Publication: One-to-One, Spring 2014
Jacob was a dealmaker who faced the rewards and consequences of his transactions, as we all must. Gritty and humorous at times, Jacob’s story doesn’t fit neatly in a Sunday sermon. His decisions led him to places of distress, yet God blessed him and never left him. As we advance our mission through work, we too can find ourselves in places of distress. The wrong hire, selfish decisions, market downturns, poor leadership, defective products, bad strategies, and many more struggles can await us all each workday. Jacob’s account should be an encouragement to all contending in the marketplace that God reveals Himself through real people with real flaws and leads them to overcome.
ON THE RUN
After hoodwinking his father and taking his brother’s birthright, Jacob fled from his homeland in fear of his brother. His discriminating taste in women found him marrying two sisters and saddled with a conniving father-in-law/business partner named Laban. Jacob and Laban would go on to struggle for twenty years in a contentious relationship. Then the Lord said to Jacob, “Go back to the land of your fathers and to your relatives, and I will be with you.” Knowing that Laban did not want him to leave, he artfully gathered assets and fled from Laban in fear…until Laban caught up with him. In facing each other, both schemers had to face their past.
After making a peace with Laban, God’s passageway for Jacob was leading him to face his brother. Genesis 32 gives us the scene: Jacob, desperately praying for God to save him from Esau’s hand, as he considered how angry his brother might be at him. The night before Jacob would meet Esau, God in the form of a man, came to Jacob and the two wrestled through the night until daybreak. In his desperation, Jacob clung to the Lord and said “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” Jacob emerged at daybreak limping, but he had received God’s blessing and a new name, Israel, “because he struggled with God and man and overcame.”
Isaiah 55:6 says, “Seek the Lord while He may be found.” Jacob’s birthright and blessing from God at dawn were gifts, but they were sought out. Jacob was hungry for God and recognized that there is a great gulf between walking in our own strength and walking in God’s. It was a chief distinction between Jacob and Esau. Even in the midst of his fears and reliance on his own manipulative tactics at times, Jacob’s faith and tenacious pursuit were blessed by God.
In obedience to the Lord, Jacob humbly limped out in God’s blessing to meet Esau, who received him gladly. Re-encounters with our past business can be narrow places of God’s leading. God cares enough for us to lead us into the narrow places because they lead us to Him. As we walk through them, our story of what we were redeemed from is revealed and we can better know the measure of His love. It’s not to bog us down; it’s to free us in our advance.
Bethel was Jacob’s destination after Esau. Bethel was undoubtedly a holy place to Jacob. It had been where God had revealed himself to Jacob and it was a land of promise to him. Before arriving at Bethel, Jacob made a decision. He took all of the foreign gods in his household and buried them.
Jacob was bold enough to wrestle with God, but feared Him enough to eliminate the other gods. Work opportunities are part of God’s blessings toward us; however, foreign gods often plague business and work environments. The gods Jacobs buried were small visible statues. In our work, foreign gods can be more subtle but just as destructive, such as material and status trappings that hold too high a priority in our lives.
OUR JOURNEY AHEAD
Jacob was ninety-seven years old when he wrestled God and faced Esau, but God gave Jacob fifty more years of life that were just as adventurous. Jacob was the father of Joseph, arguably the best businessman in the Bible. Like Jacob, our actions and decisions through our work can bring us through places we never intended; yet, they can be places of fertile ground for God’s blessing and redemption.
God’s covenantal character means that He doesn’t flee from us in the midst of poor choices. Even in the darkness, He is there that we may cling to him and that He may give us a new dawn.
Scripture Reference: Genesis 32, Isaiah 55:6
JONATHAN SIMPSON is a frequent contributing writer to CSM’s Marketplace Exchange.