the lives of real people - people like you and me. And it is a reminder of our need for the Spirit of God to work in us so that our lives will be lived in obedience to God out of love for Him through faith in Jesus Christ. Without the Spirit and without God's revelation in His Word and without the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, mankind is hopelessly lost and people do things that are beyond description or explanation. The same things we see around us today were part of the world during the time of the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. People are sinners! All you need to do is listen to the daily news to see that.
While these things may raise questions in people's minds, God would have us focus on something else: HIS character and His sovereign working over all things and in all things. As Jacob prepared to meet his brother Esau, he reveals how his own heart had been changed since the time when he tricked his father into giving him the blessing his older brother should have had and then fled, out of fear that Esau was going to kill him. Jacob prayed, "O God of my father Abraham, God of my father Isaac, O LORD ... I am unworthy of all the kindness and faithfulness you have shown your servant" (32:9-10). Then he recalls God's promises: "You have said, 'I will surely make you prosper and will make your descendants like the sand of the sea, which cannot be counted'" (32:12).
Jacob believed God's promises and trusted God's character, yet he still struggled to surrender everything to God. Most of us can identify with Jacob's struggle. We know God, we trust in Him for salvation, believing Jesus paid our debt and that He is with us. Yet, when faced with the uncertainties of life, fear easily takes over, as it did with Jacob. So He wrestles with God! God gives us this picture as a physical wrestling match, with Jacob winning! Who beats God ... at anything?! Obviously, no one. So what's the point? Again, there has been much debate about who Jacob wrestled and what it all means, but simply reading the text explains that Jacob's wrestling with God had more to do with Jacob's character than with God's. God is who He is, but Jacob was now to play a part in God's plan to fulfill His promises to Abraham and Isaac, to make of them a great nation.
So God said, "Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with men and have overcome" (32:28). By the grace and power of God Jacob had overcome his doubts and his tendency to take things into his own hands, rather than trusting God to accomplish His purpose. He had said, "I will not let you go unless you bless me" (32:26). Jacob wanted, and knew he needed God's blessing, and he received it in so many ways. The most important blessing Jacob received, the greatest blessing any human being can receive, is the inner, spiritual transformation that only God can perform. It was more than Jacob's name that changed, it was Jacob who was changed!
Having met with Esau, Jacob built an altar. After the episode with Dinah and Shechem, Jacob moved on to Bethel and built an altar, telling those who were with him (from the people whom they had defeated) to get rid of their foreign gods. Then he built another altar to worship the Lord. God appeared to him again and repeated His promises to make of him a great nation and to give to him and his descendants the land he had promised to Abraham and Isaac (35:11-12).
The twelve sons of Jacob would become the twelve tribes of Israel. Mankind's sin ... God's faithfulness. GRACE ... beginning to end. God chose Abraham ... and He chose Isaac, not Ishmael ... and He chose Jacob, not Esau ... And through His Son Jesus Christ, the "Seed of Abraham," God has more people whom He has chosen, not only from the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, but from every people, tribe, nation and tongue.
Mankind's sin ... God's character: His mercy, grace, love and faithfulness. Over and over again you will find these two things on display throughout the Old Testament, in the Gospels and throughout the New Testament letters to the churches. God never changes. What you see of God in one part of Scripture is also there in every other part of Scripture. God's purpose stays the same: to gather for Himself a people who will be His very own, who will spend eternity with Him in a new heaven and a new earth ... "a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God!" (I Peter 2:9).
Learn of God as you read His Word. Listen for His voice speaking to you, telling you about yourself and about what you need ... and find in Jesus, the Savior, the "Seed of Abraham," the fulfillment of all of God's promises ... for today, for tomorrow ... and for forever! Call out to Him, worship Him and find in Him your reason to live as a servant of the Almighty God who reigns over all things.
"LORD God Almighty, in Your Word we find knowledge to help us understand what You are doing in the world around us, even as You worked in the days of Jacob. Your character has not changed, Your plan has not changed and You will accomplish all that You have planned to do. Thank You for making me a part of Your plan, for choosing us who believe in Jesus, as certainly as You chose Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. What a privilege to be YOUR people today! In Jesus' name, Amen"